AKOCO Launches A Next-Gen K-Beauty Website Fusing Commerce And Community
AKOCO, an e-commerce platform offering shoppers opportunities to learn about, share experiences with and buy K-Beauty products, is getting a boost from the world’s obsession with K-pop.
“Three years ago, every Korean beauty brand was coming to the U.S. The K-beauty numbers were insane, but brands were facing saturation. What’s happening now is that K-pop is bringing attention to K-Beauty. BTS has exploded, and everyone wants to know what their idols are wearing,” says Carolina Malis, digital director for AKOCO, referring to the seven-member South Korean boy brand. “That’s created a new interest, especially from teenagers or those looking for a new solution for skincare. K-pop is definitely bringing up the numbers for K-Beauty again.”
Sales in the United States of K-Beauty products are estimated to exceed $350 million, according to data from Slice Intelligence, and skyrocketed nearly 300% from 2015 to 2017. K-Beauty consumers outspend average shoppers when it comes to beauty and shell out $443 a year versus $125 a year, per Slice Intelligence. To attract K-Beauty consumers’ dollars, a flood of e-tailers hopped on the K-Beauty bandwagon, including Soko Glam, Peach & Lily and Glow Recipe, which is exiting third-party brands this month, although Slice Intelligence suggests Amazon is leading the online pack in K-Beauty sales. The category has infiltrated traditional retail from high-end department store Bergdorf Goodman to drugstore chain CVS.
AKOCO, an acronym for All About Korean Cosmetics, strives to differentiate itself from the myriad of e-commerce companies concentrating on K-Beauty by fusing e-commerce with community. It’s a platform for enthusiasts to disseminate product reviews as well as a place to pick up products that might not be easily accessible elsewhere. Malis asserts, “Everyone says they have the best brands or that they are a lifestyle, not just a platform, we are both.”
Instead of merely selecting hero items from K-Beauty brands, AKOCO showcases full lines, a merchandising strategy that has proven effective since its website soft launched in April. Malis says, “Feedback was that people like finding what’s fresh and new, but also want to be able to focus on what they already like about K-Beauty and buy staples.”
AKOCO carries more than 35 brands, including Dr. Jart+, Laneige, Cosrx, CNP and Lirikos, and hundreds of stockkeeping units. The e-tailer buys directly from South Korea to give it a competitive pricing edge. For example, Laneige’s Water Sleeping Mask retails for $20 on Sephora’s site, and it’s priced at $12 on AKOCO. Product exclusives from brand partners are in AKOCO’s pipeline.
“Three years ago, every Korean beauty brand was coming to the U.S. The K-beauty numbers were insane, but brands were facing saturation. What’s happening now is that K-pop is bringing attention to K-Beauty.”
Available to customers globally, AKOCO’s soft-launch period enabled it to work out kinks typical of an emerging company such as shipping isues while it got schooled on the desires of its community. The official kickoff was marked with an event last month in New York City—North America is the recipient of a major marketing effort—as well as an influencer trip to Jeju Island.
Visits to the site have soared 57.1% since AKOCO went live four months ago. Among the buzzy products so far are Laneige’s sold-out Cica Sleeping Mask and Neogen Sunscreen. Monthly, AKOCO presents a themed box spotlighting products from its lineup. Not a subscription box, July’s version contains trial sizes to encourage shoppers to experiment with K-beauty products. The June box had sun protection merchandise.
Clean beauty is on AKOCO’s radar, but the platform is going to take time to understand what that truly means to its customers. Malis says, “We want to hear from our community what clean means to them, not what we think it is.” She reveals the platform’s so-called Klean Beauty assortment should be ready later this summer.
User generated content (UGC) drives AKOCO’s marketing. Content from its shoppers is incorporated into its blog and Instagram feed. The blog also has reviews and articles from beauty editors, influencers and professionals. “We don’t want to be the ones talking about how great we are. We want others too,” says Malis. An affiliate program doling out rewards for referrals has been tweaked since the soft launch to provide a code rather than a link. Malis notes, “That’s something people told us they prefer.”
K-Beauty has set countless trends. It’s credited with pushing American consumers toward unfamiliar ingredients such as snail secretion and bee venom, and products such as sleeping masks and essences. Malis thinks AKOCO will further educate American consumers, especially those still thinking South Korean ingredients are strange. The platform’s hot ingredients at the moment aren’t too weird, however. Vitamin C and superfoods are popular. Malis says, “Vitamin C isn’t new, but some people were afraid of it before. Now, they understand it better.”