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How Elizabeth Arden’s travel retail business plans to weather Chinese consumers’ changing, ‘buy what you need’ culture

New York-based skincare brand Elizabeth Arden has been in business since 1910, catering to women with a range of iconic beauty, skincare and fragrance products. In 2016 the brand was acquired by Revlon for USD870 million. While Revlon has seen a turbulent last few years, emerging from bankruptcy in 2023, Elizabeth Arden has been increasing its presence in the travel retail sector, where it has found resonance with Chinese consumers.

Retail in Asia speaks with Yumie Chia, general manager of Elizabeth Arden, Asia Pacific travel retail, on the brand’s latest moves. 

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RiA: Please tell us about your remit as general manager for Far East travel retail at Elizabeth Arden. What are some of your priorities for 2024 in the markets that you cover?
Left: Yumie Chia, Elizabeth Arden’s general manager for APAC travel retail.

Yumie Chia: 2024 is an important year as we get back on the growth trajectory.  We are seeing a strong improvement in the pax arrivals to Hainan to celebrate the Spring Festival.  The recovery could also be felt on a gradual curve throughout the other regions in Asia.  With the improving footfall, it would then be important to secure the sales.  Hence, we are improving our in-store as well as online executions – offering collectible and exclusive gifts with purchase, upskilling our beauty advisors in selling techniques and services and activating interesting campaigns to attract customers.  We will also have strong innovations launches in the pipeline.

RiA: What are your observations on the performance and purchasing behaviour in your key travel retail markets?

Chia: Since last year, the slowing China economy has changed the way the Chinese spend.  If there used to be impulsive big ticket spends, this has now switched over to a cautious and calculated “buy what you need” culture. There is, in general, not just less quantities, but also a smaller ticket spend.

Pictured above and below: Elizabeth Arden recently hosted a VIP beauty event to celebrate its Prevage line, together with China Duty Free Group, in Hainan, a key market for its travel retail business. Source: Elizabeth Arden

Since Chinese has been a key nationality in driving Asia travel retail business, this signifies more efforts needed by brands to convince a purchase.  Correspondingly, we also have a diversified assortment across the region to maximise our opportunities to all nationalities.  

Source: Elizabeth Arden

The fragrance category is also gaining fast momentum in travel retail.  Our fragrances, especially the White Tea range, have been performing really well across all our markets. 

RiA: How has the travel retail sector evolved in recent years, and how do you approach building the Elizabeth Arden brand in this channel?

Chia: There have been a lot of shifts and changes in the Asia travel retail environment since Covid-19. From where the business was in majority generated from South Korea, to currently, a more China-centric business which encompasses both physical and digital spaces, the travel retail community has adapted and evolved along with the changing trends. 

Our brand strategy has always been to think out of the box and to provide a creative twist to zest up our offerings and activations. This helps to set us apart from competitors.  For example, we ran a Miffy collaboration last year for the Year of the Rabbit and this year, we ran a Fat Dragon collaboration with China artist Bu2ma for the Year of the Dragon.  We need to be relevant and appeal to evolving customers, while creating some form of exclusivity and collectible moments.  

Activities are highly customised across different regions to ensure we are targeting the different customers profile in the best way possible. We cater our portfolio assortment and highlights differently across different regions. Such differentiated and tailor-made tactics help us to be able to maximise the opportunities in each market. It presents more work, but it is necessary. 

A photo from the Elizabeth Arden Prevage campaign. Source: Elizabeth Arden
RiA: Elizabeth Arden recently launched a campaign focusing on the Prevage line, ‘Prevage Girls’.  Can you tell us about that?

Chia: Many of us in the company swear by Prevage. We decided to embark on a storytelling approach to share life stories and life philosophies. Our brand founder,  Elizabeth Arden, was also a power woman of her times.  She was never bounded by societal norms and traditions.  Instead, she stepped up to become one of the most powerful businesspersons of her time. Being an early advocate of women’s rights, she famously provided red lipsticks to the suffragettes marching on Fifth Avenue in 1912.  Putting on red lipsticks at that time enabled women to feel fearless and powerful.  These are the same sentiments of how Prevage has been a pillar of support for women.

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RiA: What else can we expect from Elizabeth Arden’s travel retail presence in the coming year?

Chia: We are working on exciting and fun retail animations which will keep the Elizabeth Arden brand highly vibrant and visible through the year. The annual Travel with Arden campaign, from March, brings about a fresh splash of colours and fun each time.  We try to always bring some fresh ideas and interesting activations to spice up the shopping experience of our customers.  We would also be engaging in more thematic and story-telling beauty masterclasses through the year.