Japan’s cosmetics companies sell discounted products to reduce waste

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cosmetics that were not sold during their season are marked down at a store directly managed by Kose Corp. in Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

Cosmetics manufacturers are striving to reduce waste by selling at a discount products that were left over after their season or that do not meet company specifications.

Unsold cosmetics used to be discarded, but with concern about the environment growing, cosmetics manufacturers are coming into line with efforts to reduce the amount of food, clothes and other items that go to waste.

Brisk sales

Kose Corp. began an initiative in October called Green Bazaar, selling cosmetics that were not bought during their target season at a discounted price, at its Maison Kose store in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Tags indicating such discounts as 40% off were attached to eye shadows and lipsticks, in addition to items from Kose’s Sekkisei flagship brand.

Instructions were provided at the store on how to properly dispose of containers, and women of all ages were buying the products. “Many of our customers are strongly concerned about the environment, and sales are brisk,” said store official Hiroshi Sugizaki, 43.

This initiative is also being conducted on the company’s website, and at other shops directly managed by Kose.

The company said it received a positive response to trial sales of leftover products in the spring, including comments such as “I thought it would be good to do something about the environment” and “I enjoyed shopping while thinking about the environment.”

Policy change

Cosmetics change with the seasons and prevailing trends, so there will always be unsold products even if there are no quality problems. Makers sell some of these leftovers in-house, but in general, about 10% to 20% of production is discarded.

Cosmetics firms had not seen such waste as a significant issue, and also used to shun discount sales, partly from concern that it could harm their image. Recently, however, they have been shifting their policies to try to sell as much of their inventory as possible, as the discarding of unsold food, clothes and other items has become a social problem.

Shiro Co. is considering marking down limited-edition products that are no longer on sale and substandard products whose boxes were damaged during transportation. The company hopes that the products, which were made with care, will be used without waste.

75% reduction

Moves are also under way to analyze demand so as to reduce inventory. Products belonging to Kanebo Cosmetics Inc.’s mainstay Lunasol brand are sold online first, and their production volume is adjusted based on the response from customers. Thanks to this approach, the amount of waste related to some Lunasol products has fallen by about 75% recently.

According to research company Fuji Keizai Co., the size of the domestic cosmetics market fell by 15% in 2020 from the previous year, partly because people have refrained from going out and worn less makeup during the pandemic.

However, demand is expected to recover from 2022 as new lifestyles take root. Efforts to reduce waste will become even more important.

Mihoko Hotta, director of Dentsu Group Inc.’s Sustainability Promotion Office, said: “The annual amount of waste of cosmetics is not clear. Each company must first indicate their situation and set a target,” she said.