Within beauty, fragrance is a category that is undergoing some of the biggest shifts. Historically, brands have been slow to adopt robust e-commerce strategies because smelling product in-person is crucial to driving conversion. Now, brands are retooling their e-commerce strategies to adjust to the current shopping climate and the emerging changes in customer behavior.

NPD data shows that fragrance sales declined in the first quarter by 13%, compared to the first quarter of 2019. At the same time, the drive for self-care products has boosted ancillary fragrance products like candles and home diffusers. Average daily perfume sales online have increased by 77%, according to Klaviyo data, but this is likely due to the transfer of in-store shopping to e-commerce, as well as Mother’s Day sales.

Atelier Cologne tackled a digital refresh of its e-commerce website to encourage gifting and acquire new customers. Usually, when people buy fragrance online, it’s for replenishment reasons, said Bixente Barnetche, Atelier Cologne customer engagement and e-commerce business director. But the brand is looking to change that behavior. Under the menu tab “Perfume Finder,” Atelier Cologne features an interactive questionnaire that has people answer questions, such as “If you could escape anywhere, where would it be?” or turn a wheel to select emotions that a perfume should embody. On product information pages, there is a button that can be pushed to reveal an augmented reality visualization of the perfume’s ingredients across the page. One-on-one live conversations are also available on the site, since it relaunched on March 15.

Atelier Cologne relied on earned media and word-of-mouth as its primary marketing levers pre-coronavirus,  but launched a paid five-week influencer and advertising campaign with Refinery29 on May 15. It’s centered on what love smells like, to promote the idea of gifting perfume. Refinery29 created a landing page featuring six interpretations of what love smells like, to which six influencers (Amy Lee, Kia Marie, Orion Vanessa Carloto, Eris Kristina, and Amy Serrano) were paired. The influencers shared their own interpretation of what love smells like on their own Instagram channels and YouTube. To further to promote Atelier Cologne’s ramped-up gifting exercise, Atelier Cologne’s site now also allows customers to choose a complimentary colored gift tag and a personalized note for all gifts. The brand is also offering a gift code during the campaign for a 10-milliliter rollerball with a 30-milliliter purchase, in the hopes that customers will gift it to an additional recipient.

“When you are not able to use one of your senses, you have to find another way [to engage with customers],” said Barnetche. “That’s why we wanted to do things like augmented reality and create meaningful content, where there is more than just beautiful visuals.”

But as more consumers become more comfortable with purchasing fragrances online, the scents they want are also changing. According to research by fragrance and flavor company Givaudan, a poll of 300 women in the U.S. and France between the ages of 18-65 indicated that more shoppers now want fragrances that are more “comforting” and “relaxing” versus sexy or seductive, as was the case pre-coronavirus.

“There is a nostalgia piece that will draw consumers to familiar fragrances,” said Emily Bond, Givaudan head of fine fragrance for North America. “Consumers will rediscover their favorites that are classics. Those classics in department stores are designer [fragrances,] and in some cases in masstige, they’re celebrity fragrance.”

Designer fragrance brand Viktor & Rolf has also focused on fragrance gifting. For Mother’s Day, it offered seven bundles, which all included perfume, body care and/or candles in sets. said Laura Azaria, L’Oréal USA Designer Fragrances svp of marketing. Viktor & Rolf is sold online, but also through retailers like Sephora, Macy’s and Nordstrom. Azaria declined to state what percentage of Viktor & Rolf fragrances are sold through e-commerce but said it had experienced “high double-digit” sales growth through both its website and retail partners, especially around Mother’s Day. By offering more product bundles, Viktor & Rolf hopes to accomplish three things: offer customers more accessibly priced products that are between $35-$150, create a self-care experience through its fragrances and ensure that the perfumes themselves are selling in tandem with other fragranced products.

Viktor & Rolf is also planning to introduce a new digital fragrance finder tool on its DTC site in early June. It will also increase its sampling budget by double-digits to produce 4 million samples for its Flowerbomb perfume, introduce a payment-plan provider, and rework its paid and unpaid influencer strategy to focus more on conversion .

“[Coronavirus] has challenged the status quo, not only from a brand standpoint but also from a consumer standpoint,” said Azaria. “It helped us adapt and change the tone of everything we do online, from changing the [product] offerings to being mindful of self-care. That makes Viktor & Rolf more relevant to the current environment.”