Cosmetics companies in China are optimizing the makeover for an open-minded, mobile-first generation.

The unveiling of Sephora’s first Asian concept store in Shanghai last week underlines the growing influence and importance of experiences for digital natives in China’s fast-evolving $22 billion beauty industry. Big-name brands and beauty startups alike are harnessing innovative, immersive technologies to target young Chinese consumers who are eager to invest in experimentation and discovery.

The LVMH-owned brand is putting its omnichannel strategy into action in the Chinese market by bringing localized social and e-commerce channels in store. Its interactive “cloud shelf” lets customers order and browse products online through a voice and touch-activated screen. Customers can test out new looks via Sephora’s Virtual Artist makeup app, which operates in collaboration with China’s leading augmented reality (AR) beauty app Meitu. Sephora also tapped into China’s new era of social commerce, launching a WeChat mini-program boutique where customers can book makeovers and learn about the latest beauty trends, all on WeChat’s mobile app.

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Sephora's new Shanghai store
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“Our goal is not merely on retail transactions, but to build a social community for beauty lovers in China, driven by Sephora’s unique perspectives on beauty and authentic user-generated content,” Sephora CEO Chris de Lapuentetold Jing Daily.“We believe this will transform China’s beauty customers from the current transactional followers to much more international and sophisticated makers and lovers of trends.”

China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba is bringing its New Retail concept to the offline beauty category with technology from its Tmall marketplace—benefiting the brand with valuable consumer insights while boosting offline experiences for the shopper. In July, Korean cosmetics brand Innisfree teamed up with the online retailer to create a brick-and-mortar location in Hangzhou where customers can virtually apply makeup through Tmall’s own AR-powered Magic Mirror and read Tmall product reviews on an interactive digital screen. Customers can pay for their purchases at the store using mobile payment giant Alipay or scan a QR code to save products for later in their virtual cart. L’Oréal also uses the Magic Mirror in its stores across China.

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17Beauty beauty box

Newcomer 17Beauty is using digital innovation to give consumers in Beijing and Shanghai convenient, efficient, and intuitive ways to freshen up on the go. The brand launched two months ago and boasts 12 “beauty boxes” across the two cities. Shoppers scan a QR code with a mobile app to access the self-service booths and receive personalized service and makeup recommendations through a facial recognition system. Each box contains beauty products that are replaced every two to three weeks based on users’ preferences, along with limited-edition makeup kits to attract new customers.

17Beauty founder Han Shuqi, a generation Z beauty buff, says that, along with stocking more established international names, her brand is directly cooperating with several lesser-known Korean cosmetics labels that are seeking to establish a following in China. “They are more than willing to cooperate with us, since they don’t have a large budget to do events on the ground at these early stages of development in the China market, and they want to satisfy users’ desire to experience their products personally,” Han tells JWT Intelligence.

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17Beauty beauty box
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The boxes are strategically placed in the center of high-end shopping malls, office buildings, airports, or high-speed train stations where there is significant foot traffic. While 17Beauty is in its early stages, Han hopes to accumulate enough data through the system to provide feedback to brands on user preferences.

“Compared with other markets, China has a very clear advantage with its large population for data research or marketing,” she says. “It’s great timing for China to develop its beauty industry as people have a stronger desire to spend more money and invest more time in their personal image.”