The Chinese perfume market has experienced significant growth due to the country’s economic development and changing consumer habits. Historically, perfumes were considered a luxury item that was out of reach for most people and not widely used in the Chinese culture. However, as beauty product imports from abroad increased, more people began to use perfume, even though mostly for special occasions. Today, fragrances are becoming more accessible to Chinese consumers and a culture of using perfume on a daily basis is spreading.
Moreover, nowadays Chinese customers are more willing to spend on themselves by purchasing small luxury products that bring happiness and allow people to express themselves. This trend is especially evident among Gen-Z and millennials, who account for more than 80% of luxury consumers and are the focus of many fragrance brands.
Revenues in China’s perfume market have been seeing slow growth in the past decade and have expanded by 7.1% in 2022. Forecasts predict even larger growth, as the market has experienced 60.6% year-on-year growth in the past three years. In 2022, the luxury sector accounted for 58% of the total revenues, and it is predicted that its share will continue to grow in the future.
Niche brands overtaking the Chinese fragrance market
The Chinese perfume market is experiencing a growth in customers with specific tastes, with female customers leading the industry growth. Demand is increasing for luxurious and exotic fragrances, such as floral, citrus, and woody aromas. According to a 2023 report by KPMG, consumers were often worried about big brands becoming devalued, which induced buyers to look for more unique and special luxury brands.
Indeed, consumers are increasingly looking for customized scents that differ from the mass-market fragrances. Netizens refer to the latter as “street fragrance” (街香), with some suggesting mixing popular perfumes to obtain a more unique aroma. Desired scents range from fresh and unexpected aromas to those using more traditional Chinese ingredients.
International brands have recognized the growth potential of the Chinese fragrance market, and have directed their efforts towards local consumers. Stronger trade connections were made to facilitate imports of fragrances from abroad. However, Chinese perfume brands are also rising in popularity, especially when it comes to niche fragrances.
Marketing strategies of Chinese perfume brands
With the growing sense of national pride that is emerging among Chinese consumers, more companies are jumping on the bandwagon of the Guochao trend. Perfume brands are following suit and emphasizing the use of typical Chinese ingredients, such as lotus, bamboo and mugwort, to create scents. Not only do these aromas appeal more to Chinese customers, but they also remind them of Chinese literature and cultures.
Online shopping and social media are key components of Chinese perfume brands’ marketing strategies. KOL collaborations are widely used to reach a larger audience and influence consumer behavior. For example, “Perfume world of CC” is a popular account on Weibo and Xiaohongshu, that focuses on reviewing and discussing new scents.
Despite the popularity of e-commerce, more than half of all perfume products being sold outside of e-commerce platforms. Offline stores play a crucial role in the fragrance industry because they enable consumers to try out the scents firsthand and provide brands with an opportunity to showcase their image to clients. Chanel’s 2021 perfume exhibition in Shanghai illustrates the importance of offline spaces: the brand created an event dedicated to the history of its scents to build a stronger brand image.
Documents (闻献) is a brand that has recently gained international attention after L’Oréal took a minority stake in the brand, investing more than 1.4 billion USD. Documents is planning to use the investment to focus on talent acquisition, product development, business operations, global expansion and becoming an international brand.
The company was founded in 2021 by former Nudake China CEO Zhaoran Meng, and has since gained popularity among young Chinese consumers through its signature oriental aesthetics. Documents is known for its “chanku,” or “zen and cool” aesthetic and avant-garde store design. Sometimes considered the most expensive Chinese perfume brand, it focuses on high-end perfumes featuring Chinese ingredients such as star anise, mugwood, yulan magnolia, and walnut.
Another brand gaining more and more popularity is To Summer (观夏). It produces plant-based fragrances and is known for striving to be modern and innovative while paying homage to China’s tradition and historical culture. Following the “Guochao” trend, the brand promotes the country’s culture and makes it more attractive for young customers. This ranges from locating stores in historically valuable buildings to creating products of high-level design. Their physical stores play a significant role in their marketing strategy and contribute to the company’s image. These stores are designed with a stylish and minimalist aesthetic, and they are often located in special locations that support the company’s home fragrance concept.
The company’s specialty is home fragrances, and it is positioned as a niche brand, but with slightly lower prices than those of international competitors. The lines have been extended into aromatherapy, body care and perfume products, which helped diversify the offer. An important way of attracting customers is the themed product lines dedicated to traditional festivals that come in limited amounts.
Scent Library (气味图书馆) is especially known for its ability to bring up nostalgia among customers, especially in relation to images very specific to China. For example, one of its most popular products was the LBK perfume – the name stood for “chilled boiled water”. It was a reference to the childhood memories of many people, most of which grew up having to boil water before using it.
This proved to be so successful that the perfume was expanded into a limited-edition line of fragrances. Popular items include scents inspired by other shared memories, such as the taste of a traditional milk candy. The brand’s success made it attractive for sponsors. In March 2023 the Spanish fragrance and fashion group Puig made an investment into Scent Library, seeing this as a great opportunity to develop the Chinese perfume market.
The rise of Chinese perfume brands
- The China’s perfume market is expanding, and is predicted to grow more in the next few years.
- Although international companies are prominent in the local market, Chinese perfume brands are beginning to achieve more and more success.
- Homegrown perfumers focus on creating more unique and China-specific scents, using more traditional ingredients or referencing Chinese culture.
- Many Chinese perfume brands use nostalgia and the Guochao trend to appeal to young Chinese customers.
- Documents, To Summer or Scent Library are making waves in the local fragrance market with their unique strategies and products.
Author: Sofia Tishchenko