The French Pharmacy – An Asian Love Affair

A few weeks ago you may have read my post concerning the different beauty rituals across Asia and about some of the star products coming from the east, especially Korea where the cosmetics industry is particularly innovative.  However, despite cultural differences, there is one thing that Asian Consumers love and have in common, especially when they are in tourist mode … the French Pharmacy!

Over the past few years the Asian market and in particular China and Korea has been stung by the influx of counterfeit cosmetics and consumers are now flocking to pharmacies when they are in France to buy French “dermo-cosmetic” brands in mass that not only jostles the pharmacies but also their suppliers.

The peak season for Korean tourists is in July and August and according to the Paris Tourist Office in 2013 around 500 000 individuals visited Paris.  Shopping is 4th on their list of “things to do” just behind visiting museums, parks and gardens and they spend on average 162€ a day compared with 158€ for the average foreign tourist. The Chinese spend even more – an average of 197€ representing 25% more.

In temperatures nearing 30°C,  tour operator coaches can be seen parked up by the Galeries Lafayette department store and just a few meters away a queue can be seen in front of Maxipharma – a pharmacy that is the mecca of the asian tourist as every effort is made to facilitate their shopping – including native speaking staff and demonstrators and labels in a variety of languages. Some pharmacies now open 24/24 7/7 to cater for this new market.

So, what are these tourists looking for and why?  Surprisingly it’s sometimes what we consider as the”staples” that are the most sought after.  One of my personal favorites “Créaline Eau Micélaire” from Bioderma literally flies off the shelves particularly when sold as a two or three-pack bundle.  The same goes for the René Furterer haircare line and also brands such as Filorga, Nuxe, La Roche Posay and Vichy that invariably carry attractive discounts on the second product purchased.

As far as motivation is concerned the price of these “dermo-cosmetic” brands is very appealing for the Asian tourist; on average 3 times less and for some products as much as 8 times less, particularly for Koreans.  In Japan, the pharmacy brand Avène costs ten times more!!! However cost doesn’t explain everything.  It appears that many Asian tourists don’t trust the products that are available in their own market with an increase in counterfeit merchandise. So, when in France, the emblematic green cross and the pharmacist’s white coat are reassuring.

So whilst pharmacies surf on a massive wave of increased frequentation and sales, is there are down side to this current trend? Firstly, a group of fifty of more asian tourists flowing through the doors cannot be taken lightly and the pharmacy needs to  adapt accordingly.  There is also a risk of abandon by local clientèle who prefer to take their business to smaller, quieter pharmacies, so the pharmacy owners should really assess the sustainability of this phenomenon before embarking on this route.

Finally,  the suppliers, despite increasing their brand notoriety abroad are in danger of stock shortages in France, and certain pharmacies are limiting the number of products per individual. In one pharmacy, Eau d’Avène for example is limited to 5 bottles per person! It seems that mass purchasing may not just be reserved for customer’s personal use or for friends and family.  In China and in Korea organized networks are being set up whereby products are diluted and repackaged to supply the “grey” market.

The moral of the story? Whilst the increased sales of these brands is a significant lever for growth, it should, never the less be handled with precaution.

The French Pharmacy – An Asian Love Affair