The fragrance industry has always been a traditional and conservative one, with many people wondering how scent would translate and thrive in a world where 87% of UK consumers are purchasing products online. Sure, wearing perfumes from heritage brands held significance for our mothers and grandmothers, but how would ateliers cater to a new digital-focused and less brand-loyal audience?
“While as a business we are not seeing a decline in our customer base, the fragrance industry as a whole is losing customers – particularly those in the younger demographic,” Sanjay Vadera, CEO of The Fragrance Shop, explains. Having invested in 2006, and taken control of the business in 2008, Vadera is at the helm of one of the most successful perfumeries in the UK. With 215 bricks-and-mortar stores plus an online presence, The Fragrance Shop most recently launched Scentaddict, a monthly fragrance subscription service costing £12 per month.
Since 2011, the demand for subscription boxes has grown exponentially, with beauty services like Cohorted, Birchbox and Mintd allowing customers to try home-delivered samples of everything from new brands to cult favourites before investing in a full-size purchase. With the makeup and skincare markets covered, it was only a matter of time before fragrances followed. “Scentaddict came about from understanding how the fragrance industry is changing and through listening to what our consumers want,” Vadera told Refinery29. “It enables us to sample the brands in a different way, presented to the customer in a flexible, non-committal, and affordable way.”
After signing up online, each month your selected 8ml travel-size perfume arrives. “We allow you to ‘date’ different fragrances each month (by choosing from a menu of fragrances on site), and then claim back your membership fee on the purchase of the largest bottle if you wish to ‘marry’ one of your monthly selections.” In January you could choose the rose and patchouli notes of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle, and the next month Gucci’s tuberose and jasmine Bloom. With these perfumes retailing around the £100 mark, a try-before-you-buy service makes sense for young people on a budget.
It comes as no surprise that financially stable designer brands such as Chanel – whose No.5 fragrance has sat atop women’s dressing tables since 1921 – Dior and Calvin Klein have dominated the industry for decades. “Those brands are the ones that understand how to create a classic product. Rather than moving on quickly, they keep reinvesting in flanker [spinoff of a classic] after flanker,” Vadera states. “In doing this, they are able to keep their market share. More recently, you have PUIG, who have worked wonders on Paco Rabanne with the classic 1 Million. They’ve now acquired Jean-Paul Gaultier and are already moving the brand forward with a blockbuster new launch, Scandal.” Despite the fact these houses began as fashion giants, their fragrance output is often where the money is made. “Those core classic brands are able to create longevity and make the consumer feel comfortable in buying longer term, while still feeling like it’s an aspirational brand.”
But with the rise of bespoke beauty catering to an individualistic mindset, this isn’t necessarily what people want anymore. “Big brands have advocated having one signature scent for so long, to keep you coming back to one fragrance. However, the concept of finding your one and only ‘signature scent’ is outdated and actually quite a boring way of approaching the power of scents,” Tara Derakshan, CXO and cofounder of Sniph, asserts. “People are tired of owning the same brands and smelling the same way as everyone else.”
Sniph, a £17.99-per-month subscription introducing customers to 7ml of a new premium perfume, launched in retaliation to this monopoly of the industry. Rather than offering household names, Sniph is more of a discoverable concierge service, bringing independent ateliers and scents to the attention of its subscribers while appealing to beauty fans who want bespoke. “We see a big shift in trend toward more niche brands and personalisation overall. More and more people wish to match scents with different moods, styles, and occasions. We get requests every day from our members to find scents that go with different moments of their lives,” Derakshan explains.
With six ‘themes’ to choose from, users can focus in on what notes they’re looking for, from ‘Clean’ (‘light and fresh’ fragrances, with previous picks including Verde di Mare from Bois 1920) to ‘Avant Garde’ (a unisex collection made up of complex or unusual scents like Etat Libre d'Orange's bestselling provocateur La Fin du Monde). “You simply choose one that fits your fragrance personality and then leave the rest to us. Each month, we will surprise you with a new fragrance,” Derakshan tells Refinery29. “We speak directly to our customers and carefully curate our selection of perfumes with their preferences and review data in mind. This means that the scents we deliver get better in time as we get to know our members more and understand what they like.”
Fragrance is and has always been personal – more so than our makeup and skincare choices. But in a beauty market that’s constantly shifting and being forced to keep up with its customers’ changing lifestyles, are subscriptions the future of how we try and buy fragrance? “People are busier than ever and increasingly looking for convenient ways to live our lives. Time is a commodity and you want to spend it on experiences that bring value to your life,” Derakshan argues. “We are bombarded with micro choices every day, from what to wear to what music to listen to, and the whole process of shopping can be overwhelming.” She also links the rise in personalised delivery services to the wellness zeitgeist. “There is also a growing trend of treating yourself and taking care of yourself more often, with a sense of self-indulgence that goes along with wellbeing and health. It’s a way to fill our lives with something more than what the everyday offers – a small luxury that adds a lot of value.”
Vadera disagrees. “Scentaddict – and any subsequent fragrance subscription service – is a trial, like a beauty subscription club. It’s a great way for a consumer to try and experiment with new and classic scents they otherwise wouldn’t invest in. We don’t believe this will take over the standard fragrance market, but rather support and strengthen it by acting as an entry point to discover.” In the same way that services like Birchbox haven’t stopped us shopping online or in-store for the products we love, fragrance subscriptions won’t stop us returning to our favourite scents again and again. What they will do is encourage us to be more experimental with our perfume of choice.