How to Sell Perfume

Juicy Couture Smell Me perfume adA lot has been made lately about how perfume sales have slowed despite the record number of new perfume releases and the millions of dollars spent marketing them. What has gone wrong? I have a few ideas about the reasons for lagging perfume sales and how to boost them. Perfume lovers, I welcome your input. Perfume flacks, pay attention.

First, let's go to the root of the problem. Good perfume, like good wine, isn't easy to love. To appreciate scent a person needs to spend time — sometimes years — smelling different scents and learning to appreciate them. Remember the first time you tried an olive or Taleggio cheese or champagne? You probably didn't like it. But once you started paying attention to what you ate and drank and your palate became more sophisticated, you started to prefer a little stink in your cheese and complexity to your wine. Perfume is like that. Someone first smelling perfume might naturally gravitate toward a juicy, fruity floral scent, but eventually that perfume feels flat and predictable.

The problem with perfume is that, unlike food, you don't need it to survive. So, without any other incentive a person might drift from fruity floral to fruity floral, only sporadically using perfume, seduced by marketing campaigns but never developing the nose to want to explore perfume for the pure pleasure of it. Without becoming hooked into the art of perfume, why would a consumer continue to buy it, except for habit and a vague desire to cleave to whatever the ad campaign shows? To build strong perfume sales, the industry needs consumers who truly appreciate perfume and see it as an important part of their lives.

In my mind, the first line for creating an audience for perfume is to build a knowledgeable perfume sales force. Right now, four out of every five perfume sales associates I've talked to don't know squat about perfume. A few months ago a sales associate at my local Macy's told me that Juicy Couture was 100% natural. Another sales associate, this one at Nordstrom, tried to tell me that Hanae Mori doesn't smell at all of vanilla. I'd love to talk to a sales associate in a department store who can do better than read the company's list of notes on the back of the tester. An informed sales associate will lead to an informed consumer, and an informed consumer will over time become someone who wants to know and buy perfume.

Next, stores need to offer samples freely. In most stores it takes a combination of charm, bargaining, and good luck to get a sample of any perfume. But how can you buy a perfume that you want to live with if you haven't been able to try it a while? Some online retailers are good about offering samples, and I've bought full bottles of perfume from Aedes and Luckyscent, for example, because I tried samples they sent with other orders. Good luck getting a sample of anything that was released longer than six months ago from a department store.

I also think perfume companies should slow down their releases to one or two carefully selected scents a year so that consumers can catch up. Instead, they should spend more time presenting the classic scents in their lines to new consumers. Too many fragrance releases a year means that that many more can be ignored.

On a more positive note, the New York Times features Chandler Burr as a perfume critic, and perfume blogs offer perfume criticism that let perfume lovers and novices examine fragrance seriously. I don't always agree with Burr, but I love it that he presents perfume as something to be considered equal to haute cuisine, clothing, and visual and performing art. And I learn a lot from him and from the perfume blogs I read every morning.

Once people know to approach perfume as more than flash-in-the-pan marketing but as an opportunity for an ever-deepening appreciation for scent, perfume sales will solidify. Once perfumers are known as artists instead of hidden behind a brand's identity, perfume will stop being treated as the equivalent of this week's top-forty hit but as a lasting and essential work of art.

Note: image via Images de Parfums.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Angela –

    Great article – I couldn't agree more, especially regarding the sales associates….I can't begin to tell you how many times I have been offended by some middle-aged, fake tanned and obviously-not-a-true-blonde SA who knows nothing about fragrance, but insists that because I'm a man, I shouldn't handle the bottles!!!! (I guess men are born without the gene that enables one to push down on an atomizer???)

    Anyway, that leads me to another suggestion: why not take away the gender based marketing that accompanies almost all fragrances? Even niche scents are guilty of submitting fragrances to the public under the guise of being “feminine” or “masculine”.

    I've often wondered if all fragrances were released with no gender bias how might it effect the perfume market? Your thoughts?


  2. Anonymous says:

    I never noticed that I'm not supposed to handle bottles. If the SA takes it out of my hand, I usually pick up something else. And so it goes. I probably was an annoyance to them, and I didn't even know it. How funny! I'll have to work it next time.

    I'm to the point of skinnying down what frags I have to a select few. I might give up on the search for the HG, because I really like those few. Of course it's fun to try and I might change my mind.

