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With Chinese consumers placing more importance on sensory experiences, the fragrance market is poised for accelerated growth under the influence of the “smell economy”. Latest research from Mintel, the experts in what consumers want and why, reveals that the market growth rate fell from 11% in 2019 to 1% in 2020 indicating a temporary stagnation of China’s perfume category due to COVID-19. Buying trends remain stalled as the proportion of Chinese urban consumers buying perfume for personal use dropped from 55% in 2020 to 48% in 2021, while the proportion of those buying gifts has remained stable from 41% to 42%. 

However, this category is expected to quickly recover and accelerate development in the post-pandemic era. Over the next five years, Mintel predicts China’s fragrance industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17% with market sales reaching 15.439 billion yuan by 2025. 

Alice Li, Associate Director, Beauty and Personal Care, said, “In the post-pandemic era, China’s perfume market will see accelerated growth, but it will also face a new growth trend. Chinese beauty consumers are becoming more mature and paying more attention to non-essential categories like fragrance. But as they pay more and more attention to health, emotional health is becoming a hot topic. Perfume can serve as an avenue for achieving more emotional effects and help consumers show their individuality.”

Purchase path moves online,but one third has shopped in duty-free channels

The path to beauty discovery and purchase for urban Chinese consumers has changed. Online channels have become a convenient way for fragrance brands to expand their consumer base. Whether buying for personal use or as a gift, online channels have become the main channel for consumers to purchase fragrances. According to Mintel research, up to 70% of Chinese urban consumers have purchased fragrances on domestic shopping websites, followed by brand counters/specialty stores (52%) and beauty product collection stores (27%).

In addition, the duty-free channel is also gaining attention. When both offline duty-free stores (19%) and online duty-free shopping platforms (19%) are taken into account, about one-third of respondents have purchased fragrances from the duty-free channel. As the focus of perfume purchases migrates online, checking online product reviews (64%) has overtaken in-store trials (54%) as the most important step in the consumer’s path to purchase.

Alice explained, “As the discovery and purchase path of perfume moves online, it means that trying the product is no longer a necessary step to help consumers make a purchase decision, and brands need to engage as many senses as possible to encourage consumers to use other senses such as sight and sound to appreciate the perfume. In this way, urban Chinese consumers will experience either a purely online or an integrated online/offline path to purchase. Meanwhile,duty-free remains a competitive channel in beauty categories with the development of domestic duty-free stores after the COVID-19 outbreak.Generally speaking, women are more likely than men to shop in duty-free channels, but it’s worth noting that those men who tend to be businessmen and married with kids; they have more travel needs and are more likely to be familiar with duty-free channels.”

Natural ingredients are a more important buying factor than smell

Mintel research reveals that natural ingredients have become the top consideration for consumers when shopping for fragrances. Urban Chinese consumers generally consider natural ingredients (66%) to be a more important buying factor than long-lasting fragrance (59%) and fragrance notes (50%). In addition to ingredients and fragrance, consumers also consider brand image. According to the data, professional fragrance brand production (48%) is more important than a high-end brand image (41%). In contrast, with the growing popularity of gender-free style beauty, consumers are less likely to consider being designed for one gender (31%) as an important factor.

Alice concluded, “The ‘pure beauty’ trend has entered the fragrance category. Today’s consumers are prioritizing natural ingredients over fragrance and brand image. And consumers say they check online product reviews and ingredients when buying a new fragrance. Perfume brands need to focus on ingredients to address consumer concerns about product safety and naturalness, as is the case in other beauty categories, such as mentioning credentials on the package. In addition, consumer education and transparency can be effective in dispelling consumers’ mistrust and satisfying their curiosity about fragrance creation.”

For more information or to schedule an interview with our analyst team, please contact the Mintel Press Office at press@mintel.com.