Russia looks to Korea for beauty tips and products

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Russia looks to Korea for beauty tips and products

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Korea’s exports of some beauty products to Russia grew ninefold in the past five years, according to a report released Wednesday by the Korea International Trade Association.

Russia imported $137.3 million worth of color cosmetics and skin care products from Korea last year - a substantial jump from $15.5 million in 2014. Korea has become the second-largest exporter of beauty products to Russia, behind France’s $329.3 million in exports.

Russia has the world’s 11th-largest market for beauty products.

Korea’s growth figure is notable, the trade association stated in the report, considering that during the five-year period, most beauty exporters to Russia saw figures retreat or remain stagnant.

And smaller Korean brands that have lower recognition even among domestic consumers proved to be more popular than products of major companies, the data showed.

Traditionally, Russian consumers had high recognition and preference for beauty products from Europe and the United States. Korean products expanded into the market in recent years alongside Hallyu, or the Korean wave, of K-pop and Korean TV series. The popularity of Korean celebrities in Russia appears to have led to higher interest in their brands and beauty routines.

“In Russia, Korean brands are perceived to have a high level of technology thanks to the recognition of Korea’s aesthetic services and plastic surgery,” association researcher Sue Kim said. “Consumers are also interested in the Korean-style beauty routine that follows a fixed set of procedures.”

This comes on top of a general trend in Russia toward focusing increasingly on skin care and lighter makeup rather than color cosmetics.

As an aging society where 15 percent of its people are over 65 years old, anti-aging products in particular have been in higher demand over the past few years.

Russia’s worsening economy has also played a part in the shift toward cheaper Korean products. The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on Russia since 2014, pushing up currency exchange rates, while falling oil prices have reduced consumer sentiment.

Increasingly expensive American and European brands - which used to make up a majority of Russia’s beauty imports - have paved the way for consumers to look to Korean products as alternatives.

Consumers have also become more proactive, searching for product information online rather than basing purchasing decisions on brand recognition. E-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores that place products of multiple brands, like pharmacies, are rising as popular retail channels for beauty in Russia.

“The beauty segment accounts for one-fourth of Korea’s consumer goods exports, and yet there’s been an excessive dependence on a few countries like China and Hong Kong,” Kim pointed out, adding that low export diversity is risky, given the rapidly changing trade environment. “It’s time we increase our focus on Russian and [Southeast Asian] markets.”

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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