    Any lovers of OJ's Ta'if? I like it, but would be willing to swap. It's EdP, only 1/3 down.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I do most of my fragrance shopping at Sephora or boutiques in the city, but if department stores made some of the changes you suggest I would gladly spend more time at the fragrance counter and would probably get to smell more scents.
    I so agree that department stores should give out more testers. I've mostly figured out what I don't want to buy by getting testers, but then when I do make a fragrance purchase I am much more satisfied with it, and way more likely to buy fragrance again than if I got burned on an eighty dollar bottle.
    I also wish that sales associates would be better listeners. Since I look younger than I am SAs try to sell me scents like Ralph Lauren Wild and Escada Moon Sparkle. Just because I look sixteen doesn't mean I want to smell like a pixie stick.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Interesting! I hadn't thought about gender-based marketing, but it's so true. Taking away the gender designation–or at least reducing the number of scents marketed just to women or to men–might even reduce the total number of releases and might force companies to focus on the nature of the fragrance.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I've given up my search for an HG, too–or rather, I haven't given up the search, I just figure that I'll never find just one!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Boutiques seem to have better-informed SAs, and those of us who live in cities big enough to have one are pretty lucky. Otherwise it seems like SAs are prepped to flog a certain fragrance whether it's what you want or not. Plus, it seems like at least three quarters of the scents in a department store are brand new. If you don't catch a scent within a year of it being released, you may never smell it!

    I love the “pixie stick” reference, by the way.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if the downturn has anything much to do with the “fragrance-free” public space movement that's arisen in the last decade or so. I also wonder if sales of scented lotions and other products are way up, compared to more traditional perfumes, which require more substantial financial outlay.

    Finally, I have to wonder if selling product in smaller 20ml or 30ml sizes at more “reasonable” price points would move more product — except that individual lines might think that would dilute their share (i.e., a customer would spend the same amount on three or four different brands that they would normally spend on just one brand's product). In any case, it's a personal preference of mine, and I know I would buy a lot more product if it were readily available in smaller sizes. Who the heck needs 100ml? I'm surprised when even 50ml sizes are hard to find in some lines.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great article! I'm a Frag rep in Nordie's (shhh) and the reason I continue to do it (part time, my regular job is in immigration) is because of the experienced SA and low-key approach. 80% of what I do is dram samples and talk about the notes. I'm a lover, but not an expert, and I always share what I know. I hate pushy pushy people in any area, and I wince when the Reps from other department stores (ah-hem) come in to promote because of their bullish tactics and unwillingness to listen to the client. It's embarrassing. My rule of thumb is: listen to their past choices in perfume, talk about notes that appeal to them, give them 3 to try (on hand, on blotters and/or drammed samples) and ask them to return when they have decided. I also use the Fragrance Book (2008 edition) to help them when necessary – it's an invaluable tool! I honestly try to match the fragrance to the client, not the other way around. Personally, I avoid the fragrance department in any store but Nordies. I won't go into Macy's, lol.

    Most companies churning out perfume are doing flankers because it ties in with the profit numbers.

    • lisa26 says:

      Hello! I work in a discount department store in the UK and my position is on the fragrance counter. This job didn’t come with any perfume training so I have had to try to get as much information off the net as possible, and although I have found a lot it’s not enough! I really want to buy Fragrances of the World 2011 edition but it’s sooooooo expensive and can’t find it anywhere in the UK! I am fed up of not being able to cater for a lot of my customers needs when they come to me for help! I was wondering if you know of any genuine and decent home study courses in perfume training? I found one or two online but don’t want to pay a lot of money for something that won’t give me as much knowledge as I want and need! The only college that I have found is in London and is way to far for me travel and too expensive for me to stay there while I study! Or if you could point me in the right direction for me to get more information?

      Hope you (and/or anyone else) can help :-)

  9. Anonymous says:

    You sound exactly like the kind of SA I'd love to encounter. I bet you get lots of return customers because they sense that you love perfume and are excited about it.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Good point! I know I'd buy more bottles if they came in 30 ml sizes. I love it that Parfums de Nicolai sells 30 ml bottles, and the last time I ordered the company's scents I bought two bottles because they were so reasonable (and such high quality).

    I know that a lot of people only have a bottle or two of perfume, but if they were encouraged to try different scents and they weren't in gigantic, prohibitively expensive bottles, maybe they would come to know perfume better and buy more.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Angela–you are so right about sales assistants being a problem. They get in your face and they push and they push. They spritz everything everywhere and harangue you with questions when you're just trying to look. There are so many instances in which if the salespeople had just left me alone with the product, I might have sold myself on it. As it is, the more you push, the less I buy.

