“For Older Women Only” : Why Fragrance Shopping is Often Frustrating

Thewomen

Imagine if you walked into a liquor shop and found that every single bottle of wine, red or white, French or Chilean, vintage or regular table variety, was actually touted to be the best wine in the whole world. The shop assistant, instead of listening to your likes and your dinner plans, would flatly state, “Let me show you the latest thing we have received. It is my favorite. It is made from the special, “radiant golden” grapes. Men especially happen to like it.” To top it all off, imagine if all wines were haphazardly arranged on shelves, with no logical organization method. It sounds absurd, yet this is the way fragrance is sold today. Perhaps the main issue is that while the pace of fragrance launches has accelerated from about 100 in 1990 to nearly a thousand in 2009, the way fragrance is sold has not changed in decades.

“For Older Women Only

Last week I started with my holiday shopping, hence, my fresh awareness of some of the issues at the fragrance counter. The latest fragrance from Paco Rabanne was described to me as “all natural.” Chloé was presented as containing special “frozen musks”, which is baffling as even the press release does not mention anything of the kind. Instead of letting me  smell Givenchy Amarige, another sales associate at the fragrance bar tried to steer me towards the newest launches. When I mentioned preferring Ysatis to Very Irrésistible, the SA said, “oh, that’s for older women only.” I might have actually gasped at this point. All in all, department store fragrance shopping is a headache, and I can completely understand why some people would prefer to buy some other type of gift for their friends and family.

Better SA Training Helps

This experience contrasts very pleasantly with that which I usually have at stores that either limit the need to interact with the SA (ie, Sephora) or that train their staff and insist on a certificate program (like Nordstrom). It also differs dramatically from what I usually encounter in France, where the SAs are highly trained (some even have degrees from ISIPCA) and usually spend time to listen to the customer’s preferences and help to select a fragrance from their whole range. In the US, I often find that among the department store brands, Clarins has the best track record, since they invest heavily in fragrance sales training, both on the marketing and on the olfactive aspects. Of course, a fragrance shopping experience is much more pleasant at the boutiques that sell niche perfumes, however, the artisanal fragrances also have higher price points (which does not necessarily reflect their superior quality.)

Confusing Selection

Moreover, fragrance is usually sold on the premise that every single one is a masterpiece. Certainly, fragrance is subjective—some of us like florals, others like mossy woods, but not every bottle on the fragrance counter is a Château Lafite. Some fragrances are more like table wines, and that is ok. For instance, I like Yves Rocher Rose Absolute, which I wear often, but it is unlikely to grace a list of fragrance legends. Plus, the constant launch of flankers, fragrances that are created based on the marketing concept of an existing brand, is confusing. By way of example, Givenchy Very Irrésistible in its feminine version has seen the launch of 13 flankers. If someone who keeps track of new launches on a daily basis is confused, I cannot imagine what an occasional fragrance shopper must feel when approaching the fragrance counter.

Alternative Way of Organizing Fragrance Bar: by Smell

Why not sell fragrances organized not simply by brand, but by the way they smell (floral, fruity, woody, etc.)? This is the model that wine stores follow in organizing their stock based on the provenance and the types of wines (Chardonnay vs Champagne.) After all, organizing fragrance stores by brands when every year brings in hundreds of new launches makes as little sense as organizing a wine shop by vineyard or label name. Nevermind the fact that most fragrance counters are not organized in any logical manner, brand or otherwise. I will not take credit for this idea, as it is something I have seen implemented at some Bigelow Chemists stores. Moreover, many industry experts believe that the fragrance stores can take a page from a wine shop model. Some have even tried implementing it.  For instance, Michael Edwards built his fragrance finder used by Nordstrom and Sephora on the premise that the scents are organized by the way they smell. Scent based guidance begins to make more and more sense to me as I hear of fragrance sales declining and of more people opting out for other types of gifts during the holiday shopping season. Of course, one assumes that the public would need some sort of education, but in my experience, people can better relate to the idea of scents, ie “floral rose” or “citrusy cologne,” than to brand names. After all, as my sommelier acquintances explain, the wine industry had to invest some effort to change its method of selling and to educate the public. If most of us shopping for wine know the difference between Chardonnay and Merlot, it is thanks to information made available to us. Perhaps it is time that the fragrance industry followed suit.

