The industry apparently has been caught by surprise with the sales of 2017’s Double 11 Global Shopping Festival on Tmall Global, a leading cross-border B2C online platform in China. Each beauty ampoule store there achieved unexpected sales of over 10 million RMB (more than $14.5 million), and the overall figures for this seemingly niche category exceeded billions, accounting for 40% of total sales of imported cosmetics, according to Tmall data.
In particular, Spanish brands have enjoyed a big lead over other countries in this area, among which MartiDerm and Endocare are believed to be the first two beneficiaries of the boom. Take the former as an example. Since its debut on Tmall Global in 2016, MartiDerm has sold one unit every 2.49 seconds, shattering its own record in Spain. And following its inaugural participation in Double 11 Festival last year, the brand has sold over 5 million units. With that kind of demand, it’s no surprise that MartiDerm reportedly added two production lines at its Barcelona plant, to produce ampoules exclusively for Tmall Global.
Other Spanish cosmeceutical brands expanding their presence in this category include Isdin, Sesderma and Lacabinen. Meanwhile three German companies, Rival de Loop, Viscontour and Babor, have also posted good sales on the digital platforms.
You can also quickly grasp the situation by looking at product registration lists. The word “ampoule” has appeared in State Administration for Market Regulation (and its predecessor) since 2014. In 2016, the number of ampoule products totaled 262. Two months ago, the number had jumped to 1,348.
What Is a Beauty Ampoule?
The beauty ampoule is considered a concentrated version of serum and essence, often housed in a small single-dose vial (1-5ml) with a sealed neck, that is either glass or plastic. With origins in the medical field, this type of package is airtight and often aseptic to prevent environmental aggressors such as air and UV light from contaminating the product.
Compared to other conventional product categories, the beauty ampoule is:
- Better able to support such trending claims as free of preservatives and maintaining the stability and potency of high levels of actives;
- Promoted as an intensive treatment, largely focused on addressing one or two specific skin issues and help skin restore optimal condition in minimal time; and
- Recommended to use continuously for a shorter period of time, which makes it more suitable for skin adjustment in changing seasons, skin treatment after cosmetic surgery or whenever a quick and maximum skin boosting is needed.
MartiDerm Photo Age (30x2ml) claims to prevent photoaging and repairs sun damage, as well as intensely brighten the skin. It contains 15% vitamin C and 3% proteoglycans, as well as yeast extracts, retinol and tripeptide.
Endocare Intensive Repair Serum Ampoules (7x1ml) features SCA Biorepair Technology (growth factors from the purified secretion of Cryptomphalus aspersa), as well as Hydrosystems (Hydroplex and Pentavitin), and vitamins C and E.
While it is the previously little-known Spanish players that have embarked on this new boom, an increasing number of well-known manufacturers, both internationally and locally, are quickly following suit.
The most notable one is L’Oréal China. Late last year, the company launched two new products related to ampoules—L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Filler [HA] 7-day Ampoule and MG (a local brand the company acquired in 2014) Cosmedical Freshly Infused HA Hydrating Maskcare. Both feature low-molecular weight (lower than 50 KDa) hyaluronic acid and were developed locally at the company’s local Research & Innovation Center.
Revitalift Filler 7-day Ampoule promises visible improvement in skin texture after using for seven days. It contains high levels of HA, as well as tripeptide and vitamin CG. MG Cosmedical facial mask series is even more interesting, as it reportedly marries ampoule serum with sheet mask. The product includes an alginate-fiber-based substrate and highly concentrated serum. By simply folding and pressing the package upon application, the serum can be evenly infused into the substrate, ensuring a “fresh infusion for fresh application,” according to the company.
Estée Lauder has also added its own ampoule style product under the Advanced Night Repair series. Despite being named Intensive Recovery Ampoules, it actually comes in the form of 60 single-use capsules packed in a bottle. According to the company, the ampoule contains treatment oil featuring ChronoluxCB Technology to help reduce visible irritation and synchronize the look of skin.