    This is especially so with costly fragrances. For me part of the experience of satisfaction with a “luxury” product is the elegance of the purchase experience itself–God knows we're paying enough for these people to serve us, why shouldn't they serve us well? I want to be treated with respect; I am the actor, their job is to respond. I can forgive innocence of perfume-lore in a salesperson (it definitely beats their acting like know-it-alls when they know squat), but I can't forgive hounding, especially if it is coupled with their assuming I need to be educated.

    I don't care if the salesperson is bleached-blonde, flirty, bewildered, plain, brand-new, nervous; I don't care what her personal style is. Let me browse. Let me show you what I want. You are not going to make me want something–but you can make me glad I chose you.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Part of the problem is that a large portion of the population (i.e. me and everyone I know) doesn't have as much disposable income as in past years. Yet perfume houses continue to not only churn out a lot of product, but to raise prices. When you have to choose between filling the car with gas and getting yet another bottle of perfume, guess what wins?
    Perhaps if companies offered smaller bottles at a more reasonable price, they'd find that their sales go up. I mean, even a small price cut–from $50 to $40–would make a difference.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you that part of the pleasure of buying a luxury scent is the luxurious experience that comes with trying different scents, browsing, and being treated well. I do love an SA that really enjoys perfume. I don't like one who gives me bad info (“this perfume is 100% natural”), tells me what I like or don't like, or keeps pimping the brand new whatever flanker.

    The SAs that I like I keep going back to, and I trust their ability to lead me to something I might like to try.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Whoops! I see that Joe suggested the same thing.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Well, it's a suggestion that deserves to made twice! I love it that I can buy a PdN fragrance for less than $30 an ounce, and it's a real incentive for me to get to know that line even better. The smaller bottle/lower price means that I'll buy more bottles, and I'll develop my nose, which should eventually lead to a deeper appreciation for and commitment to wearing scent. (Although I'm pretty darn committed now.)

  16. Anonymous says:

    Thanks. I do get a lot of returning customers. Nordies prides itself on training the SA's and weeding out obnoxious reps. It's really a joy to go in and 'play' for a few hours.

  17. Anonymous says:

    lol at “100% natural” lol …

  18. Anonymous says:

    Training really does make a difference.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I know!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the excellent article, Angela! I agree with what's already been said about less pushy SAs and smaller bottles of scents. I'll just throw in a desire for more coffrets from different houses, in smaller sizes. For example, Annick Goutal's new trio would be so perfect in 15ml sizes.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I couldn't agree more with this! I'm a novice to perfume and have been known to wear the florals, fruity-florals and other beginners choices. Suffering from migraine makes me unable to enjoy or even try some brands (it is just not worth it!) so being able to get testers is neccessary to figure out if I will tolerate a scent or not. Unfortunately living in a part of the world that can only be described as “celebrity scent heaven” I rarely come across samples other than oh, let's say the latest Christina, Paris, Hilary or what have you. Releasing smaller bottles (I love the 30 ml!) would surely make me more interested in trying out new scents and a slower pace would definitley make me more interested and allow for more experimentation. I find myself sticking to a few scents that works for me (ie does not set on migraines) and that I don't have to travel halfway round the world to find. The massive amout of scents introduced (was it 800 a year?) makes for uninterest and a percieved “laziness” of behalf ot the consumer.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I would love to have many different small bottles. It might dilute a companies share in the short term, but I think stressing the idea of using different scents for different moods or events would increase overall sales and make people more passionate about their scent. As someone with a tiny fragrance budget (or anything budget for that matter), I would love if I could afford small quantities of really unique scents that I could cherish use to the last drop.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Hi Angela, lovely article! I agree with everyone else here. Good, patient, thoughtful, skilled SAs are hard to find.

    Now I have a bit of a reverse problem namely that speaking with salespeople is a problem due to the huge language barrier. Therefore I walk into perfumestores and do it all myself…of course trying 6 or 7 interesting fragrances is nice but I miss the personal touch of a salesperson.

    It's the weblogs and onlinereading that guide me in making choices.

    Samples are not hard to obtain here. And with each purchase I get at least one sample of a fragrance and two or three samples of great skincare products.

  24. Anonymous says:

    It's true. I have a female friend who will sample a “men's” fragrance, love it, but won't consider buying it because it's on the wrong side of the counter. And needless to say, most men are more concerned with not-being-women than anything else so many won't even go near a fragrance marketed to women.

    When it comes to something as personal as fragrance preferences, lowering the barrier could only help the market, I feel.

