Fusing the real world with digital: Orbis reaches new heights

Dec 10, 2019 · 4 min read

Japan’s third-largest company in the mail-order cosmetics market, Orbis has been rebuilding its brand around the Orbis U line-up since 2018. At the heart of this rebranding is the Orbis App that helps to connect the real-world and digital aspects of their business.

Started in 1987 as a project of skincare brand Pola, the cosmetics business Orbis deals chiefly in mail orders. Since then, it’s enjoyed a high profile: Creating the world’s first 100% oil-free skincare products. Steadily increasing revenue even as other mail-order businesses languished during Japan’s asset price bubble period. Reaching profits of US$92 million by its 10th year. And adopting simpler, more environmentally-friendly packaging while companies competed to have the most luxurious packaging. In taking such initiatives, the company has earned the respect of customers who empathize with its steady, straightforward stance.

For a beauty company, Orbis was also an early adopter of online purchasing, opening its e-commerce site in 1999. Thanks to a multi-channel sales structure — including the launch of a brick-and-mortar store in 2000 — sales reached up to US$470 million in 2018.

Taking a different route

More than a decade ago, Orbis surveyed customers on why they bought its products. It found that reasonable prices played a big part. So in 2007, it changed tack by deepening its existing customer relationships, instead of trying to entice new customers. By revising its strategy for increasing revenue, it focused more on lifetime value. And by pushing the other beneficial aspects of its products, it found more ways to increase the rate of repeat purchases.

Fast forward to the rapid spread of smartphones and the migration of marketing opportunities from paper-based media to the internet. Orbis sought to rebrand itself once again with products that could be used by customers during all stages of their life. This culminated in the launch of Orbis U in 2014, a brand that fully embraces aging care with beauty products that use ingredients from yeast extract to heat-shock proteins.

The new approach saw success and sales grew strongly. However, from 2016, Orbis’s brand presence showed signs of decline, ringing alarm bells at the company. In 2018, it made several bold restructuring decisions, including the rejuvenation of the products that most symbolized the Orbis brand.

The move worked. Not only did the company tie all of its ad access points to Orbis U, but it also worked to fuse its real and virtual businesses. In 2018, based on the changing way that customers shop, Orbis evolved its company structure to allow for more consistent marketing and unified its mail order and retailer businesses. It had found that more and more customers researched beauty products on their smartphones first before stepping into stores to view the products and buying them on their devices.

Appy days

Released in June 2018, the multi-purpose Orbis App has since been downloaded more than 2 million times. It covers all of Orbis’s services, acts as a points card, handles online purchases, facilitates personal color diagnoses and sends out notifications. Online shopping now constitutes more than half of the overall purchases of Orbis products. About 50% of these online purchases is made on its website with smartphones; the other half is split equally between purchases made on the mobile app and the website via PCs.

Orbis is dedicated to increasing the usage of its app. This is because as long as the app is downloaded onto customers’ smartphones, Orbis is able to send out notifications to them. By linking this aspect with in-store strategies, the company has increased the number of opportunities for customers to experience its products.

By building an app that focuses on experiences, Orbis encourages customers to stay connected to the brand for longer and raised its brand’s overall lifetime value. This online-offline strategy of using the app to facilitate real-world and virtual experiences is now Orbis’s way of doing things.

Timed with its 2018 brand transformation, Orbis also changed the way communication is facilitated in-house. Twice a year, it has held the One Orbis Forum, an internal event with speeches given by the CEO and senior management on company strategy and marketplace competition. These events have helped employees become more aware of the company’s positioning within the market and its future direction.

For instance, the Orbis of the past had concentrated on a mail-order catalog business. Printed promotional ads sent to mailboxes would result in similar responses each time. Over the years, the company has built up its knowledge of direct mail marketing and been able to leverage these customer responses successfully. Coupled with initiatives such as brand transformation and improved internal communication, Orbis’ mail-order business has powered on to achieve the number one ranking for customer satisfaction five years in a row.

While Orbis has used its app to combine its real-world and digital businesses, it has also changed how employees think behind the scenes. Its work in exploring new business opportunities is also progressing. The signs now point to Orbis giving rise to a new and unique business in 2020 that could make even more waves in the beauty industry.

Text: Denyse Yeo
Original text (Japanese): Yukari Akiyama


BeautyTech.jp is a digital magazine in Japan that overviews and analyzes current movements of beauty industry focusing on technology and digital marketing.


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BeautyTech.jp is a digital magazine in Japan that overviews and analyzes current movements of beauty industry focusing on technology and digital marketing.


BeautyTech.jp is a digital magazine in Japan that overviews and analyzes current movements of beauty industry focusing on technology and digital marketing.

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