Ideas Lunch Series: Innovating the Future of Beauty in China

The China market is barely 40 years old. Yet, its beauty market is estimated to reach USD65 billion in sales by 2024. As niche and younger brands begin to expand, international players like Shiseido are also pivoting their strategies to stay competitive and ahead of the trends.

On May 27, MBA alumna Carol ZHOU, SVP of China Business Innovation and Investment Office for Shiseido, connected with us virtually from Shanghai and shared her innovative approach to drive acceleration for China business. The event was moderated by Professor Dongwon LEE from the Department of Information Systems, Business Statistics, and Operations Management.

China business Innovation & Investment office was set up in Jan 2019. Carol’s team was strategically placed in China to drive innovation and create value for Chinese customers. During the pandemic, Shiseido also streamlined their prioritization by focusing on developing what they are best at – premium skincare – to accelerate and build sustainable goals towards 2023 and beyond.

Additionally, Shiseido continues spearheading the beauty innovation arena by using an open innovation approach in their business. Currently, Shiseido is collaborating on several innovative ventures with various startups and technology organizations to explore new areas in the beauty industry. Shiseido also incubates its own brands and has branched out into other areas of the beauty sector, including beauty devices and ingestible. Shiseido’s success in these beauty niches also comes from a demand for better health and wellness offerings that consumers can enjoy throughout the pandemic.

Carol’s team occupies a fundamental role in driving transformation and innovation. While Shiseido’s brand culture is deeply rooted in Japanese craftsmanship, China’s mobile-focused lifestyle demands a quick turnaround and requires constant innovative thinking to deliver value to their customers.

China’s unique market also relies heavily on local social media platforms. “The local live platforms are part of consumers' lives now, we have to be on them in order to directly speak to our consumers and engage them in a way they understand.” Despite the technological advancement, customers’ data are stored across various platforms, making it challenging to centralize all data in one platform and build a truly seamless digital integration. 

Before joining Shiseido, Carol worked in various leadership roles at L’Oréal, Burberry, Marriott, and other international firms. Looking back at her career shifts, “I didn’t know where I was headed... But everything I did led me to where I am now…I always challenge myself everywhere I go,” Carol reflected. As the number of women working in leadership roles increases, she also encourages young women to be confident and take action on achieving what they are capable of. “I always urge everyone to challenge themselves by leaving their comfort zones and taking more risks. That’s how we become better and progress.”