  25. Anonymous says:

    So often men's fragrances are on a whole different counter than women's fragrances, too, which only splits things more.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I guess the big challenge is to convince perfume companies that the ticket to sales is to slow down, offer samples, train SAs, and so build devoted perfume consumers who will buy for years. The problem is that it takes faith to follow this path.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I guess the big challenge is to convince perfume companies that the ticket to sales is to slow down, offer samples, train SAs, and so build devoted perfume consumers who will buy for years. The problem is that it takes faith to follow this path.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I agree completely.

  29. Anonymous says:

    When I tell people one of my hobbies is perfume, I sometimes get a reaction like, “Uh…that's nice…but why?” Because most people only know perfume from department store perfume counters. The classics, the charming or complex niche lines…they've never heard of them. So I applaud your suggestion that perfume companies should try marketing the classics…I know it's a question of sales, but if the buying public is unaware of a product, they sure won't buy it. As for niche lines…they're not well distributed. I love sending off for samples, but if I had a local outlet where I could go sniff L'Artisan, Keiko Mecheri, TDC, Rosines…there's an excellent chance I'd spend money there.

  30. Anonymous says:

    True. For me, half an ounce at a time is more than enough!

  31. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if European SAs are better informed? I guess it's hard to know if you don't speak the language, but it's an interesting question. I'm glad the blogs are here for you!

  32. Anonymous says:

    About the male/female question, fragrances without qualifications as male or female would be a great idea. We have one store here that puts male and female frags mixed on the shelves. Everything just goes by the name.

    There are times that I only spray mens fragrances on my arms, nobody seems to mind, and I too want to know what Kouros smells like e.g….:-D

  33. Anonymous says:

    I've heard the same “buy why?” more than once!

    I'd love to see the classic Diors, for example, along with the latest Mariah Carey at a department store, and I think it would help build appreciation for perfume. I guess the whole “allure” of niche scents is that they're not widely marketed, but it definitely is wonderful to see a whole display of them.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Damselfly when I tell people that my hobby is perfumes they don't seem to take it very seriously, I guess it may seem a bit vague;)

  35. Anonymous says:

    I think you just read my mind. I feel so let down to talk to an SA about perfume, they know nothing. They just want to sell, sell, and sell some more.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I think you just read my mind. I feel so let down to talk to an SA about perfume, they know nothing. They just want to sell, sell, and sell some more.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Because of the scarcity of Real samples, I have a habit of always having a small bottle or two (from an aromatherapy store) in my pocket. I've had surprisingly good luck–when amateur SAs are either bored and talking to each other–or busy with customers, with this method. I discreetly take the top off a bottle and hold it up to the tester. Puff, puff,puff….and I have a decent little sample to relax and take my time with at home. Many time I've returned to purchase the product. Either I haven't been noticed or no one has had the guts to say anything. I don't take a large quantity, just enough to be able to tell if it's “Got to Have” material. Makes sense to me.

  38. Anonymous says:

    I'm not crazy about buying anything where sales people get commission. I guess I wouldn't mind it as much if I felt like it was earned. If you saw me on the street, you wouldn't peg me as someone who'd spend much on perfume or cosmetics, and as a result I have a heck of a time getting help at Saks.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I think that perfume companies are using the same strategy that food companies have been using regarding “flankers”: they may not earn a lot of money and they might even canabalise sales of the main product, but their main purpose is to fill shelf space, thus preventing rivals' products from getting a look-in. So they are primarily “spoilers.”

    But the funny thing is that the proliferation of flankers in supermarkets has actually stifled sales because consumers have TOO MUCH choice. Research shows that when confronted with too many choices, most customers end up buying nothing. (Have you tried selecting a toothpaste lately?) This ties in with your theory Robin…

    And lately both supermarkets and food companies have begun to offer fewer choices.

    Perhaps the perfume companies are just a year or two behind and are still working the “throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” business plan, and will begin to winnow out the choices we're given.

    I agree that perfume manufacturers should spend more time promoting their “classic” scents, and then spend more time buidling anticipation of (fewer) new scents, something along the lines of what Tom Ford has been doing.

  40. Anonymous says:

    That sounds like a good plan–to mix the bottles.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Of course, Tom Ford released that whole slew of perfume at the same time last year!

    But still, points well taken. Too much choice discourages consumers from delving into perfume much at all.

  42. Anonymous says:

    I've done some renegade sample making, too. First I usually ask the SA if she has any samples of a particular scent. She'll say, “No, I'd give you one, but we don't have any.” Then I whip out my sample vial, and she can't refuse!

