Buying beauty at a bargain price
Nature Republic most foreigner-friendly; Face Shop least; Skin Food in between
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
The streets of Seoul are filled with shops like The Face Shop, Missha, Etude House, Nature Republic, Skin Food and Innisfree.
With a wide selection of cutely packaged makeup and skin care products at quite cheap prices, it is no surprise that many teenage girls and women flock to these so-called ``bargain beauty’’ shops.
Yet it is actually not easy to distinguish one shop from the other. All of them have adopted the same marketing concept: to sell skincare and cosmetics products at affordable prices with an ad campaign featuring Hallyu stars.
Interestingly, more male stars are being featured in the ad campaigns to target young females and foreign fans of Korean stars. Nature Republic’s ads feature K-pop star Rain, while The Face Shop still uses actor Bae Yong-joon.
Even the tactics utilized to attract customers are the same. The Etude House, Nature Republic, The Face Shop and Missha give out free samples, boxes of cotton cosmetic pads, drinks and posters of Korean stars to customers who just enter the shop to browse.
Most of the products are priced in the low and mid-range, starting at 1,000 won for nail polish and face masks to 20,000-30,000 won for moisturizers and creams.
Almost all of the brands offer similar products. One can be sure to find face masks, BB creams, slimming gels, body scrubs and collagen creams. Some products even look alike, like Nature Republic’s ice cream yogurt pack and Tony Moly’s ice queen pack, are both packaged in pretty pastel-colored tubs.
But the cheaply priced products should come with a warning: You get what you pay for.
These budget beauty stores offer skin care products that make various claims: whitening, anti-aging, smoothening, wrinkle-reducing, brightening, removing impurities, or all of the above although not all products have the data to back up their claims.
Sales associates in the stores tout the benefits of products with collagen, Korean herbs, stem cells, snails and even gold, but few of these brands can actually support these claims with thorough background research.
Customers are encouraged to buy the entire skincare set which usually includes cleanser, toner, emulsion, serum, face cream and eye cream. Depending on the brand, the total price of these sets can range from 30,000 won to 99,000 won.
For foreign shoppers, one of the most frustrating things is the lack of clear labels, instructions for use and list of ingredients in English.
At the store, the product names are written in English, Chinese and Japanese, but other information is only in Korean. This leads to confusion, misuse of the products, and sometimes allergic reactions to certain ingredients that have not been properly listed.
These cosmetics brands should realize that they cannot just target foreign customers with freebies, sleek packaging and promotions. They should sell products with proper details and instructions for use, at least in English as well. Having this kind of information available in English would certainly encourage foreign shoppers to buy from the brand again.
Many of the brands’ branches in Myeongdong have staff that can speak English, Japanese or Chinese, since their clientele is mainly foreigners.
The Korea Times visited the different stores in Myeongdong, which is undoubtedly the busiest shopping area for tourists, and compared their services and products.
Nature Republic is a relative newcomer to the budget cosmetics market, having only opened last year, but is fast becoming popular among tourists. It is hard to miss the flagship store in Myeongdong, with the brown wooden facade and a huge billboard of Rain’s photo.
The store is obviously targeting foreign tourists, with its special ``foreigner-only’’ section with staff that speak English, Japanese and Chinese. Products on the shelves are properly labeled in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean, plus there is a foreign exchange rate signboard and global tax refund available for purchases of more than 30,000 won. There is also free coffee and water and comfortable seats for tired tourists.
The shop is stocked with different lines, such as Collagen Dream 70, White Max Laser, Madagascar Wrinkle Filler and Pine Tree Urban Detox, but the sheer number of products can be daunting for customers.
The best-selling products are its stem cell and collagen-infused skincare lines, which are priced from 20,000 won to 35,000 won.
Missha is a pioneer in the budget beauty sector, but it has recently been positioning itself as a premium brand. There is a more upscale atmosphere, and the products seem to be catering to women in their 20s and 30s.
While the shop still has 1,000 won face masks and 4,000 won lipsticks, it has recently introduced the Misa Geum Sul (Misa Gold Skin) line, which is infused with 99 percent gold and mountain-grown ginseng. A jar of Misa Geum Sul overnight cream is 55,000 won.
However, Missha is currently offering 20 percent discounts for skincare gift sets. The Misa Geum Sul gift set, originally priced at 99,000 won, is on sale for 79,200 won.
The Face Shop
Compared to its rivals, The Face Shop seems to have a limited selection of makeup and skin care products in its stores. The products also do not have English instructions, while some do not even have English names. Interestingly, some labels are written in Japanese, since The Face Shop’s customer base is mostly Japanese tourists.
