The perfume industry is ever-expanding, and as of 2021, the market size was $38.4 billion, accounting for around 8% of the beauty industry.
For the most part, 2020 initially had a negative impact on perfume companies. With national lockdowns, buying perfume wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind. However, it wasn’t long before people started indulging in luxuries again.
From the graph below, we see that search interest for “perfume” sees a steep spike every December in the run-up to Christmas and smaller spikes around Valentine’s Day in February and Mother’s Day in May.
A significant drop around spring 2020 coincides with lockdown, and then, curiously, a significant rise throughout 2021, peaking at Christmas.
This upward trajectory correlates with a 45% rise in fragrance sales in the first quarter of 2021, with 2019 only up 27%. There was also a visible increase in traffic to perfume sites. But we’re still left with the question — why?
Estée Lauder’s Leonard Lauder refers to it as “the lipstick index”. This theorises that affordable luxuries like perfumes become more in demand during economic downturns — possibly because it suggests a determination to continue ordinary day-to-day life while maintaining an element of frugality. This could explain the increased interest in fragrances in 2021.
Apart from global pandemics, the perfume shop industry faces a number of challenges, such as:
- A competitive industry
- A competitive real estate market
- Seasonal fluctuations
- Economic conditions
When it comes to competition, we can use Porter’s Five Forces model to explore some of the main competitive elements of the perfume industry.
Starting with the possibility of new entrants, we have already established that this is a growing market. The biggest concern is major beauty brands expanding their repertoire into the perfume industry. They have the expertise, brand identity, and financial advantages that new perfume retailers in the industry wouldn’t have.
We can also look at the threat of substitute products as another competitive factor, given the perfume industry must contend with the more affordable deodorant and body spray markets.
The competition for perfume shops is fierce, but the product is not the only competitive aspect. Perfumes are one of those goods that a lot of people prefer to buy in-store, even if they shop online most of the time.
This means businesses must weigh up the pros and cons of having a brick-and-mortar store. The cons include the cost of the real estate and limited stock space, while the pros include customers being able to test fragrances and enjoy more personal customer service.
When it comes to online-only businesses, the try-before-you-buy issue is often combatted by selling samples at a small price or including free samples with every order. Many sites offer live chat and informational blogs on fragrance notes so customers can find the right scent.
Another matter perfume shops have to focus on relates to authenticity. They have a duty to ensure all branded products are from genuine sources and not replica stock. If products aren’t genuine, businesses may face litigation. Luxury perfumes are one of the most counterfeited items in the world, so legitimisation is not always an easy feat.
Going back to Porter’s model, the power of suppliers is a major potential challenge as perfume stores sell branded stock. This means there’s a finite number of wholesalers and distributors to choose from.
Certain things can’t be helped. Naturally, perfumes make a wonderful gift, so it’s no surprise that sales go up around Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day. Though given perfumes are expensive and exclusively viewed as a luxury, fragrance businesses are always at the mercy of economic downturns.
Let’s examine the US traffic and search performance for six online perfume shops.
- Organic traffic: 386K
- Organic keywords: 81.6K
Perfume.com has been operating since 1995. Boasting up to 70% off retail prices, they stock over 13,000 designer fragrances for men and women and deliver all over the world.
This particular site is an anomaly when it comes to the usual trend for perfume sites during the pandemic. While December 2020 saw a major drop from the previous year, the bulk of that year didn’t see much of a drop in traffic— at least not compared with 2019.
When we look at December 2020, we see a significant downward trajectory from which they’ve yet to recover. The December 2020 Core Update was a major algorithm change and is likely responsible for this nosedive. While December 2021 certainly gave them a boost, they only reached the same level of traffic as they did at the height of the pandemic.
Some of those values could be down to organic keyword performance. Between September 2020 and September 2021, they lost 13.4K for “red doo” and went from position 1 to drop out of the top 100, while also dropping from 1 to 5 for “perfume”, losing 3.8K visits.
They lost more than 500 visits for nine other keywords. But, as we can see from the organic keywords graph, that’s not a significant change.
Some of Google’s updates that may have affected traffic include December 2020’s Core Update and, possibly, Spam Updates. These focused on improving E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness), targeting sites that weren’t implementing best practices from a quality standpoint.
Between November 2020 and November 2021, some of the changes they made to their site included removing an intrusive interstitial and changing the keyword “top sellers” to “best sellers”. They are currently ranking number one again for “perfume”.
- Organic traffic: 1.2M
- Organic keywords: 193K
Since 1997, FragranceNet has sold over $2.5 billion worth of products. They carry 40,000 brand-named products from fragrances to make-up and have online stores for the US, Australia, China, Mexico, the Middle East, and the Netherlands.
As expected, FragranceNet did experience a dip in traffic between January and March 2020, but they picked up momentum in the summer. After reaching 1 million visits in December 2021, they will likely surpass that this year. Incidentally, they’ve also nearly tripled their referring domains since December 2020.
