In 2020, China’s perfume sales brought in about RMB 12.53 billion (US$1.76 million), accounting for only 2.5 percent of the world market. Nonetheless, China’s fragrance sector grew by more than 20% year-on-year between 2016 and 2020 and is likely to grow further as Gen Z continues to emerge as the main driver of domestic consumption. The proportion of urban Chinese consumers purchasing fragrances for personal use has decreased slightly from 55% in 2020 to 48% in 2021, while the number of those purchasing fragrance gifts has remained constant between 41% and 42%. The lifestyle change caused by COVID-19 has had a direct impact on consumption patterns, due to the use of masks which has caused a significant drop in the demand for cosmetics such as, for example, lipstick.

For Chinese consumers, the purchasing beauty products has changed. For perfume producers, online platforms have become a simple method of approaching a wider audience. Likewise, online channels have become the main tool used for the purchase of perfumes, both for personal use and as gifts. Up to 70% of Chinese urban consumers have purchased perfume online, followed by 52% of purchases in single-brand/specialist departments and 27% of purchases made in stores specializing in beauty product collections. Another crucial aspect of the transition to online shopping is the habit of checking online reviews. Checking the online reviews of the products (64%) has passed the in-store tests (54%) proving to be the most important step in the consumer’s shopping experience, at a time when the focus of buying perfumes moves online. Online platforms are indispensable channels for the distribution and promotion of perfumes, and social media remains the most popular and reliable source of information for young Chinese consumers. This is especially true of Xiaohongshu, a platform that 60.8% of Chinese consumers use as their primary source of information on fragrances and brands.

In China, perfumes have not been excluded from the preference of young customers for brands that draw inspiration from the country’s cultural past and, so far, Chinese brands have demonstrated a competitive advantage by drawing on local stories. In addition to incorporating Guochao characteristics (i.e. elements deriving from traditional Chinese culture and style) into their packaging, Made-in-China manufacturers have also started naming their perfumes with names of literary and artistic inspiration, such as Sweet Osmanthus Rain by Wegoo , which got its name from a popular theme in ancient Chinese poetry. Perfumers are leveraging China’s cultural heritage to forge deeper ties with the national audience. For a long time, the Chinese perfume market has been dominated by large companies such as Chanel, LVMH, Coty and Procter & Gamble. L’Oréal, Estée Lauder, Mary Kay, Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo and Avon account for 48.8% of the total perfume market in China. These large companies have a significant physical and online presence. The 10 best-performing perfume brands on the Chinese market are all foreign. In 2015 Armani launched the Privé Pivoine Suzhou perfume, inspired by the traditional gardens of Suzhou. Giorgio Armani chose the peony as a symbol of prosperity, dignity and fulfillment to represent China’s “Venice of the East”. The world debut of the fragrance took place in the iconic Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, in the presence of Zhang Zilin, actress and winner of the Miss World competition.

Coco Chanel created her world-famous Chanel N°5 in 1921 and since then the brand has maintained an unshakable position in the perfume market. Chanel Gabrielle is a floral and fruity fragrance with notes of jasmine, ylang-ylang, orange blossom and tuberose, which debuted in 2017 whose name is inspired by the real name of Coco Chanel. The fragrance was presented during a dedicated ceremony in Beijing. The brand remains one of the top three perfumes chosen by Chinese consumers, with a market share of 6.42% at the end of the same year.

Perfume consumption is fundamentally different when compared to Chinese and Western markets, with tastes at opposite. For example, in the Chinese market the notion of charm is very far from that of Western countries, and the same is true for advertisements targeting this market. For smaller operators, both foreign and domestic, market penetration is more complicated. Perfumes are perceived as a non-essential commodity and as a result, consumer awareness is still in its beginning step. Furthermore, it takes time to build customer trust and niche perfumes find it difficult to balance supply and demand. On the other hand, businesses are in a stronger position when they have social media presences that help in community development; with the ability to make sales directly on WeChat mini-programs, the opportunities are magnified. These direct distribution strategies also allow the company to spend more time perfecting the actual product.

In 2020, Asia – mainly Japan, Korea and China – accounted for 13% of the global premium perfume market, with China being the most promising market of the three, with growth of 15%. The current and future development trends of the Chinese perfume market are positive. High-end fragrances, especially high-end unisex fragrances, are expected to continue to dominate the mainstream market in the next three to five years.


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