Another brand in the Lauder group, Clinique, also capitalizes on the ampoule trend with its new FP Daily Booster Vit C. Despite being called Antioxidant Vit C Ampoule Essence in Chinese, its package bears no resemble to the look of a typical ampoule; instead, it adopts a dual vial which isolates the pure vitamin C 10% until activation.
A similar concept can be seen in the packaging of Lancôme’s Advanced Génifique Sensitive Dual Concentrate, called Little Black Bottle Ampoule Essence in Chinese which launched in August.
Meanwhile, large domestic brands have wasted no time injumping on the bandwagon. So far their most notable move is adding the ampoule concept to an established category they are already really good at—facial masks. For example, Kans’ Ampoule Hydrating Essence Mask features HA, Unifon’s Ampoule Black Facial Mask series includes bamboo/charcoal-based sheets, and Proya’s Glycoproteins Nourishing Ampoule mask contains astaxanthin.
So, why are beauty ampoules going viral in China now?
First of all, China’s cosmetic market is still going strong. According to National Statistics Bureau, the cosmetics retail industry in 2017 climbed 13.5% to RMB 251.4 billion (approximately $40 billion), and grew 13.3% to RMB 145.6 billion (roughly $23 billion) during the first half of this year. And an OC&C Strategy Consultants study reported that more than 90% of respondents surveyed increased their spending on skin care last year by trading up, and are now frequent users of premium-positioned products, including serum and essence.
Secondly, Chinese consumers have become more knowledgeable and selective about the products/ingredients. There is even a specific term, ChenFenDang (ingredient obsessor), used to describe a certain consumer group that is willing to spend tremendous amounts of time in researching ingredients’ safety and effect.
These consumers rely on such information as an essential guide to buy any product. Coupled with rising awareness of sensitive skin, “gentle cosmeceutical” is currently buzzing around here as it is deemed as effective as a “traditional” cosmeceutical but even safer.
Thirdly, there is burgeoning demand for intensive anti-aging among younger generations, especially those born after 1990—the so-called “Post 90”’ generation in China. Nicknamed “Youthful Middle-old-aged People,” these consumers are overwhelmingly passionate about preventive anti-aging measures, and vigorously search for products they deem safer, more effective and fast-acting. Furthermore, growing individualism among the consumers is pushing them to constantly look for products that stand out in terms of both function and form.
A recent report by CBNData and Tmall Global, “Cross-border E-commerce Consumption Insight on Post-90s /95s Generations,” further confirms that face serum is the most preferred Spanish beauty product. The item performed the best in terms of revenue growth on Tmall Global’s cosmetic sector in 2017.
In addition, men are spending more in an effort to defy aging, with facial serum for men rising 20% last year, according to the platform’s statistics. To seize upon the opportunity, Tmall started an incubation program last year to popularize 10 innovative product categories—including Highly-Effective Serum, a.k.a., beauty ampoule.
Three concepts summarize the current megatrends in China beauty market: Ingredient Obsessor; Youthful Middle-old-aged People; and Gentle Cosmeceuticals.
The beauty ampoule can meet the needs of all three, as it is able to deliver a mélange of scientifically-advanced and medically-related benefits. Moreover, trendy claims such as preservative-free
and suitable for sensitive skin, can describe ampoules.
What About the Future?
Will beauty ampoules become another vibrant trend like facial masks, or just a fad like tone-up creams, which burst on the Chinese cosmetics scene last year and quickly faded? Industry experts remain cautious.
One reason for their concern is that ampoules remain an online phenomenon; few brands have any physical presence on store shelves in the current retail marketplace. Marketing and selling efforts are limited to online platforms; further expansion is much needed as offline is considered a necessary and complementary channel for customer experience and product success.
More importantly, product differentiation could become a headache for cosmetics and skin care brands with numerous beauty ampoules flooding the market.
“Formulating such products largely follows the same strategy as low viscosity-serum, and it is the package format that holds the key,” observed one expert.
As a result, it seems that in order to maintain the product appeal and grow the category, substantiating claims with scientific data is essential, along with constant leveraging of consumer insights.