They’ve had some pretty excellent results for organic keyword performance. Since September 2021, they haven’t dropped below 150K keywords, and they now have 12K keywords in the top three positions compared with 8K two years ago.
- Organic traffic: 134K
- Organic keywords: 64.5K
Founded in 1988, Perfumania has over 100 brick-and-mortar stores in the US and offers major discounts and expert advice about rare fragrances.
Perfumania doesn’t have the best financial history. The company declared bankruptcy in 2017 and closed a quarter of its stores, not long following a previous closure of more than 100 stores. After an all-time low in profits in 2020, things did pick up in the following months.
Traffic took a substantial hit between December 2019 and December 2021. A drop in high-position keywords correlates to that period. When we look at the Christmas period for the last seven years (not counting 2018), traffic seems fairly static overall. However, because 2019 was such a good year, the dip in traffic in 2020 looks all the more dramatic.
Upon investigation, we could find no obvious changes to the site that could have accounted for this. However, the BERT Update did have an impact on eCommerce. As the update helped Google examine long-tail keywords and provide relevant results to users, sites that failed to optimise usefully would have been negatively impacted.
Not shipping outside of the US could also prevent growth and from matching their competitors. While the US does hold the lion’s share of the fragrances market with $8.15bn in 2022, UK revenue amounts to $2.25bn, and Europe as a whole holds $16.61bn.
Despite their limited shipping policy, they are currently ranking number one for “men’s perfume & cologne” and number two for “perfume store near me”.
- Organic traffic: 474K
- Organic keywords: 98.7K
Established in 2001, FragranceX has shipped more than 20 million orders to date and claims to be the world’s largest perfume outlet. They stock more than 10,000 products and have one of the largest warehouses in the world.
FragranceX saw traffic decrease between November 2020 and July 2021. Interestingly, according to our data, 2020 was their best year.
Between April and November 2020, they lost some important keywords such as “perfume”, “perfume samples”, “cologne” and “men’s cologne”, going from the top four positions to not ranking at all.
They’ve managed to regain SERP 1 positions for “christian dior”, “perfume”, “men’s cologne” and “fragrance”, but as of November 2022, they are not ranking for top scents like “burberry”, “incanto” and “ysl”. They are, however, ranking first for “cheap perfume”, “perfume brands”, “discount perfume” and “where to spray perfume”.
With 2021 bringing a surge in search interest for perfume, competition would have been at its fiercest, which could account for the site struggling to maintain its rankings.
- Organic traffic: 64.4K
- Organic keywords: 40.6K
The Fragrance Outlet operates more than 100 stores with their first being founded in 1990 outside of Washington, D.C. Their modus operandi — not unlike the other stores — is to offer the widest range of designer fragrances for affordable prices.
As expected, they saw a dip in traffic and keywords during lockdown, but it wasn’t substantial. An increase in referring domains correlates with a quick pick-up in keyword performance that year. December 2021 saw them reach an average organic traffic volume of 121K, which is more than twice the volume of previous years.
The last month has seen an increase in keywords by 970, an additional 371 for the top 3 positions, and an organic traffic increase of 34.5K. They are currently ranking number one for “cheap designer perfume”, but remain the worst-performing US store for traffic according to third-party data.
The Perfume Shop
- Organic traffic: 1.8M
- Organic keywords: 135K
As the UK’s largest specialist fragrance retailer, The Perfume Shop has over 200 stores across the UK. Originally named Eauzone, they first opened their doors in 1992 after being bought by Merchant Retail Group Plc. Since 2005, they’ve been under parent company A.S Watson.
Despite the fact they don’t ship to the US, The Perfume Shop is still popular enough to gain some international traction.
They currently rank number one for “perfume shop uk”, and we have no doubt that, should international delivery become possible for them, The Perfume Shop will notice a boom in US traffic.
What we can see for the investigated sites is an upturn in traffic in December 2021, which tells us the demand for perfume is at an all-time high.
With 11K+ top three keywords for FragranceNet, they are the top-performing US perfume shop, with the UK’s The Perfume Shop at the back of the queue with 368 top three keywords. Fragrance Outlet follows close behind with 886, while Perfumania comes in at just 1,308. Perfume.com and FragranceX are on a fairly even keel with 4K+ top keywords.
The SEO Perspective
The best-performing site from an SEO point of view is The Perfume Shop. While it has the least amount of keywords on SERP in the US, the UK data outranks FragranceNet with 14K keywords in the top three positions.
The sitemap isn’t as complete as it could be, as there’s an intrusive interstitial upon loading, slow page load, and outdated EAT references (such as a Google Trusted Store badge which is not something Google uses anymore).
There’s also less than optimal meta data with a lot of long and incomplete meta descriptions and too-short titles. Where meta titles are at a more optimal length, they tend to be written in ways that clearly target search engines and not customers, often with too many keywords strung together.
In this example, SEO best practices are what make the difference in increasing visibility and organic traffic.