Perfume Sales Sagged As Pandemic Took Toll

European fine fragrance sales fell more than 18% last year, according to industry sources.

Last year was one of the most challenging ever for the European fragrance markets. Sales plummeted as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of retail shops for months at a time. Yet fragrance brand managers remain optimistic of a return to some semblance of normality as society reopens, probably late 2021. With any luck, it will be in time for the all-important holiday season.

Many fragrance executives prefer to forget 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 on fragrance purchases and usage, but the statistics are stark reminders. According to GlobalData Intelligence Center, European fine fragrance sales fell more than 18% last year to $14.1 million. Volume declines were similar, down 18.6% to 482 million units.

European consumers reined in their purchasing due to the lack of opportunity to get out and buy fragrance. At the same time, life confined indoors meant that many stopped applying fragrance altogether. Danes showed the greatest behavioral shift, noted GlobalData, with 58% admitting to purchasing fragrance less frequently or not at all, followed by Swedes (53%) and Brits (49%).

The NPD Group analysts also recorded a decline in UK prestige fragrance sales, which fell 17% in 2020. The researcher stated that 50% of the year’s total losses could be attributed to the April-to-June period, correlating with the first lockdown. When stores reopened and recovery was in sight, the market showed promising signs, growing 2% in November, despite a second lockdown. The last quarter of 2020 accounted for 57% of full year sales, up from 52% in 2019, confirming that fragrances remained one of the most important Christmas gifts for UK consumers.

Selling Fragrance Online

With shops shuttered for much of 2020, online posed a significant challenge to fragrance brands reliant on experimentation and sampling at point of sale. Impulse purchases were particularly hard hit, as well as the opportunity for fragrance brands to upsell. However, buying online is more suited to repeat purchasing. Some fragrance brands took a digital first approach and focused on marketing and promoting their products online, using social media and e-commerce to advertise and fulfil orders, and offering discovery kits to facilitate sampling.

British brand Ormonde Jayne introduced Zoom calls with its founder, Linda Pilkington, providing advice and information to customers around the world. In September, Puig was quick to exploit the lack of physical interaction with its AI.LICE digital fragrance selection tool (inspired by Alice Through the Looking Glass) for its Penhaligon brand. AI.LICE enables consumers to select and analyze fragrances without physically touching or smelling them.

“This concept is likely to be adopted by many brands post-pandemic to facilitate safe shopping in the fragrance category,” explains GlobalData Analyst Alice Popple. “Retailers may also follow the lead of Puig and leverage technology to emulate the pre-pandemic fragrance shopping experience in a safe, enjoyable manner.”

Delayed Perfume Launches

Despite the pandemic-inspired lag in demand, newness remains critical to driving sales and growth, but COVID-19 severely impacted the number of new fragrance launches in 2020. Without the support of retail, many brands delayed launching Europe-wide until 2021. Notable European fragrance launches in spring 2021 include:

  • Chanel Les Exclusifs le Lion de Chanel: postponed from last summer, in-house perfumer Olivier Polge makes a bold statement with this amber fragrance for men and women.
  • Carolina Herrara Very Good Girl embodies a sense of fun in its latest iteration of the best-selling fragrance Good Girl.
  • Creed Acqua Originale unisex collection is inspired by perfumer Olivier Creed’s love of travel. While travel is off the table, Zeste Mandarine, Green Neroli, Citrus Bigarade, Vetiver Geranium and Iris Tuberose provide a perfumed passport to Sicily, Tuscany, Indonesia and India.
  • Dolce & Gabbana Beauty Dolce Rose is described as an ultra-feminine fruity floral.
  • Jo Malone Scarlet Poppy is a permanent addition to the London Cologne Intense Collection. It is an amber floral fragrance inspired by a type of poppy found in the wild steppes of Asia.
  • Tom Ford Tuberose Nue is a heady white floral fragrance reminiscent of a garden on a warm summer’s evening.
  • Tom Ford Costa Azzurra, an aromatic aquatic fragrance for man and women, plays on consumers’ longing to escape on a Mediterranean holiday.
Refillable Fragrances Deliver on Sustainability

Pre-pandemic, there was a move toward in-store refilling stations for fragrances, but with shops firmly shut, brands are looking for alternatives.

Thierry Mugler, which pioneered the refillable fragrance concept in department stores, moved online with its line of eco refill bottles, an idea which offers a saving of up to 20%. Following the pattern of other luxury fragrance brands, Dior and Armani both launched refillable formats to their fragrances in 2020. For example, MyWay by Giorgio Armani refillable keepsake bottle is designed to be taken apart for refilling from a 150ml bottle which features a funnel for easy pouring.

Meanwhile, Jo Loves relaunched its Fragrance Paintbrush in a refillable format via a scent cartridge, in line with the increasing shift toward sustainability.

“The refillable option is environmentally friendly and offers consumers incentives such as lower prices in exchange for their brand loyalty,” maintains Popple.

Post-Pandemic Opportunities

Only after lockdown restrictions ease, can retail open up again, but it may be some time before fragrance purchasing returns to normal.

“As department stores begin to reopen, it is likely that fragrance departments will adapt to provide more hygienic interactions between consumers and staff, enabling consumers to smell and test fragrances safely and with minimal contact,” maintains Popple. “Additionally, retailers can optimize the layout of department stores to give consumers the opportunity to gravitate toward certain brands, as opposed to trying new fragrances.”

However, she warns that a system that is too far removed from previous normality may put off customers. For the foreseeable future, many consumers are likely to stick to familiar brands they know, putting new launches at a disadvantage.

Imogen Matthews
Headington, Oxford UK
+44 1865 764918

Imogen Matthews is a respected consultant, journalist and researcher who commentates on trends in the beauty industry. She regularly contributes to many of the world’s foremost beauty trade titles, has served on the Board of Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW UK) and won the prestigious Cosmetic Executive (UK) Achiever Award. Founded by Imogen in 1993, The Premium Market Report remains the only in-depth report to examine trends in the premium cosmetics, skincare and fragrance industry. 

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