The pandemic has forced fragrance brands to turn to digital to launch their latest scents to online audiences. These new behaviours will become more integrated as retail resumes in the year ahead.
While customers continue to stay away from physical store locations and travel retail channels, brands have instead, over the last few months, used digital tools to boost engagement, sampling and more personalised sales interactions.
Understandably, while social interactions are limited there are fewer fragrance sales. Global perfume sales were due to drop 10% in 2020, down from $51bn in 2019, according to Euromonitor International.
In the US, overall fragrance sales were down 21% in 2020, according to market research firm NPD. However, the category’s share of online sales doubled last year, jumping from 19% in 2019 to 33% for the period January to September 2020. The shift to e-commerce for consumers has meant perfume brands have had to move fast to keep up with new digital shopping behaviour, with NPD’s Larissa Jensen, VP and beauty industry advisor, calling it a wake-up call for the industry: “If there’s a chance for these brands to reinvent themselves, this is it.”
“The closure of bricks-and-mortar was definitely a challenge but we overcame it by boosting our digital business,” Laura Azaria SVP of marketing for L’Oréal USA, tells Vogue Business. “That effort was already underway but we reorganised our teams and ways of working to create the most synergy.” With this expedited focus on mining CRM data, L’Oréal USA reported a boost to its online fragrance sales between Q1 and Q2 – jumping from 17% share of US sales in January and February up to 46% from March and June.
Estée Lauder Companies and Coty also reported strong double-digit growth in fiscal 2020 for their fragrance divisions, especially in Asia. For ELC this was accelerated by its luxury and artisanal fragrance portfolio. For Coty, China was a particular bright spot, where it said fragrance sales were up 43% for its Q4 period year-on-year.
“Fragrance has come out as the unexpected star,” said NPD’s Jensen, according to a Business of Fashion report.
Coty, Estée Lauder and L’Oréal are all doubling down on their digital marketing activity with campaigns launching across social media first, in a bid to attract more exclusive audiences.
Marc Jacobs’ new fragrance, Perfect launched last August with a virtual festival and the Coty-owned fragrance was an instant success among its target youth market, becoming last year’s top fragrance launch in the US and UK, according to NPD.
There are two reasons Marc Jacobs was quick to pivot to a digital-first strategy for Perfect: consumers proved surprisingly willing to buy fragrances online during the pandemic and social media has driven a big trend for live interactive audiences.
Before Covid, e-commerce represented only 17% of fragrance sales, now it’s about 30% in the US, as per NPD. The Perfect Zoom launch event saw creative director, Marc Jacobs chatting online with ad campaign cast members about inclusivity, self-expression and gender-fluid themed individuality. The event attracted over 1700 attendees across 50 countries, according to Coty.
Estée Lauder has pivoted to online virtual events for its latest fragrance launches for Jo Malone London and Frederick Malle. In 2020 both brands introduced live streamed talks on social media from brand ambassadors/ brand founders.
“People are craving connection, both in their personal lives and with brands,” said Stéphane de La Faverie, group president at Estée Lauder.
For his 20th anniversary (and commemorative limited edition fragrance gift sets launch), scent creator Frédéric Malle hosted a virtual Perfume Summit conference on Zoom, where Malle and his veteran collaboration cohorts gathered to discuss 20 years of ideas and a shared unconventional approach that Malle likens to a publisher working with authors to create iconic artisanal fragrances.
These kind of virtual brand festivals promote campaign engagement and provide an inclusive environment for fragrance fans to share content and grow their audience base.
As I wrote in my October column for DisneyRollerGirl: Zoom influencer events are a democratic way to amplify new product campaign launches among online communities. In our world of virtual get-togethers, industry icons and brand ambassadors alike have an opportunity to experiment with new content platforms and online symposiums can find a new audience.
While consumers are unable to visit stores and physically smell a fragrance sample, the alternative is to focus on online tools that facilitate sampling at home.
Brands have upped their promotion of samples as part of the customer experience; Dyptique has a try-before-you-buy fragrance miniature packaged alongside the full-sized version, while it also includes a number of free samples added to any online purchase.
L’Oréal-owned Atelier Cologne has launched a Discovery Set that includes a voucher redeemable against a full-sized bottle online purchase.
For brands that currently have physical retail locations open, QR codes offer a way to rethink the in-store tester experiences with a more frictionless approach. For example, passersby can quickly scan a QR code to retrieve olfactory brand information.