  43. Anonymous says:

    Angela, has she ever refused? I love this idea!!!!!

  44. Anonymous says:

    lol I would do that myself..but alot of the bottle testers at my local stores are filled with water. They have theives who take the tester bottles, so they are trying the water idea.

  45. Anonymous says:

    Yes Angela, I forgot that he had a big release programme recently. The only TF outlet here sells just the three or four main scents. I think it works better that way.

    Also, if companies concentrated their efforts of fewer releases, we might get the best of their creativity too, and thus we'd get better scents, which people would not only buy now but would continue to buy for years to come – long after the development costs have been recouped!

  46. Anonymous says:

    Just thought I'd add that a few months ago, based on some comment I made at the perfume counter of my local Neiman Marcus, the SA asked me if I read about it at “Now Smell This.” She told me she read this blog religiously. :)

  47. Anonymous says:

    Angela, stopping by very late to say how much I enjoyed reading both your post and the ensuing discussion.
    As you've noted, there are problems with the product and the way it's sold, and it seems to me that the retailers respond to their worries by doing the same thing they're already doing, only more so. If I could make one change in mainstream dept. stores, I would get the SAs off commission, so they wouldn't feel so pressured to make the sale. I've read responses in the past that they can get fired if they don't move enough product. What a crappy way to sell fragrance.

  48. Anonymous says:

    At this point they might as well make all fragrances “limited editions” given the lack of long term marketing support. Why is Chanel No 5 still a top seller after all these years? It is still as heavily supported as a new fragrance (smelling good too doesn't hurt).

    Right now the frag industry reminds me of the film industry: they want blockbusters. The next Acqua di Gio. You can't make challenging and unique fragrances if you want everyone to like it. It certainly doesn't help that most guys only seem to be interested in a certified “babe magnet” to wear on their evenings out. Bringing men as a group around on the idea of fragrance as a pleasurable pursuit would be a task would even make Hercules shrug.

  49. Anonymous says:

    I agree. Fewer, and distinct, fragrances would be nice. We have plenty of choices with lychee and pink pepper now.

  50. Anonymous says:

    I've had dirty looks, but no refusals.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Colored water?! How are you supposed to test the scent? Do they hide the real testers behind the counter?

  52. Anonymous says:

    Well, now that's pretty encouraging!

  53. Anonymous says:

    I think people sense when an SA is out to make a sale rather than match him or her up with a perfume to love. It's kind of sickening when an SA figures out that you're planning to buy a bottle and then is suddenly extra friendly. I know retail is a tough life, but when a commission is a bigger incentive than a customer's satisfaction, then the bottomline will be hurt.

  54. Anonymous says:

    It's true that the perfume industry wants blockbusters, and it's hard to blame them. But if they aren't making quality fragrances that are interesting artistically–or at least solidly crafted–than the “blockbuster” perfume carries about as much weight and longevity as a blockbuster Jim Carrey movie (apologies to Carrey fans).

    Of course, if people don't have the chance, encouragement, and incentive to get to know perfume, an “artistic” perfume, like a challenging but beautiful film, won't hold much attraction.

  55. Anonymous says:

    I'm a sales associate myself and I couldn't agree more with all of you. But you must understand, knowledge about the products is undervalued – we're manpower, nothing more. I have made a point of learning all I possibly can from books, blogs, trying whatever I can get my hands on, etc., only to find myself downsized in less than a month and replaced by cashiers from the handbag department. Feh!

  56. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely Carlos! The bottom line's the thing, Fragrance is no different from any other industry these days. I've told a friend before that it looks a lot like Hollywood – why take a risk when the last of countless fruity florals sold so well? Then it's discontinued to make room for the September launch of the next rehash.

    Artistic relevance or Spiderman 4?

  57. Anonymous says:

    The mind reels on the logic of this one…. it's a fragrance-free fragrance store.

    I received a handwritten thank you note and a sample from the Nordie's SA who helped me with Kenzo Amour Indian Holi the other day. She had made me a sample vial of The Beat while I was there, and had tucked in a couple of manufacturers' samples into my bag. I'm sure it's part of Nordie's training, but boy does it feel impressive and personal.

  58. Anonymous says:

    The last time I was at Ogilvy (a high-end department store in Montreal), all the fragrances were simply grouped by perfume house, with the men's and women's together in the same case. I suspect they had some complaints, because when I was asking about various scents, the saleswoman made a very specific point of saying, “Yes, this is the newest WOMEN'S FRAGRANCE from L'Artisan” or CSP or whatever. Yeah, she spoke in upper-case.

