The mass-market fragrance landscape is a tale of two scenarios.

In drug stores, such as Walgreens and Duane Reade, fragrances are open and inviting and sold alongside testers to sample scents. Other mass retail chains stash fragrances in what Larry Levin, executive vice president and general manager, Consumer & Shopper Insights at SymphonyIRI Group, described as “prisons.”

Keeping fragrances under lock and key could very well contribute to the 4.4% decline in mass market fragrance sales in 2012. Sales fell to $995 million–the first time in several years mass fragrance volume didn’t exceed the $1 billion mark.

“I think part of the problem is that few retailers are doing what you see at Duane Reade, where they are bringing interaction back to the fragrance section,” Larry said. Select Duane Reade stores have a fragrance bar where shoppers can spritz up to 40 different scents on their wrists. “If retailers could at least have testers, there may be a better chance of converting [to sales],” he explained. Target also has various tester options, ranging from tethers to prevent shoppers from stealing the tester, to bottles affixed to the shelves.

Too many other stores, Larry said, lock up fragrances for fear of pilferage. “I visited one Los Angeles store where it is a struggle to get a fragrance – it takes the fun out of shopping. Something has to be done after two years of decline. It’s the albatross around the mass market because everything else [in beauty] continues to grow, especially nail.”

Coty Beauty U.S. said it is working to free fragrances. “As a leader in mass fragrance, Coty pioneered the evolution of locked cases to open sell,” said Derek Bowen, senior vice president of marketing, Coty Beauty U.S. “Unlocking fragrances drives category growth and results in double-digit profit growth.”

Coty is also developing tester bars and individual tester bottles on retailers’ walls. Derek said the testers are showing sales growth on the overall houses and “incredible” expansion on individual items with the testers. “Retailer participation is expanding as the results are speaking,” he said.

Beyond in-store sampling, a lack of innovation siphons sales, according to Mark Crames, chief executive officer of Demeter Fragrance Library. “There is no more mass fragrance – just old and tired designer fragrance or short-lived celebrity fragrance,” he said.  “The industry will launch 300 fragrances this year and 297 of them will be olfactory indistinguishable from each other.”

Mark suggested mass fragrances are “simply a less qualified version of the designer scents.” His solution is to start making creative, high quality fragrance, simplified for daily use for a broader audience.

Larry’s statistics confirmed that few of the launches in the past year did little to drive consumer appeal. “They struggle to get out of the box,” he said. Only Someday by Justin Bieber cracked into the top selling list as a new item last year. Its sales of $9.3 million put it in fifth position for women’s behind established names such as Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, Viva La Juicy, Red Door and In Style. “In general, consumers are not adapting to new products,” Larry said.

The trend is even more notable in men’s scents where value brand Bod Man was tops, followed by classics Stetson, Curve for Men, Davidoff Cool Water and Drakkar Noir. The top selling men’s debut was McGraw Soul2 Soul at $3.7 million. Coty’s Derek said consumers are responding well to body mists and body sprays, which deliver incremental sales instead of stealing from traditional eau de toilettes. A few hits he named are Playboy VIP for Him Body Spray and Playboy for Her Body Mist as well as three light scents under the adidas banner.

The future is crucial. “Fragrance is growing beautifully in prestige and department stores, people are still spending money. It is time manufacturers take care of the stepchild and drive sales,” Larry concluded.