Consumers in Asia present a large and significant market for personal care and lifestyle products and services. Despite recent economic problems, fundamental consumer attitudes are positive. Demand will be maintained for quality products and services among women. Image-conscious young men are now emerging as a very important consumer segment.

Consumers in the most developed Asian markets Japan, South Korea, Singapore are acutely image-conscious. Being well groomed is something of a social obligation. For example, in South Korea 50% of the overall population, rising to 70% among women in their 20s, say they take care of their appearance 'for others,' rather than just their own sake.

Japanese women's reasons for using cosmetics illustrate how social expectations shape individual behaviour. Some 60% reported that they wear make-up either because it is 'a social etiquette' or they 'feel uptight' without make-up. An even more telling illustration of the importance of public presentation is that Japanese women nominated 'walking the dog in the morning' as an appropriate occasion to wear make up.

Women's willingness to spend time, and money, on appearance in terms of dress, hairstyle, make up is because of their strong conviction that the effort can make a difference. More than three quarters of Japanese believe that using cosmetics can enhance their attractiveness.

This concern with image and appearance has increased consumer spending on personal care and beauty products in the last decade. In South Korea total spending on the category quadrupled between 1987 and 1996. In 1996, despite high prices, Japan led in per capita spending on cosmetics and toiletries. It was followed by France (the highest per capita spending in the EU15), Germany and the USA.

Women's desire for a well groomed image is linked with their relatively recent entry into the labour force. Working women are a huge market. Some 48% of South Korean and 40% of Japanese women are in the labour force. As in the West, working women are anxious to present a professional image. The speed of social change in Asia explains the widespread demand for beauty advice and counselling. Women seek this advice to ensure that their make up and dress codes are appropriate for the workplace and also correctly signify their social status.

Market Size 1998
Country Population
Taiwan 22m
Singapore 3m
South Korea 46m
Japan 126m
Total 197m
Source: the world in 1998

These concerns result in a high use of counselling services. More than half of Japanese women report using a beauty consultant, 60% of working women in their 20s had attended a beauty course or availed of advice in the retail channel.

However, there is still a large unmet demand for beauty counselling services. In Japan more than a third of women would like to avail of a range of counselling services, such as colour advice, body spa, or hair styling, to improve their image. The salon sector has benefited. In South Korea the number of hair and beauty salons grew by 13% in the 1993/95 period.

The market for personal care products and services in Asia is very large. In comparison with their Western counterparts, young men are extremely image and fashion conscious. A remarkable 60% of 20 year old men, in a fashionable if trendy Tokyo neighbourhood, report that they dye their hair. A similar percentage would use brow liner to enhance their appearance. Japanese companies have been quick to benefit from the lucrative young male market. In 1996, when Shiseido launched an Eyebrow Design Kit for men, the 1 million units sold exceeded the company's expectations.

The men's cosmetics market is growing at faster pace than in the West. The openness of many Asian men to using cosmetics traditionally seen as exclusive to women contrasts with the attitudes of men in the West. A US focus group revealed that men shied away from skin care products because they did not understand common terms, (e.g. "exfoliate," "refine" and "retexture").

Manufacturers of quality products can do well in this market. Standards, pricing and quality are emerging as important consumer concerns, in both the retail and service channels. The frenetic purchasing of prestige brands of recent times has been replaced by the search for value for money.

Product safety is a consumer concern. Complaints have risen sharply. In Japan in 1996 half of the consumer complaints about health and personal care products involved cosmetics and hair care products.