The Mother’s Day shopping season usually means one thing for the beauty world — a surge in fragrance sales. 

But with the coronavirus rendering most U.S. stores closed, things look murky for fragrance this Mother’s Day shopping season. While classics are expected to sell — Chanel, Dior, Giorgio Armani, YSL, etc. — COVID-19 has shifted a big portion of shopper attention towards giftable self-care products, small luxuries like hair masks, or for some, even foot masks. 

When it comes to fragrance during the pandemic, consumers lately just aren’t that interested, with candles and home scents playing a key exception.

Fragrance sales broadly have been down since stores closed due to the pandemic, as consumers prioritize other purchases. Data from the NPD Group shows that for the first quarter, U.S. prestige fragrance sales were down 13 percent. Data from Spate, which tracks online searches, shows that searches for eau de parfum and perfume are down 21.8 percent from the week ending Feb. 12 to the week ending April 19, indicating that consumer interest in fragrance has lost steam as the pandemic continues. 

Mother’s Day traditionally coincides with new spring perfume launches, according to Linda Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation. But with stores closed, “anyone who launched this spring, they’re going to have to do it again,” she said. “That which is going to sell for this Mother’s Day will be the classics — Chanel, Dior, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs — the ones that have been there a long time.” She expects a surge in bath and body products, as well as candles.

Retailers maintain that despite store closures, they do expect to see some fragrance gifting. Sephora, which ran a fragrance campaign ahead of Mother’s Day, has seen good volumes from “strong classic brands,” Artemis Patrick, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, said, as well as newer options like Margiela, Atelier Cologne, Juliette Has a Gun and clean fragrance brands. 

At Macy’s, classics, too, rule the day. “We’re definitely seeing some of the core fragrances, the ones that have been around, start to accelerate faster than some of the newness,” said Nata Dvir, senior vice president and general business manager for Macy’s beauty. Macy’s has also seen an uptick in home fragrances, she said.

At Nordstrom, it’s about replenishment and home fragrance, said Marcella Schlitt, national beauty director. 

“We are still seeing replenishment with signature scents,” Schlitt said. “There is a shift, of course, because you want to smell the fragrance in person and with stores closed it’s a little bit harder, but it’s actually shifted more to home fragrance — that category is taking precedence right now, and it’s doing amazing. Customers are trying to find ways they can scent their home and get that relaxed feeling.” Diptyque, Jo Malone, Le Labo and Nest are selling well, she noted.

Outside of those classic scents, consumers this year are expected to move toward self-care gifting, focusing on skin, hair, and DIY at-home services. 

As Patrick put it, many moms this year will be receiving gifts “rooted in home pampering.”

“Certainly the mix will be a little bit different than perhaps we’ve seen in the past,” she said. “We’ll definitely see an uptick in skin-care and at-home pamper routines.” Hair care is also generating interest, with new entrants like Drunk Elephant, as are value offerings like sets and Sephora Collection products.

Candles, along with tools, masks and at-home services are among the categories garnering interest, according to Yarden Horowitz, cofounder of Spate. Searches for facial steamers were up 24.4 percent between February and March; face mask searches were up 62.1 percent, hair masks were up 54.1 percent and hand masks were up 606.4 percent. 

Very niche searches are up, too, Spate data shows. Searches for skin spatulas — a skin-care device meant to clear out pores — were up 160.7 percent month-over-month in March. Interest in foot products is also on the rise, as most consumers have lost access to pedicures. Foot graters saw a 234.7 percent increase in searches, foot files saw a 471.3 percent gain, and foot masks saw a 31.9 percent gain. 

Retailers are also seeing wellness products sell well, across the spectrum. Schlitt said Moon Juice is doing well for Nordstrom, and shoppers are gravitating toward sets that allow them to test multiple products across a line. At Sephora, supplements are selling for Mother’s Day. “It’s not like you’re giving … a multivitamin gift — you’re giving a gift of an ingestible concentrated for hair, for example … it’s rooted back in beauty, [so] I still see wellness being a giftable item.” 

“Outside of fragrances, I do see our hair-care, nail-care, self-care — wellness categories — have been good,” said Dvir. “That is where a lot of what the gifting will be. If we think about traditional mother-daughter relationships, the mom is learning from the daughter, too. So she’s going to take this opportunity to treat her mom to things that she’s been treating herself to. There’s going to be beauty products that are important, but it’s also this transfer of knowledge.” 

At Nordstrom, NuFace, Beauty Bio’s Glowpro, Skin Gym’s face roller and Drybar’s Double Shot and Dyson’s hair styling tools are generating interest, Schlitt said. Dvir echoed her sentiments, noting that hair dryers and styling tools have done well as consumers look to amp up at-home skin and hair routines. 

“If you can’t get some of those treatments you used to do at the salon, it’s great to do that work now and come out of this looking more refreshed than you did before,” Schlitt said.

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