    Hey, a good scent is a good scent. It doesn't care what kind of chromosomes inhabit the skin it's being sprayed on, and I don't, either.

  59. Anonymous says:

    It really does! I'm not bragging–I'm lamenting–when I say that I've met only two or three sales staff who knew as much about fragrance as I do. They don't even have to know everything about every scent their store sells: a strong area of expertise would be enough. And how rare is that?

    I say, find good salespeople, train the hell out of them, and supply them with samples. That's how you sell fragrance. I can't even count the number of scents I've bought after having used up a sample and deciding I couldn't live without more of it.

  60. Anonymous says:

    Damie, that stinks. Have you thought about working as an independent rep?

    True, there are SA's that give a crap about the product and only want to ring you out to get the commission. I previously repped in a ***y's and I was in department store hell for 2 months. The SA's completely ignored me, begged me for gratis (testers), and acted as though I were doing them a favor when I brought customers and their products to the counter. They would argue over who would get the commission, and sometimes they would come stand next to me while I was talking with a customer, just to say they 'assisted' in the sale. It was shameful. I quit and didn't regret leaving. But then I got lucky and was offered another position, in Nordies, and I was truly appreciative of what they do. The SA's make commission, but their goal is to build a customer base, not to just get a quick sale.

    Anyway. I don't think they will ever come out with smaller bottles – the profit margin is just too high. I don't think it fits in with their business model. Personally, I love coffrets and 1 oz bottles. Anything larger seems wasteful, unless it's one of my top 3.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Hear ! Hear!

  62. Anonymous says:

    Ooh, she's good. Now that's the sort of SA who nurtures a love of fragrance and should be supported.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Marianne, you are one of the select–along with the rest of us.

  64. Anonymous says:

    It's so much like Hollywood, you're right. But a Hollywood movie lasts an hour and a half and costs $7. A bottle of perfume can last months and cost much more. Perfume needs to be treated more seriously if it wants to establish a strong, long lasting consumer niche.

  65. Anonymous says:

    D, you're just the kind of SA the perfume companies should be courting! Is there a boutique you could work for? There's nothing like a real passion for the product to sell it..

  66. Anonymous says:

    This is a really interesting look at the inside of perfume sales! And I'd say it's totally time to re-examine the current business model. It just isn't working.

  67. Anonymous says:

    I am also a SA and am very lucky that my company doesn't base its pay on commissions. The staff in my store are all perfume lovers, and understand the need for the right fragrance for the customer, not the right customer for the fragrance. We all wish we could control our company buyers a bit more, we know what our customer need, which isn't a mass of celebrity fruity-florals. We are just as frustrated as some of the customers commenting here.

  68. Anonymous says:

    I agree, SA's that have a true passion for perfume are few and hard to find. My boss never want to let me go. Our sales figures reflect our quality compared with larger stores with pushy staff. Unfortunately they learn the hard way.

  69. Anonymous says:

    i am a former rep for many companies and former sales associate for stores such as Macy's, Bloomingdales and Saks.

    the state of the situation is terrible now. i am a true believer of doing a job honestly and with knowledge. To sell you need to know about your fragrance and the other ones that are on the market. New and old. I challenged myself to educate myself on these matters. I would ask a customer what fragrance they liked and i will go find them 3 other frangrances that they would like. I was more about selling to the customer a diversified collection rather than “the newest hottest thing”. I would go to other stores to see what they had that was new and different from what we carried so that i was providing a customer with that knowledge as well. Don't get me wrong i would sample those new ones and figure out what we carried that was similar to it and show the client that before they left.

    As the years went by i was known for my knowledge and other reps and associates would come to me for help. This is what the market is lacking. If you walk into Macy's you get an associate that gets 10 dollars (maybe) an hour plus 3% commission. And if you lucky they will know that Hanae Mori doesn't contain Vanilla. It contains Almonds and fruits to give it that vanilla-ish scent.

  70. Anonymous says:

    i agree with you to a point. Me as the former rep. i think that customers that think they know it all are rigid. think of it as broccoli as a child. your parents try to get you to eat it but you don't. Then when you older you start to enjoy it. you look back and say i could have been eating the whole time. you should let an associate help you and show you more then just what you want to see. Granted i agree it should be done in a professional manner. a give and taken relationship that is equal.

  71. Anonymous says:

    I think that the reasons why perfume sales have dropped are many, mainly because of a few major factors that have affected our lifestyle, taste and economy worldwide.