NextFragrance  Shopping Tips, a few holiday shopping ideas that have worked for me in the past, whether in-store or online.

Still from George Cukor’s The Women. Aren’t those bottles something else?

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67 Comments

  • Flora: Great post! Being an “older woman” myself, it’s almost impossible for me to get through to a department store SA that I am not looking for the latest release, I am looking for something I LIKE. It’s better at Nordstrom, but Macy’s is hopeless. I am spoiled by having access to a real perfume shop, so I can feel overwhelmed when I go to the mall and all I see are the latest bottles of stuff I would never wear, and if I am looking for something else I have to ask – then comes the blank look! They hide the back catalogue perfumes as though they are ashamed of them.

    Arranging by type of scent would be wonderful, if any store could be convinced to try it! November 29, 2010 at 12:16am Reply

  • kuri: So true!
    Actually, cosmetics shopping can be similarly frustrating, but I think on average it is a bit better than fragrance shopping.
    I’m at the point where I like shops where the staff don’t bother me so I am free to spritz fragrances at will. November 29, 2010 at 5:33am Reply

  • Olfactoria: This is so true. It is a sad state of affairs, that one has to try to avoid sales assistants at all costs or risk being spritzed to death by the lastest fruit cocktail smell-alike. November 29, 2010 at 6:33am Reply

  • angie Cox: What a great post,I’d laugh if I wasn’t sobbing. It’s all so horribly true. November 29, 2010 at 2:50am Reply

  • Victoria: Donna, I am always dismayed that it is impossible to find older launches, even if they are technically in the catalogue. The way retail is structured affects the quality of scents we get in a major way. These days stores will send back unsold stock within a very short time frame, which means that a brand willing to invest in a classic had little chances. Everything needs to be a quick hit, which is why everything smells like something else. November 29, 2010 at 8:31am Reply

  • Victoria: Angie, I usually avoid department stores, preferring Sephora for a low hassle factor; however, whenever I encounter how poor the service tends to be, it shocks me anew. November 29, 2010 at 8:33am Reply

  • Victoria: Kuri, like you, I find cosmetics to be better, which is probably because the SAs work for specific brands and are trained in the products they sell. Unless one encounters a SA who is more interested in doing their own makeup than in helping, it is generally ok. November 29, 2010 at 8:34am Reply

  • Victoria: Olfactoria, “risk being spritzed to death by the latest fruit cocktail smell-alike”–a good one! November 29, 2010 at 8:36am Reply

  • Olfacta: I buy online, after sampling, also via ordering online. It’s not that I’m opposed to brick n’ mortar retail — for other things, like art supplies, I try to support local merchants. But with department stores, the SA’s are so pesky and so ignorant that I end up getting mad, and shopping is difficult enough! November 29, 2010 at 10:13am Reply

  • Style Spy: Thirteen flankers? THIRTEEN???? Does that make anyone besides me want to smack someone??? November 29, 2010 at 10:23am Reply

  • sweetlife: Darling V,

    In order to implement a strategy as sensible as organizing pefumes by smell and describing them with language accessible to the ordinary consumer we would first have to disabuse the PR wing of the industry of many of their most cherished beliefs, beginning with the idea that brand loyalty and glamorous ads are more important than the stuff in the bottle. After all, if the customer became less confused, s/he might actually notice how much crap is being foisted upon her/him. I might just be cynical, but I smell, behind all these very bad marketing schemes, an utter contempt for the intelligence of the customer, and a total disregard for the product itself. Imagine the life of a the poor PR person who actually loves perfume…

    The training of SA’s is a whole other ball of wax. Often, they are pushing the latest thing because they get kickbacks for doing so. No wonder they hide the back catalog behind the counter! And, as you say, training is paramount. They say what they are trained to say, and I often feel sorry for them, when they are not trying to condescend to me.

    I profoundly hope that the recent declines in sales will force changes on these fronts. But. I don’t know. (*Thinks about IFRA*) November 29, 2010 at 12:37pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Correcting myself–“kickbacks” sounds illegal, and is not really what I mean. More like extra commission. For precisely the reason you mention above–you have to hit big or go home! November 29, 2010 at 12:41pm Reply

  • sweetlife: On the other hand, maybe the average customer has already noticed the onslaught of bad, and just can’t find the good stuff!

