Luxury perfume brands becoming more and more ”mass market”

Santa Maria Novella – Florence

Who would have estimated that famous fragrance brands such as CHANEL or GUERLAIN would one day be available in every mall and mass market shopping center, even hypermarket shopping galleries. The boom of retail development in the past decade, in many cases uncontrolled, especially in countries where operating under franchise has turned retail chains such as SEPHORA or DOUGLAS into perfume supermarkets available everywhere.

For instance, in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe there is no Carrefour, Cora or Auchan hypermarket gallery without a Sephora or Douglas shop. Service has become impersonal and self service is all about browsing shelves occupied by the various brands. As it usually happens tester perfume bottles are running out or simply there is no sample paper.

Take for instance Romania, where you cannot miss the tall, usually overweight and odd uniformed body guards that follow each client to the shelves to prevent any theft. And of course, due to cost cutting, the cheapest security firm is employed.

In the past three years, small perfumery boutiques have opened up selling private label brands not available in Sephora or Douglas. There are 4 such boutiques in Warsaw (Poland), 5 in Bucharest (Romania), 2 in Budapest (Hungary) and 4 in Prague (Czech Republic). And some of you have thought – luxury perfumery is saved. Yet, as I was browsing myself through these boutiques, I have started to understand the mass market philosophy is being pushed on to the boutiques by wholesalers. That is why, the portfolio of certain boutiques are identical and there seem to be exclusivities. Which is ok up to a point. When more and more boutique have the same portfolio, aren’t we all witnessing the creation of a new Sephora chain?

There are fewer and fewer luxury perfume brands which have a direct exclusive distribution. Discussing with the owner of such a boutique in Warsaw, she was telling me how difficult it is becoming for her to buy directly from manufacturers as wholesalers are banging on her door.

ANNICK GOUTAL, CLIVE CHRISTIAN, KILIAN, AMOUAGE, ETRO, CARTHUSIA, EAU D’ITALIE are more and more available and while they are sold in boutiques providing a high quality of service, they are sold in boutiques which sell them as they were selling regular perfumes, without staff bothering to make a brand presentation and assist the client with thorough and expert advice.

It remains to be seen how this dangereous trend is evolving once again shading a luxury segment with centuries of tradition. One’s perfume is an intimate personal luxury which reflects one’s mood and personality and luxury perfumes need to be sold in a particular exclusive environment. In case SEPHORA or DOUGLAS come up with the idea of buying such a wholesaler, it will be a matter of days till ”luxury corners” will be created in the regular SEPHORA’s and DOUGLAS’s while the small boutiques will be closed one by one.