    The first is that the perfume market seems to be flooded by so many new, insignificant, fresher, updated 'versions' of old favourite fragrances which only seem to dilute the value and potency of the fragrances being copied, and this confuses many uninformed novices. Even sales personnel have no idea how to sell fragrance any more.

    The second, is that most consumers are swamped and are turned off by the variety and marketing of perfumes available today, so when in doubt, they tend to simply shut off and stop buying completely.

    The common complaint I hear is that of total confusion regarding something they consider 'insignificant' as smelling wonderful and confident.

    Thirdly, many consumers have been frightened off when they hear embarrassing stories and jokes about heavy-handed parfumistas , fearing they could be wearing too much perfume, so they tend to use as little as possible, hoping they don't offend rather than enhancing their perfumed presence.

    I have to beg my friends to spray more generously so that I can smell them at arms' length; but I haven't had much success in encouraging them to wear more than less!

    Fourthly, the cost of retail perfume is astronomical to the uninformed, and many consumers would happily spend hundreds of dollars on boring, casual clothing and techno toys rather than invest in a good bottle of quality fragrance. If only they could understand that the internet is a wonderful and economical source of purchasing quality products at minimal, discounted prices today!

    Lastly, but not least, is that the art of wearing fragrance has died a sad and common death. Both men and women alike simply don't wear perfume as part of their grooming rituals any longer, considering it to be wasteful and frivolous.

    Connoisseurs like me and a growing worldwide community who share the same interest are the only ones left who can appreciate this rewarding and personal grooming art; but we arecertainly a dying breed.

    Parfumistas are always in search of daring, exotic and unique scents to sample, discuss and own. Thank goodness for that!

    Vive le parfum!

  72. Anonymous says:

    I loved Tallegio and olives from the off. weird or what?

    And I detest marshmallows.. but I'm not exactly an uber-sophisticate!

  73. Anonymous says:

    Great article!
    I have been contemplating on this for a good while after I reading all the comments, and trying to recall how I decided to buy a certain bottle in the past.
    I am not a perfumnista. In the past, I had an under-developed olfactory sense and used to buy perfume on an impulse. At that time, perfume was very dispensable.
    I became interested in perfumes when I read an article on Hermes Jardin sur le Nil. I love the story and idea behind. The fragrance soon become my HG and I become interested in perfumes. But still I am far from being a perfumnista, cos I am very loyal to my scent and tend to use the same one every day….
    My point is, I guess knowledge about perfumes can somehow help the sales. Instead of attracting customers momentarily by a pretty packaging or poster ad, get the customers interested in the product. Instead of having customers spritzing on then forgetting all about a perfume, get them curious about exploring the development of the fragrance.
    I guess it's the same theory with skincare products, if every company keep producing generic creams that soften skin, people won't give a damn what particular cream they are using. So now companies keep bombarding customers about skincare information which has definitely boost the sales….

  74. Anonymous says:

    You sound like the kind of SA it's a real pleasure to find–knowledgeable and excited about perfume.

  75. Anonymous says:

    I love to smell a new scent. I go to the store with the sole objective of smelling something new. But when in every single store you go into an SA is coming at you Miss Dior Cherie (or whatever the scent du jour is) you're really happy to find a knowledgeable SA who will listen to what you like and choose something.

  76. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I love a good SA and always try to find out when the ones I like are working. It makes it so much more fun to buy perfume.

  77. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the key is that good, knowledgeable sales people should be paid better. After all, what kind of incentive do you have to learn a lot about perfume–as you have–if you can make more money hostessing at a barbecue restaurant? It sounds like they lost a good SA when you stopped selling perfume.

    As for Hanae Mori, I know that the marketing materials talk about the “impression” of vanilla, but I'm telling you that it's in there. I've stood and read the impressive list of notes on the tester.

  78. Anonymous says:

    Great job! Heck, you should have written this column. And, yes, vive le parfum!

  79. Anonymous says:

    Even melted marshmallows? On graham crackers?

    Well, honestly I like chapagne right off the bat, too.

  80. Anonymous says:

    Well, for someone who says she's not much of a perfumista, you've chosen a beautiful scent to wear, that's for sure.

    I didn't think about how skin care companies focus on what makes their products different than the competition's. Interesting point.

  81. Anonymous says:

    I can live with a dirty look or two (although, how DARE she?? She should genuflect at your obvious keenerism and resourcefulness!!) if it means taking a precious sample home to dissect in peace.

  82. Anonymous says:

    Yep, it definitely pays to keep an empty sample vial or two in your purse.

