Why Xixi, China beauty blogger and favourite of Becky Li, recommends British pharmacy brand Boots for cheap cosmetics

With a growing fan base of hundreds of thousands, make-up and skincare expert Xixi is mixing cosmetics cultures for millennial women looking for a foundation in beauty – and loves the cheap products offered by Boots

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 6:21pm

A rising number of Chinese consumers would be unfazed by a US$200 whitening serum by favoured Korean label Sulwhasoo or the similarly hefty price tag on a 50ml bottle of Estée Lauder’s famous Advanced Night Repair.

But ask one of China’s rising beauty bloggers, and she’ll tell you all about her go-to spot for bagging loads of skincare goodies abroad – and it’s not Saks, at least not always. Xixi, a former make-up artist for leading WeChat KOL Becky Li, has an insider tip: stop at Boots, the popular UK pharmacy chain.

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In one of her most recent posts, Xixi writes about her trip to London, where she visits the four-storey Boots flagship on Oxford Street. “Every time I go to a new city, guess where I go first? The chemist!” she writes in an April post on her WeChat blog My Shopping List. “Its temptation is not limited to buying lots of local make-up products, skincare products and miscellaneous items. The key is that most of it is very cheap, so you’re not losing much if it doesn’t work out.”

The multibillion dollar beauty industry in China has been steadily growing. In the past year, shoppers have been adding more steps to their beauty routines and buying more products.

A recent survey by OC&C Strategy Consultants reports that some female respondents were doing as many as nine skincare steps, putting them closer to the average eight to 10-step Korean routine. They’re also willing to spend more on trendy, hard-to-find products, like YSL’s vinyl cream lip stain #407 and Tom Ford’s lipstick #16.

So where exactly does a place like Boots, where most make-up costs a handful of British pounds, fit in to this shifting environment?

“Buying chemist products is a new trend in China because people are caring more about whether the cosmetics work than about the price,” Xixi said. “It’s an especially attractive option for students compared to their older counterparts, who would have more money to buy the more expensive brands. But not always.”

In fact, the Boots No7 skin hydration mask, which retails for around £13 (US$17) in the UK, is often a favourite brand of beauty daigou, or personal shoppers who take requests from Chinese shoppers from stores abroad. Although there aren’t any official Boots retailers in China, it’s not difficult to find the brand all over Taobao, with daigou charging as much as US$25 for certain products that normally cost half the price.

It’s not just Boots No7 that draws Xixi’s attention during her pharmacy shopping spree. She also explores a number of face masks, brow powder palettes, concealer options, and more from European and US premium brands, always dissecting which shades are going to be suitable for Asian skin types.

She also teaches her mostly millennial and mostly female readers how to fill in their eyebrows to match their face shape; which products recommended by celebrities like Fan Bingbing actually work; and in what stage of the process beauty buffs should apply sunscreen to their face.

Before starting her blogging empire, the 24-year-old Guangdong native spent her university years in Canada surfing make-up tutorial videos on YouTube. A hobby turned into a profession, and not long after she returned to China after graduation, she found herself attending fashion shows with the influencer behind the popular blog, Becky’s Fantasy.

Becky Li encouraged Xixi to start her own platform as she was already amassing her own fans – now more than 300,000 of them – many of whom are young women. Xixi continues to glean her inspirations from trends paraded by beauty bloggers and fashion shows abroad (she was most recently in London for an Adidas by Stella McCartney event), sharing make-up tips through videos on QQ and detailed product descriptions with prices.

Her insight from time spent in the West and access to so many followers makes her an asset to high-end cosmetic lines, including Armani, MAC and Dior, who work with a separate department of people behind Xixi’s My Shopping List blog to gain data on Xixi’s readership, learning more about which product posts spur more engagement. However, Xixi says she doesn’t work directly with brands to promote them.

In her posts, readers will find a wide variety of brands from both Asia and the West, as well as a mix of techniques. But even as consumers’ tastes in China grow more sophisticated and shoppers seek out international brands, Xixi says she has to take into account that her readers are of a different mindset than those in the Western market.

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While US women are rooting for the diversity of shades as part of Fenty Beauty, Chinese consumers are after skin-lightening products and sheer application techniques, with many even unaware that Fenty Beauty refuses to enter China because of the country’s lax laws on animal testing.

Meanwhile, as brands like Milk Makeup go vegan and pare down ingredients and steps to the bare minimum, Chinese consumers are taking on more products to achieve younger-looking complexions, with the latest obsession, according to Xixi, being facial massagers. Techniques like highlighting and contouring have only recently been taking root in China’s make-up culture.

It’s not all different though. While brands in the US come up with innovative marketing pop-up concepts – like Glossier’s fried chicken and lipstick – there are also skincare brands entering China that are finding out that customer engagement and hype can extend beyond the make-up counter. For example, Kiehl’s recently debuted its second café in Asia, serving up petit desserts and coffee alongside tubes of moisturiser.

But hype is far from Xixi’s priority, unless it’s a product fad that’s worthwhile for her readers. One of the latest trends? Don’t shy away from “man-killer” lipstains, she says. “When you wear these pinkish orange shades, boys will think you look very cute and charming!”