The Face Shop, now owned by LG Household, is also trying to upgrade its products. It has a new line of Korean herbal skincare products with 24 karat gold, which cost around 60,000 won each, but once again did not have any English information regarding its ingredients, benefits and instructions on how to use it.
Etude House might as well be called the Pink House for its all-pink girly interiors and cute products endorsed by popular girl group 2NE1. It offers some unique products like Dr. Lash Ampoule to make one’s eyelashes longer; Golden Ratio designing conte for contouring one’s face; and Blackhead Gommage Massage Peel to remove blackheads on the face.
However, the staff did not seem to be interested in offering Etude House membership cards, unless one requests them. The card gives discounts to frequent shoppers, and foreign residents in Korea can apply as long as they have an alien registration card number.
Innisfree claims to be Korea’s first all-natural brand. Everything about the store and its products exude an eco-friendly and green image. The products are all properly identified with English labels, but there are no English instructions, which is disappointing considering it is a brand belonging to Korean cosmetics company Amore Pacific.
Innisfree is one of the few Korean brands to use organic ingredients certified by France’s Ecocert organization. The Magic Floral line uses Ecocert-certified ingredients from camellia, while Eco Recipe also uses Ecocert-organic herbs and extracts. Prices for the organic products range from 14,000 won to 28,000 won.
Since it is owned by AmorePacific, many consumers believe that Innisfree products are of good quality. AmorePacific is known for a range of brands such as Laneige, Mamonde and Iope, which are all available at Aritaum.
Skin Food’s slogan is ``beauty food for the urban sweety,’’ and it seems to take its name seriously, since all its products include fruits, vegetables and other food ingredients. Products include Omija Whitening Teabag Toner, Lettuce Cucumber Jelly Essence, Creamy Cheese Masks and Fermented Mugwort Body Mist.
Skin Food has distinctive packaging that is inspired by the plastic containers for condiments and food products. It is also one of the few companies that bothered to put labels and instructions in English for most of its products.
However, Skin Food was recently embroiled in controversy after the Hong Kong Consumer Council found its Milk Creamy Nail Base Coat and Jojoba Pure Nail products to contain toxic and cancer-causing substances. The company denied the allegations, and it seems the two products were pulled off the shelves in Korea as well.
It’s hard to miss Tony Moly, with its loud music, bright lights and the pretty face of actor Kim Hyun-joong plastered in front of the store. The store’s staff has to be one of the most aggressive, literally pulling customers inside the store in exchange for free face masks or boxes of cotton cosmetic pads.
The most popular items are the Tomatox Red Brightening Mask, which comes in a red tomato-shaped container, and the Dual Effect Sleeping Pack. Only the product names are written in English or Japanese, all other details and instructions are in Korean.
서울에서 저렴한 값으로 얼굴 가꾸기
서울 거리는 더 페이스 샵, 미샤, 에뛰드 하우스, 네이쳐 리퍼블릭, 스킨푸드, 이니스프리 등의 가게로 넘쳐난다.
흥미롭게도 어린 여성들과 외국 팬들을 겨냥하기 위해 화장품 선전에 남성 스타들이 점점 늘어가는 추세이다. 네이쳐 리퍼블릭 광고는 가수 비가, 더 페이스 샵은 배용준이 맡고 있다.
이 가게들 대부분 1,000 원짜리 매니큐어나 마스크를 시작으로 2 만원에서 3만원 정도하는 보습제나 크림 등의 중저가 제품들을 취급한다.
그러나 저렴한 가격 만큼 그 품질이 보장되지는 않는다.
가게들은 화이트닝, 안티에이징, 주름개선, 잡티제거 등을 약속하는 제품들로 넘쳐나지만 이런 효능을 지지해줄 근거가 없는 제품들도 많다.
네이쳐 리퍼블릭은 작년에 열린 비교적 신생 브랜드지만 외국 관광객들 사이에서는 인기를 끌고 있다. 갈색 나무현관과 큰 비 광고 사진이 있는 명동 1호 점은 눈에 쉽게 들어온다.
이 가게는 영어, 일본어, 중국어를 구사하는 직원이 담당하는 ‘외국인 전용’ 구역이 있을 만큼 외국인 관광객을 대상으로 장사를 한다. 선반에 있는 제품들은 영어, 일본어, 중국어, 한국어로 표시되어 있고 환율을 나타내는 전광판도 있다. 또한, 3 만원 이상의 제품에 한하여 국제 세금 환급도 제공하고 있다. 지친 관광객들을 위해 무료로 커피와 물도 매점 내에 비치되어 있다.