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A customer tries a lipstick at a shop of Innisfree in central Seoul
Reuters/Lee Jae-Won
New obsession.
SLAYING SKINCARE

Flipkart says Indians are adding Korean beauty products to their carts like never before

By Ananya Bhattacharya

The “beauty capital of the world” has developed a keen eye for India.

After food, films, and pop music, now beauty brands from South Korea are becoming a rage among Indians.

It began with curiosity about quirks like snail slime and bee venom. Then in 2015, India entered into an agreement that made the import of cosmetics from South Korea free. At the time, five Korean beauty companies signed a deal with the New Delhi-based distribution firm Rajshree Empires to sell their products online and offline.

Over time, several online players have cashed in on the burgeoning trend. For instance, beauty products e-tailer Nykaa has brought to India South Korean brands such as Innisfree and Laneige. Last December, Amazon India partnered with the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency to bring brands like The Face Shop, Dermal, The Beauty Co Seoul, It’s Skin, Coony, Mirabelle, and Swanicoco, to Indians at prices ranging between Rs400 to Rs700 ($5.8 to $10.15).

India’s leading online retailer Flipkart, too, has seen immense growth in the segment. Quartz spoke to Nishit Garg, senior director of the books and general category (including beauty products) at the Bengaluru-based e-commerce firm, about the trend. Edited excerpts from the conversation:

Flipkart
Nishit Garg, Flipkart.

What percentage of your total sales come from the beauty segment, and how important are Korean brands to that?

Beauty and personal care is a key category for Flipkart with over 20,000 brands and a million products listed. Personal care (which includes skincare products and cosmetics) draws close to 50 million visits every month, and has grown three times in the last year. We are constantly working towards expanding our selection. Bringing the best Korean beauty brands to the platform was one step in this direction. Since we ramped up their availability on our platform in June, we have seen a tremendous and enthusiastic response.

Which parts of India are Korean products most famous in and since when?

These brands do well even in non-metro markets, such as Assam, Nagaland, and Sikkim.

Korean beauty brands have been doing the rounds in the Indian market since early 2013. However, it was in 2015 that we noticed this segment gaining traction, not only offline but online as well. Since then, multiple brands have entered the market.

Contrary to the popular belief that these brands only do well in metros and tier-1 cities, we have seen a surge in demand from women in non-metro markets, such as Assam, Nagaland, and Sikkim, among others. These markets tend to have limited access to a large variety of international brands, which is where we as an e-commerce platform can play a role.

The majority of consumers in this segment are women aged between 25 to 40, who express a desire to experiment with new products and are willing to invest in top international brands.

Screenshot/Flipkart
Korean sheet masks on Flipkart.

Why do Korean brands do well in India?

Many of those who shop for these brands tend to be willing to experiment. The target group for brands like these tends to be millennial and Gen X youth, who have proven to be early and enthusiastic adopters of all kinds of products, from beauty to tech.

These brands are also affordable, which is key for consumers outside the metros. Brands can also be quite innovative with the ingredient mix, using things like chia seeds, jeju volcanic lava, and green tea, which attracts interest from customers. We have seen that Korean products are high on hydration and holistic skincare regiment, which makes it effective for Indian skin as well.

These brands hit the right balance between value, variety, and trendiness.

What type of products from Korean beauty brands do well in India and why?

The Korean beauty care segment grew popular with sheet masks, which saw instant recognition among consumers. Further, the selection on the Flipkart platform expanded as a result of the famous K-10 regime of oil cleansers, foam cleansers, toners, essence, serums, eye, and face cream, among others.

Are there any standout brands? Why are they more successful than the others?

The formula for success is down to the quality of the product and their use of natural ingredients.

With the market still in a nascent stage, the scope for growth for all brands is tremendous. The formula for success is down to the quality of the product and their use of natural ingredients. Due to an early-bird advantage, Innisfree and The Face Shop have done very well in this space, but they have been quickly followed by multiple other players.

What edge does Flipkart have in the beauty segment versus vertical-focused players such as Nykaa?

Flipkart has the widest range of products in the personal care and beauty categories online. Our expertise is not just limited to great selection but extends to logistics, and a thriving marketplace with over 100,000 sellers. We are able to deliver to the remotest of locations in India, making us a brand that customers implicitly trust.

What is the scope for Korean beauty brands in the Indian cosmetics market overall (not just on Flipkart) in the future?

Overall, the beauty market in India is growing on the back of India’s growing youth and middle-class populations, who are extremely tech-savvy and trend-conscious, and who now have access to more disposable income. As the market grows, it is likely that the demand for innovative and niche brands and products will also grow.