In Southeast Asia, Singaporean shoppers are an eCommerce seller’s dream. It has the highest basket size1 in the region, at $91. (It far eclipses the second-largest basket size, which is that of the Philippines, at $56.) Conversion rate is 10% higher than average—second only to Vietnam, and a close tie with its much larger neighbour, Indonesia.
This is good news for eCommerce retailers looking to enter the Singaporean market. For those in the cosmetics industry in particular, the numbers are promising. The local cosmetics market is expected to grow annually at a CAGR of 1.6 per cent2 from 2020 to 2023. And beauty ranks among the top eCommerce categories in Singapore3.
But as Euromonitor International points out4, emerging trends are changing the types of cosmetics that Singaporeans buy (both online and offline), as well as their motives for doing so. In this article, we’ll look into these trends and motivations, and talk about how eCommerce sellers can adapt.
But first, let’s get on the same page as to what the term “cosmetics” encompasses.
Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority defines5 cosmetics as “any substance or preparation that is intended to be placed in contact with the external parts of the human body, such as the skin, hair, nails, lips or mouth”. Cosmetics may be intended for cleaning, perfuming, protecting, or maintaining the body. They may also be made for correcting body odours or changing one’s appearance.
In the past, we’ve written about skincare eCommerce trends in Singapore6 as well as Singapore’s general eCommerce landscape. So in this article, we’ll focus on makeup.
With that said, let’s take a dive into Singapore’s cosmetics eCommerce market.
It’s no secret that Singaporeans love shopping. And they’re shopping online more than ever before.
In Q3 2019, 74%7 of Singaporeans from the age of 16 to 64 reported purchasing a product within the past month. All in all, Singaporeans spent US$296 million on beauty and fashion products in 2019—9.7% more compared to 2018.
According to the International Trade Administration of the US Department of Commerce8, the cosmetics and personal care market has increasingly expanded its focus over the years and now includes not just women, but also men and children. Men made online transactions almost as much as women did (56% versus 57%). In a study9 of 3,000 Singaporean male online shoppers, Shopee found that 70% were buying products online more often in 2019 than they did the year before. This included purchases of men’s beauty and personal care products, such as pimple patches and hair pomade.
Several factors explain Singaporeans’ increased preference for online shopping, including for cosmetics:
Consider how long it takes to browse through multiple sellers’ online catalogues, versus the amount of time you need to go from one physical retail store to another. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the diversity of products draws Singaporeans to online shops and eCommerce platforms.
Not only that, but accessibility to foreign sellers also widens the range of product choices. In fact, PayPal found10 that 73% of Singaporean online shoppers have purchased goods from overseas sellers.
If we look at the types of cosmetics that Singaporean shoppers prefer, we can understand why they’re looking for more choices both locally and overseas foreign sellers. For skincare and makeup, demand is highest for Korean and Western brands, respectively, according to the Daily Vanity Consumer Survey 201911. But as a seller, you mustn’t limit yourself to these items, as niche products are also on the rise. (We’ll delve more into this data later.)
It’s no surprise that better prices attract consumers. iPrice reported12 that discounts and promotions are the major draws for one-fourth of Singaporean online shoppers. And the Shopee study13 of Singaporean male online shoppers also revealed that 93% enjoyed gaining rewards and incentives through in-app games. Meanwhile, 60% compare prices across different sites before making a purchase.
But it’s important to note here that a desire for discounts, promotions, and rewards does not necessarily mean a demand for cheaper products. As we’ll discuss later on, Singaporean online shoppers are willing to pay a premium for cosmetics, as long as they meet certain criteria. That being said, it’s time to delve into what’s making the Singaporean cosmetics eCommerce market in particular tick.
The average Singaporean woman buys makeup eight times a year, according to a survey14 by Shopee. This includes 20 eyebrow products, 18 foundations, 12 eyeshadows, 12 concealers, and six each of blushers, eyeliners, and mascara.
That’s a ton of makeup—but what exactly goes into the shopping cart?
