Korea has exported several exciting trends to Europe and America, most prominently K-Pop bands like BTS and comfort foods like Korean BBQ. The newest trend seems to be K-Beauty products, specifically skincare products and routines. While many of these products are available online now, very few brick-and-mortar locations carry K-Beauty products. As they may be outside the wheelhouse of some category managers and buyers, we provide some insight here into what K-Beauty brands are currently performing well outside Korea, and product selection tips for category buyers and managers.
Top 5 K-Beauty Brands
To find the best-performing brands, we examined the top 100 products across the four primary K-Beauty websites used by American and European consumers: iHerb, YesStyle, StyleKorean, and Olive Young Global (the newest entrant). iHerb is US-based, YesStyle is Hong Kong-based, and StyleKorean and Olive Young Global are both based in Korea.
The top 5 brands are summarized in the brands table. We see a few brands that perform well across the board, with Cosrx being possibly the most high-profile. Beauty of Joseon and Some By Mi have recently seen growing popularity, and often compete for placement in the top 3. Missha is a newer entrant that’s crushing it.
What is perhaps most surprising is that the iHerb, YesStyle, and StyleKorean have roughly the same top 5 brands despite all being headquartered in different countries, and ostensibly catering to different demographics. We also see traditional brands like Laneige only ranking once (in 4th place on YesStyle). This indicates that younger online consumers may prefer smaller, more unique brands over more traditional and established brands.
Some honorable mentions that didn’t make the Top 5 but nevertheless perform well are Petitfee, Anua, and heimish. It is also worth noting that while these brands are popular in Korea, they are much more popular outside Korea. The most popular brands in Korea are Sulwhasoo, Whoo, Ohui and Hera, but they do not crack any top-100 list abroad.
Most popular product types
Examining the top 5 products by type, we see that the most popular type is serum, followed by sunscreen and snail mucin. Patches and toners are also popular, and only one cleanser ranked across all e-retailers. While this might reflect how frequently different products need to be purchased, it can also demonstrate the great importance placed upon actives by consumers. Category managers should take care to purchase across product types. Based on our data, optimizing for variety in serums while choosing a few popular cleansers and toners is a prudent retail strategy.
In addition to making calls on types of products, category managers and buyers should be cognizant of which brands and products best cater to their demographic. Younger shoppers generally prefer newer K-Beauty brands with youthful brand identities, and emphases on hydration and gentleness. Older consumers usually prefer more established brands and look for stronger anti-aging products, especially in wrinkle-reduction and eye care.
When it comes to sunscreens, we note that most K-Beauty sunscreens contain ingredients which are not yet approved by the FDA and therefore may not be sold as sunscreens in the US. Buyers should be aware of this regulatory limitation and check with suppliers to make sure that their products can be sold in the US.
Domestic brick-and-mortar retailers
We also looked at the top 100 products at Sephora, Ulta, and Target but found no K-Beauty brands in the top 10 best selling brands. Our data indicates that this primarily reflects the lack of line depth for K-Beauty brands in US retailers, and underscores how popular European and US brands remain. We expect that as more K-Beauty brands enter the American market, and American consumers become more educated on international products, these rankings will more accurately reflect the tastes of American consumers.
What this means for category managers and buyers
Beauty buyers should familiarize themselves with the K-Beauty industry and community, as they are growing quickly both domestically and abroad. To contextualize the size of the Asian Beauty enthusiast community, there are 4.1 million redditors in the r/MakeupAddiction and 1.4 million redditors in the r/SkincareAddiction communities, while there are 1.8 million redditors in the r/AsianBeauty community. This is a reasonable proxy for US interest given Reddit’s known skew towards American users. Therefore, in terms of online interest, Asian beauty is almost on the same level as Western beauty. Furthermore, brick-and-mortar retailers should note that many of these products are currently only available online. Most of these are being shipped to consumers with expensive international shipping and long lead times. Offering consumers hot categories like K-Beauty could easily shift this volume to physical retail while welcoming a highly-engaged, spendy community into stores.
How we can help
Minoa specializes in bringing K-Beauty products to the US, and we partner with many brands looking to enter the US brick-and-mortar retail channel. As part of our program, retailers receive products to sell on consignment, eliminating inventory risk. This lets brands and retailers move quickly to capture the hottest trends early and deliver value for consumers. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help you bring exciting, high margin, and low risk products to your retail space.