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Fragrance Sales Sluggish at Mass

Women’s fragrance sales in the mass market continue to shrink, although men’s scents are providing some positive news.

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NEW YORK — There’s no getting around it. Women’s fragrance sales in the mass market continue to shrink.

Even the flood of popular prestige scents like the Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein brands have not been able to keep retail sales stable.

According to Information Resources Inc., sales of women’s fragrances have dropped 10.6 percent for the 52 weeks ended June 15, to $513 million. The figures exclude sales at Wal-Mart, which is said to be faring better than other retailers.

Although Wal-Mart said it doesn’t release sales figures on any category, a written response through a company spokeswoman suggests it is pleased with its business. “Our customers continue to show us they appreciate our fragrance offerings by ‘voting at the register’ ”

The world’s largest retailer said that both higher-priced and opening price point items continue to be popular. “Updated packaging and product container innovations have kept both categories fresh,” according to the written response from the company. “For example, some branded fragrances come complete with a beautiful gift box…no wrapping hassles. Masculine pump dispensers on value-priced fragrance for men also add interest for our customer.”

If there is a bright spot in mass fragrances, it is in the men’s area. The shaving lotion/men’s fragrance segment has seen sales rise 4.8 percent to $361.1 million for the 52-week period, according to IRI, excluding Wal-Mart.

Retailers said Father’s Day was respectable. At Walgreens, aggressive fragrance advertising helped deliver solid Father’s Day volume.

Bob Berman, vice president buying and merchandising at May’s Drug, agreed that men’s fragrances are “down less” than women’s. “The least percentage down is men’s, it is down 10 percent, while women’s is down 20 percent and I don’t see that improving,” he said of sales at May’s.

For the holidays, Berman is buying on par with last year’s soft Yule. “I’m being cautious, buying what we sold last year.” Like many mass marketers, Berman sees potential in nontraditional gift sets for the holidays. “The Conair gift sets, Del Labs’ Sally Hansen gift sets and Markwins’ gift sets sold well last year and should again.”

Wal-Mart said gift sets continue to be a “very popular item for both male and female gift-giving. We anticipate growing interest in the ‘set’ category.’”

The full rollout of Celine Dion’s scent is also highly anticipated by mass marketers. However, that is tempered by the fact the scent has already been available at J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and Sears. Many mass buyers are disappointed that they didn’t have the first crack at marketing Celine Dion.

Still, many are planning big promotions for the introduction. Kmart will give Celine Dion “prime space at the end of the beauty aisle,” and will feature it at $3 off, said a Kmart spokeswoman. The suggested retail on a 1.7-ounce is $32.

Kmart also said that it has done well with its exclusive Joe Boxer scents, and is considering expanding its proprietary Thalia Sodi collection into fragrance. Its spokeswoman said the company’s exclusive brands will be a key part of the assortment during the holiday season.

Target has also had success with its proprietary Sonia Kashuk fragrances, which are an extension of the cosmetics line. The discount retailer has also upgraded the clamshell packaging on its prestige fragrance display. The cards have been narrowed and redesigned for a sleeker appearance.

But open-sell designer scent programs may not be for everyone.

Cleveland-based Medic Drug began carrying designer scents through Elizabeth Arden in November. Yet despite the anti-theft devices implanted in the packaging, shrink has been high, said cosmetics director Sally Yanke. She said the results are preliminary and the chain will give the program more time. “Not that I want to get out of it, but it doesn’t make sense to have them [prestige scents] if pilferage is too high.”

Yanke also said she does not plan to take on the new Celine Dion scent. “I realize she is very popular. But how many celebrities have put their names on fragrances that are no longer around?”

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