Fragrance Sales: A Whiff of a Turnaround

Guilty by Gucci
Source: gucci.com
Guilty by Gucci

So maybe it wasn't a fluke.

Fragrance sales—which last year posted their first gain since 2006—have continued to show momentum in the first two months of this year, according to data released by market researcher NPD Group.

Earlier this week, NPD said prestige beauty product sales at US department stores rose 9 percent in February. Among the three categories, skincare experienced the biggest gain, up 13 percent compared to February 2009. Makeup sales rose 9 percent and fragrance sales rose 5 percent from the same time last year.

Fragrance sales began to surge late last year, and the momentum is continuing, said Karen Grant, a vice president and senior global industry analyst at NPD.

Ralph Lauren Pony fragrance collection
Source: ralphlauren.com
Ralph Lauren Pony fragrance collection

Grant attributes some of the strength in the category to the buzz created by several strong product launches: Ralph Lauren's Pony collection, Bleu de Chanel, and Gucci Guilty.

"They are aspirational brands," Grant said.

All three brands also have a strong history in the fragrance category, and these fragrances tapped into that heritage.

Take Guilty's bottle. It's an oversized interlocking "G" in gold that is unmistakably Gucci. No doubt some Gucci fans would want to buy the perfume just to display its bottle.

One noteworthy part of the fragrance trend is that it's not based solely on gift sets, Grant said. Instead, it appears that consumers are changing their attitude toward the category, and once again seeing it as a fun way to indulge themselves.

Bleu by Chanel
Source: chanel.com
Bleu by Chanel

NPD recently asked consumers what they would buy if they had $100 to spend on beauty products, and more people said fragrance.

"What's nice about fragrance is it's an emotional engagement," Grant said, adding that it is more of an accessory because it doesn't need to be worn everyday whereas other beauty products such as skincare products and makeup are often looked at for their "functional components" and a necessary part of a daily regimen.

Another interesting piece of the trend is that sales of both men's and women's fragrances are on the rise and the popular fragrances are tending to come from the same fragrance family.

Consumers are favoring woody oriental scents. Usually there is a divide between men's and women's scents, with men favoring more musky scents and women's fragrances offering more light, fruity scents.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com