In the Middle East, Puig-owned fragrance house, Penhaligon’s has revealed a new podium retail concept in partnership with Qatar Duty Free at Hamad Airport to house its premium portrait collection and showcase the brand’s range of aristocratic characters including the latest fragrance, the ‘Inimitable William Penhaligon’. Visitors can download and use an augmented reality app to discover the story behind each character and their fragrance story.
Digital storytelling has new relevance for fragrance brands seeking an online to offline connection says online beauty title, Glossy. It reports brands are turning to social media platforms for partnerships that convey fragrance brands virtually.
L’Oréal teamed up with Pinterest to launch a virtual fragrance finder tool that explores users’ preferences across gender, environment ambiance and style. The tool, which sits within Pinterest, recommends a best match fragrance and links to websites for L’Oréal fragrances including Armani Beauty, YSL Beauty and Viktor & Rolf.
Pinterest’s best-practice for fragrance promotion is about featuring the bottle design then ensuring the scent and notes within it are translated visually, advises Rachel Goodman, manager of beauty partnerships at the social media platform. “So that people have an idea of what that fragrance represents.” According to Pinterest’s data, top key word searches for fragrance descriptions in 2020 included ‘spicy’, ‘earthy’ and ‘floral’.
Coty-owned Gucci Bloom experimented with an augmented reality campaign on Snapchat last November to attract more Gen Z audiences. A virtual Gucci Bloom maze was brought to life on mobile screens that allowed users to wander through its garden game in order to find the five Bloom fragrance bottles hidden around the leafy corridors.
“Many brands — especially beauty brands — had already been starting to integrate AR into their campaigns for a long time, because they saw how much it improved the overall performance. But there’s no question that Covid accelerated many brands’ investment in AR,” said Carolina Arguelles, Snapchat’s lead in AR marketing.
Online personalisation tools have grown in popularity over the pandemic, as these usually in-store engagement opportunities have proved their worth as a route to sampling direct to consumers at home.
Brands have taken to promoting online questionnaires and personalisation profiling to help customers find their preferred fragrance. Atelier Cologne has invested in a Perfume Finder online tool that provides a guide to how customers relate to nature and emotion through their personal scent choices.
Amanda Morgan, UK managing director of Diptyque says: “I see a trend for far more samples, paid samples, where consumers can spend a small amount of money buying samples of many launches that will be redeemed against future purchases.”
Molton Brown launched a Fragrance Finder digital tool (in-store and online) that aims to humanise the customer scent journey by asking respondents questions about themselves and aims for a more emotive result than expected. Molton Brown’s associate global director travel retail Rosie Cook comments “Research has shown that smell is the least educated of our senses, so questions about what scents we like can result in an inaccurate way of pairing our customers with the perfect fragrance. The Fragrance Finder gives customers the opportunity to find the scent which expresses their personality.”
Home fragrances on the rise
Self-care has been a fast-track beauty trend during the pandemic and brands that have remerchandised their ‘spa-at-home’ product ranges for online audiences, have benefitted.
The home fragrances category – candles, diffusers and potpourri – has been a saving grace for the category in 2020 says NPD. Category sales have grown by 9%, with candle sales in particular jumping 17%. “These are little luxuries that people are treating themselves to in order to create a cosier, spa-like environment at home,” NPD’s Jensen explains.
The Dutch skincare brand Rituals, has done well to establish its scented home fragrances ranges in the travel retail channel.
“We have a very distinct brand philosophy which is to create products that can transform every day routines into meaningful moments, and the home is a great place for Rituals to enrich your experience of everyday living in your own home, to enjoy what we call ‘soulful living,’” Neil Ebbutt, Rituals director of travel retail says of the range.
Brands to watch, for expanding their luxury home fragrance offers into the market in 2021 will be Loewe and Maison Christian Dior Parfums – both LVMH-owned brands – especially as the latter continues to roll out its fragrance concept boutique at key airport locations.
TRP takeout: For the travel retail channel, it’s a case of waiting for passengers to return to travelling, in order to re-engage with them via physical brand activations at airports. These will be scarce while global travel continues to be severely restricted but there are lessons to be learnt from brands’ domestic online marketing strategies and opportunities for digital marketing to join the dots along the passenger journey.
* Best-in-class brand activations: 2019-2020
When physical campaign activations at airports return, brands will place new relevance on retail performance by consumer interaction. And that means data capture for future customers.
Here is my top 10 round-up, in gallery format, of some of the best executed fragrance pop-ups or concept stores in travel retail over the last two years: