“Design in China”​ e14 – Harmay话梅 – The Sample Size Beauty Retailer Taking China By Storm

Harmay – The Sample Size Beauty Retailer Taking China By Storm

Selling online seems like a natural step in the current era, where a significant chunk of sales comes from mobile devices. It would be hard to imagine a retailer taking the old brick-and-mortar approach and selling in stores. But that’s exactly what the Chinese beauty retailer, Harmay, is doing and experiencing unprecedented success with it. But curating an immersive in-store customer experience isn’t the only thing it has championed, as the retailer focuses on sample-size offerings of local and international brands. Its unique mix of small sizes, a wide range of brands, and self-service experience attract many young Chinese consumers. Unsurprisingly, the retailer has expanded to nine locations in China and has become the go-to for those with a penchant for social media.

Harmay opened its first store in 2017 with a unique model of selling sample-size products that helped make even luxurious international beauty brands a bit more accessible. They carry popular international names like NYX, Nars, L’Oreal, and Tom Ford. While they carry normal-size products, sample-size products offer access to a wider range of brands at affordable prices. But that’s not the unique selling point of the retailer. The offline buying experience they have created in their stores made them stand out. The contemporary, artsy, and inviting environment of the stores makes it a perfect fit for consumers that want to visit so-called Instagrammable spots (even though Instagram is not present in China). They’ve used the best in architecture to design their spaces. The retailer recently opened a store in Chongqing that expands over 14,000 feet, designed by Shanghai-based architecture firm AIM Architecture. They chose the hip Yuzhong district and incorporated elements from War-era Chongqing architecture.

In early 2022, Harmay raised $200 million in Series C funding, backed by the US-based General Atlantic. It’s now part of the growing list of Chinese businesses inviting foreign investment, particularly from the West. Despite its young generation-winning concept, the retailer has its competition cut out. It competes with cosmetic giant Sephora, which has a strong online and offline presence in China. In terms of local competition, it rivals Chinese retailers Colorist and WoW Color. The former raised over $1.8 billion in 2021.

The company says its plans to use the funding for opening new locations, adding new product categories, and initiating online sales with its mobile application. Its current online presence is solely for marketing purposes, leveraging popular social media platforms in the country. It has so far sustained the offline shopping model with its design and experience-oriented stores with no shadowing sales staff and coffee stands to buy a drink. Breaking into the online beauty and fragrance retail landscape would be a first for the company that might increase exposure and revenue but also risks deviation from the brand philosophy of creating a contemporary, immersive in-store shopping experience. At the same time, it’s not unusual for retailers to enjoy a solid offline and online presence. 

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