Why are people still buying perfume during the pandemic?

set of colorful perfume bottles in shop window
set of colorful perfume bottles in shop window
8:15am, Tue 23 Feb 2021
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

The pandemic has changed consumer spending habits in many ways, not least in the beauty sector.

Sales of make-up have suffered as lockdown restrictions have meant millions of people are working from home and don’t feel the need to put on a full face of cosmetics each day, while some brands have benefitted, as beauty buffs spend more time on their skincare routines.

One category that has managed – for the most part – to weather the storm, is fragrance.

While you might think people who are socialising less due to bars and restaurants being closed wouldn’t want to douse themselves in scent, data shows that, in fact, perfume has still been in demand during the pandemic.

“Traumatic events can cause us to engage in nostalgia, where we transport ourselves to fonder times,” says Shakaila Forbes-Bell, psychologist for Clearpay, which reports that perfume is the most consistently searched beauty term for consumers using the buy now pay later service.

“A phenomenon known as the Proust memory effect reveals that scents evoke more emotional memories than other memory cues. Studies show that people remember 35% of what they smell, but only 5% of what they see.”

This suggests that that shoppers have “been relying on scents to transport them to happier times”, she continues, rather than using them as an aromatic adornment that’s appealing to others. “Scents become time capsules that can momentarily awaken emotions deep within our conscience.”

Jimmy Choo Illicit Eau de Parfum

I can attest to that fact. As a beauty editor, I’m lucky that I don’t have to buy many beauty products, but what’s the one thing I have purchased recently? That’s right, perfume.

I ordered a big bottle of Stash by Sarah Jessica Parker, my designated ‘holiday’ scent. One whiff of this patchouli-packed juice instantly evokes the cloud forest of Costa Rica, balmy evenings by the beach in Mexico and myriad other memories from far-flung shores.

Fragrance brand Floral Street has seen a 300% uplift in web sales during the pandemic, which founder Michelle Feeney attributes to the mood-boosting power of scent.

“Fragrance is for everyone – it can be really mood enhancing and can make you feel good,” she says, highlighting the simultaneous boom in home fragrance.

“In the current pandemic, that effect has also extended to our personal spaces and it’s become really important to create the right mood in our homes. [People] are seeking out products and experiences that really do fit, compliment or boost their individual lifestyles.”

Floral Street Arizona Bloom

Stress relief may also be a factor, as The Perfume Shop reports that sales of sleep scents jumped 350% during the first four months of lockdown in 2020, compared to the previous year.

So, how can you find the perfect mood-boosting perfume? Some websites offer samples for sale, but if you can’t sniff before you buy, take a look at the notes listed for the scent online, and choose accordingly.

Forbes-Bell advises: “Pay particular attention to the heart and base notes, which tend to linger throughout the day, and have a greater impact on our mood.”

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