  83. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I hear you bartamy. My previous post definitely sounds bitter, but make no mistake, I'm happy to be leaving (and going back to school!) and it will never kill my ADORATION for fragrances! I've become friends with a few of the reps who've worked in M**y's and away from the store they bellyache about the same things you do, word for word! It's very sad really. I've never worked in Nordstroms but on the outside looking in, I've noticed the environment seems different.

    And just a by the by on what others have been mentioning, I've brought my own little bottles in there to make samples for people – the managers hated that!

  84. Anonymous says:

    I'm just impressed that so many SAs and former SAs are reading this blog.

  85. Anonymous says:

    I am a middle-aged, untanned, blonde-streaked fragrance specialist. For some, dying the hair hides the grey. Looking overly tanned at a certain point in life looks ridiculous, especially above the 49th paralleI. I have certificates accrediting my graduating from 2 different fragrance courses. I have been in the industry since 1994. Companies prefer to hire young, thin, natural blondes (or brunettes) with little experience as they look good when handing out blotters. They are also paid less when they are neophytes. Pushiness in clerks is largely a “push” from management to sell, sell, sell. If testers aren't stolen, they are broken but salespeople should not discriminate against men as being the culprits. Far too many launches cost a fortune, hence the lack of inifinite numbers of samples. Many are given out at a launch and then to those who buy, leaving none till the next shipment, if any, from a faraway source.

    I'm lucky that my company values my expertise, my customer service style and my zeal for the topic. My vast perfume bottle collection and books underline my passion and obsession. They want me to work till I'm 80! So while we were all young and beautiful once, one cannot discount knowledge and experience with customers that comes with time. It's good to have a blend of ages in staff. Teaching staff or hiring ones that are knowledgeable costs $. Sometimes customers know more about perfume than the clerks as I have met some very well-informed and obvious perfume nuts among my clients.

  86. Anonymous says:

    I hope before you hit 80 and retire that you train lots of fragrance specialists to be as knowledgeable as you are! And kudos to your company for valuing expertise. (By the way, I'm not blond or tanned either, and it's been a while since I've been carded.)

  87. Anonymous says:

    LOVE this topic!!

    First, I think that the perfume industry is mostly out to make a quick buck instead of creating art. When one company creates something different/interesting, 5 others companies come up with something similar. I will buy a lot of things, but not 5 similar frags.

    And don't get me started on the quality…

    Here in Canada, at most stores, sample are only given out when you make a purchase. Well, if I buy V&R Antidote, chances are that I am not really into Polo or Canali. Those samples are therefore useless to me.

    Some stores only carry the 100ml size. With over 75 different bottles at home, buying 100ml is useless because I might not live long enough to see the end of all those bottles.

    Also, if I really LOVE this new purchase, the 100ml format will ensure that it will be a very long time before I need to replace it.

    In Europe, many companies offer the 30ml format, why not in America?

    And on the subject of replacing a favorite sent… This year was time for me to replace 2 of my regulars: Gucci Rush (men) and Coriolan! What a slap in the face! Both have been discontinued. Do you think that I really want to buy something new from Gucci or Guerlain ever again? Good sales, bad sales, companies need to take responsability for their product and must see them to the bitter end. If it was good enough to be released, it should be good enough to keep on the market.

    The truth though is that the readers of this Blog are the exception: we are the type to own ( I would venture to guess)more than 10 bottles(that is probably very conservative). But John Q. Public and Sally Housecoat out there (I would guess 75% of the population) will probably only own 3 or 4 different frags during the course of their entire life. So the more choice, the less each new release will sell.

    My 2 cents…

  88. Anonymous says:

    I really like your point that “the more choice, the less each new release will sell”. It all leads to more and more hype. Why not concentrate on creating a few, high quality scents and support them with training and samples for years? I know it's a risk, but it seems to be the only way to build a perfume-loving public.

  89. Anonymous says:

    I noticed that you were searching for Guerlain's Coriolan. I saw some for sale here in Australia at great prices, online at – Good Luck!

  90. Tara8888 says:

    I just get job – Sa at Macy’s fragrance department.
    I would like to learn everything about this topic in order to help my customer and do my job well.
    Any suggestion? Books, articles….

    Thanks :)

    • Angela says:

      We perfume buyers sure love a good perfume SA, and it’s nice that you’re studying up. Reading this blog is a great way to learn about perfume, and there are some links to good “basics” articles on the left side of the blog. The book “Perfumes: The Guide” is a nice introduction to perfume, too. Good luck, and have fun!

  91. Tara8888 says:

    Thanks Angela :)

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