Why the Fragrance Industry Needs to Change


Another year in fragrance. Another year focusing on that small window of sales in December. And another year of me thinking, isn’t it time the industry changed?

For as long as I’ve been following fragrance, Christmas has always been make or break and 2016 was no different.

As expected, brands poured most of their marketing and media investment into those short few weeks to capitalise on panicked consumers furiously looking for a gift.

Given the style of promotion, you'd think people put little thought into buying fragrance beyond:

  • Is it well known? (tick)

  • Does the packaging look nice? (tick)

  • Is the price right? (tick)

These are typically the factors that fragrance brands focus on when pushing their wares at Christmas, while simultaneously overlooking more consumer conscious elements like - is this fragrance suitable for the recipient, or, let’s find out if the recipient will even like the smell.

Which, according to our research is  oversight.For our Fragrance Report 2016, we interviewed 1,000 women to find out what the most important thing is when buying fragrance.

And guess what?

It’s smell

.90% of women buy fragrance because they like the smell. Everything else is secondary. Well-known brands, price and packaging. They are all relatively unimportant.

With this clear rift between what the consumer wants and the way they are being targeted, it's no surprise that 2015 was a lacklustre year for fragrance. I've yet to see the figures for 2016 but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if the industry had continued to decline.

Which begs the question. If the fragrance consumer is driven by how the product smells, shouldn’t brands be doing more to get consumers to try before they buy?

No amount of moody advertising campaigns featuring sexy superstars can ever tell you what a fragrance smells like.

The only way to achieve this is through connecting consumers with the physical product.

And, while most of the major brands continue to pursue traditional and, dare I say it, outdated forms of promotion, it's the small start-ups led by forward-thinking individuals who are providing the more creative solutions.

My attention has been caught by a couple of fragrance brands who take consumers’ concerns seriously.

Concerns like recognising the volume of fragrances on offer is confusing and potentially turning consumers off. Or that many people actually struggle to find a fragrance to suit them (according to IMA research, a significant percentage think they all smell the same).

It's these smaller, more conceptually creative brands that will provide a way forward for how fragrance is sold.

Scentbird - could this be the Netflix of Perfume?

A really clever sampling idea that's only available in the US right now. Customers pay $14.95 per month and can choose a scent from 450 plus designer and niche brands, which is sent to them in an 8ml reusable spray format.

This will appeal to people who get frustrated by the lack of samples at POS to take home and evaluate. It’s also a much more targeted solution than subscription boxes containing a bunch of fragrances you’re unlikely to use.

Ex Nihilio - “affordable” personalised fragrance

Customers can personalise by adding their chosen ingredients to create a “demi-bespoke” fragrance. It’s only available in Harrods Salon de Parfums.

However, what might have been the domain of the super rich alone is actually relatively inexpensive (£240 for 100ml), when you consider how much luxury fragrance can be sold for these days.

Personalisation has a great future in fragrance and this is just the start. Who will take this idea and turn it into something that everyone can afford and enjoy?

Let 2017 be the year that the fragrance industry wakes up and reconnects with the consumer!

On February 1st, I’ll be presenting my thoughts on fragrance trends at the Fragrance Foundation’s Hot off The Press breakfast event. Come and share your thoughts on the future of the industry here