Shiseido’s Recipe for Digital Innovation in China‘s Beauty Market

It is well known that the Beauty Queen L’Oréal has this extravagant French style of buying brands and startups every year. In 2018 the acquisition of Modiface was the talk of the town.


Nevertheless, not many out there actually realized Shiseido, another iconic beauty giant from Japan, acted a step ahead of L’Oréal and snapped up a similar version of Modiface, Giaran in 2017.

Since 2016, Shiseido has been quietly pushing its innovation progress in a more low-key yet persistent Japanese way. An overview of its timeline milestone below should give you a glimpse of its strategic planning. Based on the timeline, we can surmise that Shiseido is shifting the innovation focus onto China market. In fact, Shiseido was the very first foreign beauty brand entering the country back in 1983. Even though with over three decades of experience in the country, the urge of digital transformation and innovation seem to be more acute than ever.

To achieve such objective, especially for adding fuel to its online business, Shiseido needs an alliance from a cat, not the traditional lucky cat Maneki Neko, but China’s e-commerce cat Tmall, aka Alibaba’s mascot.



Critics might elaborate on the pitfall of brands’ dependence on Alibaba for digital innovation. Sure we can blurt out independence as we wish, but back in every brand’s mind, whether you love it or not, Alibaba’s dominance, influence, and ecosystem have become an indispensable companion for them.

Chinese customers are fickle, demanding, no brand loyalty and constantly seeking new, exciting product experience. So brands have to scratch their heads hard to come up novice product idea and search partners beyond their usual territory. In light of this, some beauty brands begin to select household names like Huggies Diapers, WantWant Rice Cake, WhiteRabbit milk candy, then transform them into co-branded beauty products.

It is said Tmall has been the mastermind and matchmaker behind all those wacky co-creations. During big e-commerce festivals, in particular, double 11, Tmall usually helps beauty brands to roll out these limited editions of products, promoting them to be the “hero SKU” in order to attract traffics, attention or even controversy.

In 2017, Alibaba established TMIC (Tmall Innovation Center), claiming to leverage big data insights gleaned from its e-commerce and media sites to help brands develop, design and market new products specifically catering to Chinese consumers’ taste within a short period of time.

And Shiseido’s press release regarding the joint business plan with Alibaba emphasized the importance of collaboration with TMIC. The first co-developed products with Alibaba will be available exclusively on Tmall starting this September under the hair/body care brand “AQUAIR”.

Meanwhile, Shiseido is not giving up the efforts in invigorating brick&mortar experience for its Chinese customers. For this, Shiseido probably no longer needs Alibaba. During the recent ChinaBeautyExpo in Shanghai, Shiseido showcased its “Beauty Method” concept store, basically, a glamorous kitchen ambiance combining the elements of gourmet food and beauty products. Such an immersive shopping experience shall make every customer feel fully pampered. It aims to offer customers comprehensive advice not just on skincare and make-up, but also on hair, fashion, diet, fitness…perhaps playing the role of lifestyle consultant.

Local media said Shiseido will roll out the very first “Beauty Method” store in China in August this year and possibly many more in the near future.




Today it is no longer uncommon to marry food and beauty together. Certain research shows that the beauty industry can really go beyond its core business and explore new inspiration from agriculture, food, health, sports, etc.

If nappy in China can turn itself into a facial mask, all we have to do is expanding our imagination.

By: Cecilia Wu