Did you buy a Britney Spears perfume gift set this Christmas? Didn’t think so.
That’s a problem for the mass fragrance market. Midpriced ranges, including those branded with pop stars and actresses, are falling out of fashion in many developed markets. In contrast, luxury and personalized products are growing quickly. If they are to reinvigorate sluggish demand, midmarket producers such as Revlon and Coty will also need to find ways for affordable scents to smell a little more expensive.
The $49.4 billion global perfume market has some ground to cover. Over the past few years, the need to get Instagram-ready drove a boom in color cosmetics, and more recently skin care.
The trouble is, you can’t smell a selfie. Consequently, the 3 percent compound annual growth rate Euromonitor International forecasts for fragrances between 2017 and 2022 lags its forecasts for both color cosmetics and skin care.
But in the affordable segment consumers are choosing cheaper options such as Primark’s scent, which starts at $2.53 . Shoppers 35 and under want to smell like themselves, not everyone else, and that’s bad news for the many celebrity products that occupy the midrange. At the luxe end of the spectrum, consumers in the U.S., Europe and Asia — including young Chinese shoppers — want aspirational and unusual options.
Coty has responded by slimming down its portfolio of lower-priced labels since its joint venture two years ago with P&G’s beauty unit. It is now focused on its luxury lines, which includes the millennial-friendly Gucci Bloom and Tiffany & Co. Those helped drive a 6 percent increase in like-for-like sales in its high-end division in the latest fiscal year. Estee Lauder has purchased artisan perfume house By Kilian, adding to its store of cult names including Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle and Le Labo, which offers in-store blending on demand to give customers the experience of buying something handcrafted.
Lauder is finding that customization is key to the strength of some of its luxury and artisanal brands. Anything that customers see as being “tailored to their needs, their taste, their sensitivity, is going to sell well,” said Fabrice Weber, Lauder’s head of high-end fragrances. The company’s Jo Malone stores offer scent-combining consultations so shoppers can develop a custom product, and a Tokyo location recently had an artist positioned near checkout to sketch cityscapes on boxes to create something one-of-a-kind.
Earlier this month, L’Oreal said the first investment by its new corporate venture capital fund is in Sillages Paris, a year-old company that lets customers select the ingredients for their blends online and choose the intensity. Algorithms suggest harmonious combinations recommended by perfumiers.
And there could be more deals to come — transactions in this space are a fraction of what they’ve been over the past few years in makeup and skin care.
Deborah Aitken, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, says companies that offer personalized fragrances and bottles, alongside those specializing in natural and organic products, could now be a fertile hunting ground.
If midmarket producers are to kickstart demand, they will need to find ways to incorporate these trends. That’s trickier at lower prices, because a scent created by a top perfumier typically costs thousands of dollars.
The global firms should be able to manage. Producers and retailers have done a good job of taking premium trends — such as contouring and Korean face masks — into the mass market. There are already some early promising signs, such as the bottle engraving service now offered by The Perfume Shop.
If the industry does not adapt, fragrance risks being left further behind.