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Thursday, Mar 30, 2023

Hongkongers freshen up with lipstick, spa days after axing Covid mask mandate

Hongkongers freshen up with lipstick, spa days after axing Covid mask mandate

Cosmetic retail leader says popular lipstick shades flying off shelves, with industry-wide sales during first quarter expected to rise 20 per cent from year before.
Lipstick has emerged as a much sought-after commodity after Hong Kong lifted its indoor and outdoor mask-wearing restrictions, while some residents have opted to freshen up with some time at the city’s spas and beauty salons.

The uptick in cosmetic products and treatments occurred as official figures released on Thursday showed the city’s retail sales in January had rebounded to pre-Covid levels.

The Post also observed a higher proportion of shoppers forgoing face coverings in Causeway Bay, a major shopping district, on the second day without the city’s sweeping mask mandate.

A traveller from Tianjin surnamed Liu said she was out shopping there to buy more cosmetic products in light of the policy change.

“I’ve saved a lot of energy and money by wearing a mask, but now it’s time to take care of my appearance,” she said.

One of Thursday’s hot retail items was lipstick, with Cosmetic and Perfumery Association of Hong Kong chief supervisor Joseph Ho Shiu-chung saying shoppers might struggle to find popular shades, as well as foundation creams and powder blushes.

Ho said he expected industry-wide sales during the first quarter to increase by around 20 per cent from a year ago, but added it would take time to return to pre-pandemic levels since there were fewer cosmetic outlets in operation.

The policy change also marked an end to the last of Hong Kong’s major restrictions to combat the pandemic, contributing to a loss of businesses over the past three years for the city’s retail and services industries.

But provisional data from the Census and Statistics Department showed the value of total retail sales had grown by 7 per cent from a year ago to HK$36.2 billion (US$4.6 billion). The figure was also the highest recorded for that month since 2020, when it reached HK$37.7 billion while the pandemic got under way.

A department spokesman on Thursday said the value of total retail sales had risen further in January from a year earlier due to an improvement in consumer sentiment.

The start of this year also featured a winding down of travel restrictions along the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, a first after three years of Covid-19 entry curbs, while Lunar New Year took place on January 22, he said.

Over in Causeway Bay, shoppers on Thursday seemed unable to get enough of their favourite cosmetic products. A staffer at a Shiseido store there said some lipstick shades had run out of stock with the increase in demand.

Another shopkeeper at the Charlotte Tilbury store also said business appeared to have improved.

“As the mask mandate has been dropped, I can clearly see a lot of local and mainland consumers looking for lipsticks and foundations,” the shopkeeper said.

Carmen Pang Yuk-ling, founding president of the International Beauty and Health General Union, said beauty salons were also benefiting from the positive consumer sentiments.

The number of treatment bookings had doubled in recent weeks, including a notable rise in sessions for elderly patrons who were previously hesitant to sign up during the pandemic, she added.

But Pang also said the growing demand and the departure of beauticians from both the industry and city had prompted intense competition for manpower, as a “30 per cent raise wouldn’t make them stay”.

Wendy Wong Hung-ying, a manager at Windsor SPA in Fortress Hill, said she had noticed a 20 per cent increase in customers a day after the mask mandate was scrapped.

“The number of guests is definitely way more than last Thursday at the same time in the afternoon. We saw customers coming in without masks on, but our staff will maintain their face coverings and ensure they feel comfortable,” she said.

Amy Chow Mei-fung, owner of a massage parlour Happy Valley in North Point, said more elderly patrons had dropped by for foot and body massages.

“Senior customers are finally going outside and coming back. I haven’t seen those familiar faces for a long time,” she said.

Meanwhile, travel booking platform Klook on Tuesday, when the policy change was first announced, logged a 75 per cent increase in activity bookings by Hong Kong-based users compared with the day before. Its most popular items were dining and staycation packages.

But the city’s wider rollback of restrictions had not benefited all industries equally, with Licensed Bar and Club Association of Hong Kong charter president Ben Leung Lap-yan saying business had plunged by 30 per cent over the last two months in comparison with December, when revellers celebrated the scrapping of the city’s vaccine pass.

“After the lifting of other pandemic restrictions, people prefer travelling abroad instead of staying in Hong Kong, which is understandable,” he said.

He added that the axing of the mask mandate would have a limited impact on the city’s bars, since patrons always took their face coverings off to drink.

Lemon Mok, the founder of party room business CampFire Hong Kong, said he had observed a similar pattern, noting bookings had fallen by more than 30 per cent at the start of the year after a very busy December.

“But I feel like once people are done travelling, they will be willing to spend more in Hong Kong. I made it through the pandemic so I’m quite confident about the future,” the 29-year-old said.

But stand-up comedian Timothy To said he had received a steady stream of bookings and could not wait to perform for a maskless audience.

“Shows will definitely be even better because we can see the smiles and hear unmuffled laughter,” the 36-year-old said.

“Hopefully it helps contribute to giving the city some much needed positive vibes coming out from Covid-19.”

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