Published: Thursday April 4, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday April 26, 2013 MYT 12:54:21 AM

Niche retailing

Beyond the usual skincare counters, pharmacies also offer skincare and beauty products at affordable prices.

NEED a remedy for acne and oily skin? Looking for a product to reduce puffiness and dark circles? Step inside a leading pharmacy or personal care store, and chances are, you’ll be left in a daze looking at the number of niche skincare products that are available.

Apart from well-known skincare brands like Olay, Simple, Neutrogena and Biore, consumers may not be so familiar with those from Japan, Taiwan or Hong Kong. Brands such as Hada Labo (Japan), My Beauty Diary (Taiwan), Clinelle Ingenius (America) and O’slee (Hong Kong) have a growing fanbase and are quite established names in their home countries.

Writer Michelle Tam, 24, first heard about these niche brands after coming across positive online reviews and recommendations from friends.

“These niche products can definitely give the more established and expensive brands a run for their money, and over the years I’ve found that they work much better anyway,” explains Tam, who spends on average of RM50 on skincare products each month.

“The Japanese are known for their good skin, so one assumes that they would have decent skincare products. I was told Hada Labo’s lotion apparently sells at the rate of one bottle every four seconds in Japan. Positive word of mouth is very effective marketing.

“What I love about Hada Labo and My Beauty Diary is that they work as claimed and there is a noticeable difference. My skin was super dry before I started to use Hada Labo and my beautician has remarked how much more moisturised my skin is now.

“My skin is sufficiently moisturised, which means being pimple-free for most part,” says Tam, who has been using pharmacy products for over four years.

Despite her loyalty to certain tried and tested beauty lotions and serums, Tam likes to try out other niche masks and facial cleansers at personal care stores.

“Although I have my stock favourites, I tend to get bored of the same stuff all the time, which explains why skincare lines can introduce so many variants of their products and still have them fly off the shelves.”

With such raving reviews, it’s no surprise that Tam’s colleague, writer Tashny Sukumaran, has also switched to niche skincare products too.

Her favourite is My Beauty Diary products, specifically the Chamomile And White Lily Sleep Concentrate moisturiser.

“Michelle is a big fan and she recommended that I try it. I don’t really have bad skin problems, so I will try different brands as long as I don’t react badly to it. Thankfully, I haven’t yet,” says Tashny, 22, adding that the product’s affordability was also another selling point.

Similarly, senior systems analyst Goh Lee Cheng also purchases niche skincare brands due to their effectiveness, packaging and affordability.

“I choose products based on price, packaging and word of mouth. If a friend who is blessed with great skin tells me to try out a specific product, I generally would. Price is also another aspect which I would take into consideration.

“I also like these niche products because they offer more variety in terms of different scents and ingredients. I find South Korean label Pure Beauty quite creative with their pomegranate extracts and black pearl ingredients,” says the 20-something who also subscribes to products like Hada Labo, My Beauty Diary, Naruko and skin mask Hello Kitty Apple Gommage, available at Watsons Singapore.

Regarding consumers scepticism about niche skincare products and credibility, Goh says: “It’s kind of a vicious cycle whereby people have a misconception that lower priced brands lack quality due to their price point. As always with a new kid on the block, free samples can help show the masses that niche products really do work. I feel I get more value for money from the niche brands as well.”

“As long as they’re not buying something entirely dodgy, niche products should be fine and can sometimes be even better than the trusted brands (which I personally see as something my mum would use). If your skin isn’t complaining and you do see changes you’re happy with, then it proves even niche brands have merit,” says Tashny, who only buys skincare products at pharmacies.

Skincare for all

Guardian has introduced Malaysians to a series of exclusive skincare products such as O’slee and the store’s own in-house brand, Guardian. To complement the range, the health and beauty/pharmacy chain also offers niche products such as Avène (France), RoC (United States), Eucerin (Germany), Uriage (France) and Bio-Oil (South Africa).

These skincare, hair care and make-up products fall under the category of “dermo cosmetics” – products formulated based on pharmaceutical advise and dermatological prescriptions, says Guardian’s merchandising general manager Soon Ai Lan.

“Dermo cosmetics products are backed by years of research, clinically proven and dermatologist approved. It blends the art of skincare and pharmacology by analysing different skin conditions and creating suitable products with personalised skincare regimen. These affordable products are also ideal for sensitive skin,” Soon explains.

She admits that the task of marketing exclusive skincare products come with its fair share of hurdles as consumers these days are well-informed and concerned about product efficiency. As such, it’s important to offer products that are formulated with safe ingredients, she adds.

“Brands have to cater/customise skincare products to different skin conditions. Our buyers go through the selection process keenly to ensure that the brands fulfil the criteria in terms of quality, effectiveness (results from consumer trials) and affordability,” says Soon, adding that women aged between 24 and 49 years are the target market of Guardian’s niche skincare products.

Products are marketed with strategic selling points to cater to consumers with different skin concerns. For example, French brand Avène contains thermal spring water and suits different levels of skin sensitivity, ranging from mildly sensitive to atopic. Hong Kong top selling O’slee label invests heavily in research and development, and prides itself in the effectiveness of its rosehip-based products that are touted to reduce wrinkles and lighten pigmentation.

Since these exclusive labels are rarely advertised on billboards and magazines, they have to rely on its efficiency, dermatologists seal of approval and ground sampling events as vital marketing tools, Soon says.

“It is a growing market, although still small. Education is vital to guide consumers on the importance of selecting the right face care products and a proper daily regimen. These labels are also very affordable, especially for consumers with special skincare needs.”

Likewise, Watsons also offers an extensive range of exclusive skincare products from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The niche product range comprises labels like Pure Beauty, DHC, Naruko, Sukin & Renew, Heme and Sophie Monk.

The Hong Kong-based personal care store prides itself on having over 80% of mask products from its in-house brand and others brands such as Deary, FaceQ and Purederm, says Watsons senior marketing manager Carolyn Teh.

To provide a wider variety and ensure that their products fit the bill, Watsons bring in products from Korea, Japan and Taiwan which seem to be more popular among women aged between 20 and 40.

“Skincare products from these countries are gaining popularity with locals. This is a current trend that’s not only limited to skincare. Look at how K-pop, especially singer Psy’s Gangnam Style and Korean TV drama series, have come into the picture,” opines Teh.

While there’s no denying the appeal of exotic skincare products, the allure of lower priced items found at pharmacies forms the primary attraction to these products.

“As specialists in health and beauty products, we take it upon ourselves to source for trustworthy and dermatologically tested products to enable customers to get more variety and value,” explained Teh, adding Watsons’ over-the-counter skincare products are priced between RM3.70 and RM179. Most brands offer the complete set ranging from moisturiser, scrub, sun care, toner, eye-care and masks.

Despite this, Teh admitted that marketing exclusive skincare products had its fair share of challenges as consumers have unlimited access thanks to social media.

“Consumers can easily acquire knowledge on any product and obtain unbiased reviews. Ultimately, products have to meet customers’ expectations,” she concludes. n For more information, check out or

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Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Lifestyle, beauty


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