The Chinese may admire the West and adopt many of its luxury products and preferences, but not so with fragrances.
“Fragrances do not have as long a history in China as in the West,” explained Wu Zhigang, chief marketing consultant of Shengshi Chuanmei Consultancy Co. He continued, “Foreign perfume companies should find a strategy suited to the market, if they want to develop the business in China. They should pay more attention to consumers’ preferences.”
Those preferences seem to be on the milder, traditional side. Zhao Peng, a perfume consultant with ADE China Co Ltd, a distributor of foreign brands like Bvlgari, Hugo Boss, and Davidoff, said Chinese consumers choose light, flowery fragrances that conform with Chinese emotional reserve.
One of the best-selling foreign perfumes in the Chinese market is Cool Water, the flagship product of Davidoff, because of its refreshing scent. Other luxury fragrances, like Prada from Italy, are not faring as well because of their strong fragrance. The company has substituted Prada Tender – a softer perfume – in its Asian markets. Westerners like strong perfuemes, Zhao Peng said, because the bold scents can mask their body odor caused by their dietary habits.
“The original function of perfume in China has been lost,” Wu said, “and fragrance, which is important in daily life in the West, is dispensable.” Scented soap only arrived in China in the late 20th century, and Western perfume has only been around for about 30 years.
“In our consumer research, we found that lots of consumers love the design and the scent of fragrances, but they’re not in the habit of using them every day,” said Ghislain Devouge, general manager of P&G Prestige Greater China.
Devouge’s company, which owns perfume brands including Gucci, Dolce&Gabbana, and Hugo Boss, attributes the low rate of usage with a lack of familiarity in fragrances. P&G Prestige, according to Devouge, organizes workshops about the history of perfume, presents usage tips, and uses in-store ambassadors and online activities.
Foreign companies’ consumer strategies for the Chinese are beginning to take root. A report released by Horizon Research Consultancy Group in 2010 said that Chinese consumers bought only 1 percent of the fragrances in the world, but the Chinese market has grown by 15 to 25 percent each year since 2008.
Chinese youth is largely responsible for this growth. “Young people think perfume can improve their quality of life and it is a mark of courtesy to others,” said Zhao Peng.
The peak season for fragrances starts in summer and lasts until February. Sales hit their highest around August 6, Chinese Valentine’s Day. “There are still very few fragrances designed specially for the Chinese because of the high cost of research,” Zhao Peng said. Until this investment is made, fragrances in China will be purchased more for gifts than as a daily necessity.
photo credit: davidoff, d&g