We can glean insights from several studies and sources. For instance, a Daily Vanity consumer survey15 showed that Western brands—most especially IT Cosmetics, Benefit Cosmetics, MAC, and Urban Decay—are most trusted by Singaporeans when it comes to makeup. You’ll also see these brands among the top wish-listed products16 in the Singaporean online store of Sephora, a popular chain of personal care and beauty shops.
But as we said earlier, it’s increasingly clear that consumer preferences are becoming more diverse. Brands and niche items aside from popular Western names are gaining more basket share.
So let’s look at these emerging trends in Singaporean online shoppers’ cosmetics purchases:
Products that comprise these trends can be pricey, and that’s okay. Nielsen’s research17 shows that 23% of Singaporeans are willing to pay premium prices when buying cosmetics online. The products, though, have to fulfil certain criteria, such as superior function or performance (cited by 92% of respondents), high quality or safety standards (91%), product differentiation (88%), and organic ingredients (81%).
To find such items, 32% look to local online stores, while 28% purchase from overseas online retailers.
Let’s delve deeper.
Clean beauty is all about going back to basics. Natural and organic ingredients are important, but it goes beyond that. Clean cosmetics products18 are free from toxic or problematic ingredients, such as aluminium compounds, fragrances, formaldehyde, and parabens.
As clean beauty is such a niche category, Singaporean shoppers need to look both locally and overseas to find a product they’ll want to buy. It’s especially helpful to check out Brand.coms and branded social media pages, as these channels allow cosmetics makers to provide thorough and specific information about what makes their products qualify as ‘clean’.
Clean beauty is about to boom, so it’s best to position yourself in the market early if you’re selling this type of product. The most important thing is to prove to consumers that your items really are clean. That means providing well-written, credible content explaining the ingredients and processes that went into making them.
Along with the consciousness about toxic ingredients comes an increased demand for safer products for children, according to Euromonitor19. Singaporean families with only one child are especially better able to offer such speciality products. This also signals a move away from mass brands for children’s care, and towards those that make products with natural and organic ingredients.
For eCommerce sellers in this category, it will help to curate children’s care products that meet safety standards, are proven to be effective, and use natural ingredients. You can position yourself as a specialised retailer.
In an article by Cosmetics Design-Asia20, the founder of Rooki Beauty attributes the rising trend of cosmetics with Asian ingredients to the continent’s growing middle class and their eagerness to “make their presence felt in the world”.
Rooki Beauty is a Singaporean skincare brand that uses ingredients like Japanese matcha in its products. If you look at online cosmetics shops in Singapore, such as Sephora SG, you’ll find products that sound distinctly Asian—for example, soy face cleansers, black tea essence, and konjac sponges. And on local eCommerce platform Qoo10, you’ll find more than 2,000 results for bird’s nest-based skincare.
Again, the key here is curation. If you decide that you want to sell cosmetics with Asian-centric ingredients, you’ll need to do research not only to find such products, but also to understand the cultural significance of certain ingredients. Doing so will help you craft a culturally sensitive marketing message that resonates with your Singaporean buyers.
It looks like K-beauty is here to stay. In a July 2019 survey21, 31% of Singaporean respondents—including men22—said Korean products comprised half to three-fourths of all beauty products they owned. Daily Vanity also identified Etude House and The Face Shop as two of the most popular products among Singaporean cosmetics buyers.
The bonus is that Korean makeup can be cheaper to buy online.
For instance, several Lazada sellers, as well as LazMall itself, offer Korean products at a discount—some offering as much as an 81% markdown—along with cashback. They even sweeten the deal with free shipping. That said, it may be difficult to compete with the multitude of sellers out there offering Korean items. Consider offering bundles or discounts to attract a share of the market.
As reported by SCMP24, Euromonitor International has seen a growing preference for independent cosmetics brands among Singaporeans. And according to Daily Vanity25, more respondents (97%) expressed a willingness to try new brands in 2018, compared to only 79% who were keen on trying out new makeup brands in 2017.
