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China's Super Consumers: What 1 Billion Customers Want and How to Sell it to Them by Savio Chan, Michael Zakkour

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Chapter 11From Sandpaper to Sephora—The First Super Consumers

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.

—Chinese Proverb

In post-1949 China, women were discouraged from wearing makeup, if they could even find any. It was considered bourgeois and antirevolutionary for the typical female to try to make herself look Western or to stand out with rouge, eyeliner, or lipstick. After Reform and Opening began and this stricture eased, cosmetics were still extremely rare and hard to buy. Many women improvised by rubbing their cheeks and lips with sandpaper to give themselves the touch of red that would make them look and feel more feminine. In February 2013, Sephora—the wildly popular and successful French cosmetics and body-care chain—opened its largest flagship store in Shanghai, at the corner of Nanjing Road and Maoming Road. After opening its first store in China in 2005 and seeing steady growth and profits, it was clear that demand for multibrand cosmetics retailing was high and would continue to grow.

According to Sephora, the new flagship store has more than 1,500 square feet of sales space, spread over five floors, where Chinese shoppers can choose from 118 different brands (17 of which are Asian) and nearly 7,000 products. The store employs 100 people (out of 2,500 employees total for Sephora China). During more than a dozen visits to the store, we observed that it is almost always packed and traffic-to-sales conversions ...

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