The place to go shopping for cosmetics in Hong Kong is Lockhart Road in Causeway Bay. The fact that it is one of the most exhaust-ridden streets in the territory poses no discouragement to the ardent female cosmetics buyers, who flock there for the unparalleled selection. It's all there: French luxury brands and full-service counter help at Sogo and Seibu; earthy, trade-not-aid lotions and soaps from the Body Shop; discounted brand names for half the retail price at Sa Sa; small, impulse-friendly portions of the latest lip and nail colours at Red Earth; and barrels of shampoos spilling on to the sidewalks in front of countless smaller shops. Ian Smith, managing director of looks.com, calls this stretch of Lockhart Road 'Cosmetics Alley'. But if Mr Smith has anything to do with it, his Internet cosmetics retailer will help bring down the area's predominance by luring women in Hong Kong and the rest of Asia to buy make-up on-line instead. Set to launch in early December, looks.com appears to be the first Asian cosmetics retailer to open up for business on the Internet. That is about six months after US sites, such as eve.com, cosmeticconnection.com, and ibeauty.com, started targeting mascara-dependent Web surfers in the Western hemisphere, though it is in tandem with the many others following suit - including a US$50 million bet by industry giant Procter & Gamble, called reflect.com. Looks.com will carry about 10 boutique brands, in addition to its own basic in-house line of lip, eye and nail colour, according to Mr Smith. The site will include editorial content, free e-mail accounts and eventually streaming video how-to's. Shipping will be done from a warehouse near Chek Lap Kok airport. Make-up and cosmetics are far from a frivolous business. Mr Smith estimates that Asians spend $30 billion each year on the stuff, half of it for skin care. And unlike many of today's starry-eyed Internet entrepreneurs who hope to someday make money from on-line advertising or e-commerce partnerships, Mr Smith expects to be profitable in just over a year, from the sale of goods. 'Our profit model is built on traditional business principles. You have a product that you sell for more than it costs to make, and on top of that you have fixed costs,' he said from looks.com's office, which, ironically, is located 15 floors above Cosmetics Alley. 'I think some people have lost sight of that on the Internet.' With about $1 million raised in March, Mr Smith, who previously worked in the private investment business, has hired a seven-person team who will buy, market and co-ordinate shipment of the goods. In addition, China.com's Web design unit, Web Connection, is building the Web site and has taken an equity stake in looks.com in return. Though the firm has talked to logistics specialists about outsourcing shipping and delivery of its products, Mr Smith says it has been hard to find a company that meets its requirements. looks.com's marketing plan calls for pretty packaging of its products, and liberal use of free samples. 'I think at this point the local logistics companies are not ready for us. The international ones, they're used to shipping chemicals and garments,' he said. 'They're not experienced with picking a lipstick, throwing it in the bag and putting a twist tie around it.' looks.com's prices will be roughly equal to US retail prices, or slightly below department-store prices here in Hong Kong. Mr Smith said the site will go for a 'value' image, though he has no intention of pursuing the mass market in the mainland, where average purchases are much smaller than elsewhere in Asia. For the mainland, looks.com will 'need to figure out the distribution and get a small number of products to a large number of people,' he said. With little direct Asian competition on the horizon, looks.com is close to sealing deals with a number of Asian portal sites. It already has an exclusive cosmetics, make-up and fragrance deal with China.com's four sites. Ad network 24/7 Media Asia, also a part of the China.com empire, has committed to selling ads, and to placing ads for looks.com on other sites. For editorial content, looks.com may team with the Asian editions of some American and European women's magazines, Mr Smith says. That editorial content, as well as personalisation and search features that can be found on some of the US beauty sites, may well be key to luring in some of Lockhart Road's regular shoppers. Mr Smith seems undaunted by the fact that shopping in districts such as Causeway Bay is a time-honoured ritual for some in Hong Kong. 'There's a shopping culture everywhere, but that doesn't mean people won't shop on-line,' he said. He expects women to come to looks.com to participate in a community and to find out more about products before they buy. 'It's that information-gathering process that women go through that men don't go through.'