Perfect your look in Korea

2010-03-30 15:20

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This is the first of a two-part series on the country`s cosmetics and beauty services which have become a major attraction in drawing visitors to Korea. This article will deal with the popularity of Korean cosmetics and basic beauty treatments. Part 2 will focus on oriental beauty services. -- Ed.

Wandering around Myeong-dong or Ewha Womans University -- two of Seoul`s better-known shopping areas -- you are likely to run into more foreign shoppers than locals. It is common to hear salespeople shouting out "iratshaimase," which is Japanese for "welcome."
For years, traveling to Korea meant exploring only its beautiful heritage and cultural attractions, but more recently the country has made headway in packaging new options to visitors by promoting cosmetics and other beauty-related treatments.
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Korea`s cosmetics industry is expected to grow approximately 6 percent this year, while its market size will reach around 7 trillion won ($6 billion), according to Amore Pacific, the country`s largest cosmetics producer.
Amore Pacific said this growth is likely, not only because of the rising popularity of high-end products, but also due to anticipated brisk sales of mid- to low-priced beauty brands, which foreign shoppers tend to favor.
The craze over Korean beauty products among foreign nationals, especially other Asians, is especially evident in Myeong-dong -- an area where there is a particular focus on so-called "brand cosmetics shops".
Myeong-dong`s multiple streets are lined with stores and restaurants, including cosmetics brands which can have two to five branches in the area. Even with several branches of the same store, the shops are still packed with people and in an effort to appeal to tourists, these shops often have foreign-language speaking staff, offer brochures in foreign languages and accept foreign credit cards or currency.

Brand cosmetics shops
Korean brand cosmetics shops were established in the country`s more popular shopping areas in 2000 and quickly flourished thanks to the relatively good quality of the products, matched with affordable prices.
Leading brands include Missha, The Face Shop, Etude House (affiliated with Amore Pacific), Skinfood, and newcomer Nature Republic.
The so-called "hallyu" of cosmetics was first initiated in 2005 by the huge popularity of "BB (Blemish Balm) cream".
Although BB cream is a German skincare product, it quickly became a hot makeup item in Asia, especially known for soothing patients` skin following laser skin surgery. Its popularity soared further with numerous celebrity endorsements.
Referred to as "the secret of Korean actresses," who are extremely popular throughout Asia, BB cream has become a favorite souvenir of Asian shoppers to buy for friends and family.
"We have been selling more than 2,000 BB creams daily ever since the products became popular among Japanese tourists for their affordable price and good quality," said Park Sung-eun, the marketing communication manager for Etude House. "Customers armed with their "wish list" typically buy more than five of them," she added.
Other popular beauty products include nail polish and face masks -- at a cost of 1,000 won to 4,000 won -- and anti-aging products, according to The Face Shop.
Meanwhile, these brands are thinking of diverse ways to create a more comfortable shopping environment for tourists.
"Around 80 percent of the customers in our three stores in Myeong-dong are tourists and they contribute to most of our sales. So we could say that Myeong-dong stores are basically for tourists," said The Face Shop PR manager Seo Hee-ju, who declined to reveal sales figures.
Nature Republic recently opened a store in one of the hottest spots in Myeong-dong and named it "Myeong-dong World Store."
The five-story building is intended for tourists -- the second floor is geared specially toward Japanese tourists, while the third caters for Chinese and Southeast Asians -- where free interpretation as well as internet services are provided.
Etude House named one of their Myeong-dong branches "Etude House Avenue" where brochures and shopping guides in different languages are handed out to customers. Japanese customers can make a purchase with JBC credit cards and yen with the help of Japanese-speaking employees.
Even at stores that are not specifically organized for foreign consumers, brands often employ staff who can speak Japanese or Chinese.
"Some of our employees have lived in China or Japan," according to Seo from The Face Shop. Most other sales staff knows basic Japanese or Chinese, including cosmetics-specific phrases like "moisturize" and "good for anti-aging," she added.
Some brands, meanwhile, offer delivery services to hotels or the airport for those who have placed large orders.
In order to maintain their international profile and attract new customers, many brand cosmetics use "hallyu" stars as their models to promote their products.
Nature Republic, the latest to join the brand cosmetic shops crowd, recently signed singer Rain to promote the "Rain cosmetics" brand.
The strategy seems to have worked. During a month-long period since the brand was launched, Nature Republic has recorded 700 million won in sales.
At Nature Republic`s Myeong-dong stores, foreign customers account for approximately 70-80 percent of weekend sales, and 60 percent of weekday sales. The average sale per customer stands around 150,000 to 200,000 won, the company said.
The Face Shop had had a similarly successful experience -- when 40,000 posters of heartthrob actor Bae Yong-joon were handed out as complimentary gifts to shoppers, they quickly ran out.
Skinfood promotes their BB cream and skincare products by including the Thai royal family among its loyal customers.
Etude House lures Japanese to their stores by using Itko, a famous Japanese drag queen make-up artist who promotes the brand`s BB cream on Japanese television.

Small beauty salons

After a busy day of shopping, tourists can get a quick makeover -- simple beauty treatments are readily available in Myeong-dong and Ewha Womans University, where there are many small, specialized salons and where manicures and pedicures are available for as little as 10,000 won.
"Many tourists come to our salon to get their nails done in between shopping, to rest for a while. Japanese tourists, who outnumber local customers, flock because the services here are much cheaper than their homeland," said a manicurist at Cat`s Nail, a nail salon in Myeong-dong.
In addition to manicures and pedicures, other basic beauty procedures that are offered include eyelash extensions and semi-permanent make-up -- referring to a procedure where carefully applied, mineral-based permanent pigments are placed in the dermal layer of the skin. The effect of the procedure lasts months to years.
Prices for eyelash extensions, false eyelash applications and semi-permanent make-up on eyebrows, eye line and lips are also relatively cheap, ranging usually from 50,000 won to 150,000 won.
(youngaah@heraldcorp.com)

By Koh Young-aah

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