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Fragrances Are Selling Surprisingly Well Online

Either people are buying online to restock their favorite scents, or they've found a way around the Russian roulette-like game of buying a fragrance without testing it out.

Selling fragrance online isn't easy. Sure, an e-commerce site could be useful to someone looking to quickly restock a favorite perfume, but getting a shopper to sink cash on a scent she hasn't even smelled? That seems like an impossible task.

But according to a new report from NPD Group, consumers are increasingly interested in buying their prestige fragrances (the designer brand bottles you see lining the walls of a Sephora, for instance) online, with direct-to-consumer sales up 10 percent in the year ending in February. That's impressive when measured against sales in prestige department stores overall, which dropped 2 percent.  

At the same time, gift sets pulled ahead of individual fragrances last year, accounting for 46 percent of direct-to-consumer sales, up 9 percent from the year before. Single fragrances represent 44 percent of sales.

It's not clear if there is a relationship between the jump in online sales and this inclination to buy multi-scent packages, but it seems like it would be a pretty clever way to circumvent the tricky issue of purchasing a fragrance without testing it out first. This Birchbox-like approach to scent sampling also assumes shopper are buying gift sets for themselves; if they're buying for their friends and family… well, perhaps generosity is trending.

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Another surprising bright spot? Men's prestige fragrances, which saw a 19 percent uptick in sales last year to beat out both the women's category and the market overall. More good smelling guys in the world? No complaints here.