For eCommerce sellers outside Singapore, there’s no need to despair. The preference for local brands isn’t strictly a matter of geographical origin, but rather of authenticity. So if the brands of the products you sell are independent and authentic, you can win over Singaporean online shoppers, too.
Just how do you define authenticity in cosmetics, though?
Luxasia, an Asian eCommerce and retail network, gives us a clue through the same Euromonitor report, as described by SCMP. These indie brands that are perceived as authentic tend to produce on a small scale, offer “non-conventional consumer experiences”, and have a “strong online presence, accompanied by credible social interactions”.
Considering Singaporeans’ appetite for newer brands and Asian ingredients, it’s tempting to dive into the market. However, it pays to test the market before committing any major investments. If you currently don’t have a cosmetics supply chain in Singapore, cross-border shipping ensures you have guaranteed revenue on each delivery into the country, aided by Singapore’s high de minimis rate of SGD 400. Look out for a partner with good knowledge of Singaporean customs regulations and a strong delivery network in the country.
Google is the main starting point for researching cosmetics products prior to buying them online. Singaporean consumers also read online beauty media platforms26 and blogs. For example, HerWorld27 and Zula28 rank among the most-visited websites in Singapore under the beauty and cosmetics category, based on SimilarWeb data29 as February 2020.
Still, word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family reign when it comes to online purchases for Singaporeans, and for cosmetics purchases in particular. Nielsen30 found this to be true for 46% of Singaporeans, while research comes in a close second (43%).
Data from GlobalWebIndex, as compiled and reported by We Are Social and Hootsuite31, supports this. It shows that search engines and word-of-mouth recommendations are the top sources of brand discovery for Singapore eCommerce users.
Recommendations can also come from strangers in the form of buyers’ reviews. We looked at Singaporean online cosmetics retailers to study what local shoppers consider before buying a product.
On Hush, an online cosmetics retailer, consumer reviews of bestselling products tend to mention:
Apart from the product attributes, Singaporeans also care about the speed of delivery and the condition of the items when they arrive, as seen in many cosmetics reviews on Qoo10.
The lesson is clear for eCommerce sellers outside of Singapore: make sure you fulfil your promises, both in terms of the product attributes and the shipping experience. That entails being honest about your product claims, as well as working with a trustworthy and efficient cross-border shipping service provider.
Almost half—42.3%—of completed eCommerce transactions in Singapore are done on mobile phones, according to JP Morgan32. Their research predicts that mobile commerce will outpace overall eCommerce growth in Singapore by 2021.
In addition, Worldpay’s Global Payments Report33 reveals that 71% of Singaporeans prefer apps over mobile browsers whenever they use their smartphones to shop online. And the latest Digital 2020 report on Singapore34 reveals that 68% of 16- to 64-year-old Internet users in the country use shopping apps. That means either using a branded app or an eCommerce platform’s app.
Aside from popular eCommerce platforms like Qoo10, Lazada, Shopee, Singaporeans can also visit online retailers that specialise in cosmetics, such as Sephora. Fashion eCommerce sites like Zalora and ASOS also sell makeup, as do the online sites of chain stores like Guardian and Watsons.
Certain overseas eCommerce platforms also sell to Singapore. These prove to be useful for finding products that aren’t readily available in the country, as well as for niche items. For example:
Take a look at what each platform offers to determine where you should sell your products. For example, if you’re selling Korean cosmetics, try Althea. If you’re focusing on cruelty-free products, you should go for Tarte Cosmetics, because they focus on that niche.
Also consider the shipping options that each platform provides. Do they offer free shipping to Singapore if a buyer meets a certain basket size? What are the return and exchange conditions?
Emerging trends are shifting the cosmetics purchases of Singaporean online shoppers. As these trends deal with niche and speciality categories, it’s important to carefully consider which ones you’ll adopt. And once you’ve decided, it will help to cultivate a network of partners both within and without Singapore to ensure an interesting product variety and effective, painless eCommerce deliveries.
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