    And now I will be quiet. (Obviously this topic is one of my pet peeves…)

    ;) November 29, 2010 at 1:06pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dominga, I know, whenever I encounter a knowledgeable SA, it makes my shopping experience so wonderful! November 29, 2010 at 1:38pm Reply

  • Anya: I never shop for fragrance anymore, but the incidents you relate ring so true, based on my shopping years ago at department store fragrance counters. This is an excellent article, and the logic is impeccable. Stocked according to fragrance family, with trained staff, the entire shopping experience could be wonderful. November 29, 2010 at 1:39pm Reply

  • Victoria: Olfacta, this reminds me of a time when I wanted to buy a bottle of Cristalle EDT. The entire experience was so unpleasant that although I did end up buying the perfume, I have not worn it that much for pleasure (mostly used it for writing and research projects). November 29, 2010 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: A, we actually would have start even more upstream–the focus group tests and such that most brands insist on undertaking and which they impose on suppliers. As a side note, the reason why I like Clarins is because they are one of the few companies that do not market test.

    In the past, the fragrance houses (I mean, brands, not suppliers, who basically just have to respond to brands) were run by the creative directors. These people alone picked winning scents. I am talking here about people like Maurice Roger, president of Parfums Christian Dior, who is responsible for Poison, among others. These people were not afraid to take risks, and they did so.

    Now, most creative departments are run on the premise of market testing, which at most, can tell you what people have liked in the past, the performance of fragrance, its sillage, etc. Market tests are unable to predict the future success, because they are not designed to do so. As a result, we have lots of things that smell identical and boring. You would be surprised, but many of these fragrances can actually be fairly well-made and can use rather high-quality materials. And people who ran the projects truly might believe in them, but they operate within constraints they are unable to change on their own. I know all too well how this plays out both on the supplier and on the client sides.

    It is a pessimistic scenario, I know, but I strongly believe that an educated consumer demanding an original, quality product is what will drive any changes. If more people know that the gold standards of perfumery are Chanel 19 and Guerlain Mitsouko, not Paris Hiltons and VI flankers, if more people are interested in learning more, in demanding better customer service, these changes will happen. The sales figures tell it all, and they have not been stellar as of late. November 29, 2010 at 2:02pm Reply

  • Victoria: Anya, I was so excited finding the fragrance family organization at Bigelow’s. It made the entire shopping experience so easy! I went there with a friend who wanted a fruity, but not overly sweet, fragrance. Immediately, she spotted a few things that she liked, and after testing 3-4, she bought a fragrance, which she wears to this day.
    This was about 3-4 years ago, so I am not sure if Bigelow still arranges its perfume selection this way. November 29, 2010 at 2:08pm Reply

  • Mimi Walker: There was the most wonderful SA, Joy, at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta. My sister and I dealt with her for years until she moved to Louisiana. She was very well informed, she loved fragrances and she made buying them almost a spiritual experience. I have never encountered any one like her. November 29, 2010 at 2:10pm Reply

  • Victoria: Mimi, I knew a person like that too, he used to work for Annick Goutal at Neiman Marcus in Chicago. Thanks to him, I have developed a strong passion for this line. He was also knowledgeable about other brands. It made such a big difference. November 29, 2010 at 2:15pm Reply

  • sweetlife: You would think they’d notice that the only higher numbers have been in the niche and prestige markets, where the scents have been less safe!

    I do believe you V, when you say that things are well-made, and that the people who make them believe in them, but I read so many press releases, and see so many campaigns that seem to have nothing at all to do with the juice, and it makes me very suspicious about whether there is any connection between the makers and the sellers of the stuff.

    It would be very interesting to think about what kind of market testing one could do that would actually solicit information about what people can learn to like when educated, or how to communicate with customers, rather than just asking whether or not folks like what’s on the table in front of them. I read with great interest (and some horror) Ann Gottlieb’s interview with Osmoz, where she claims to have educated consumers to crave fruity notes women once dismissed or were disgusted by–clearly it can be done.

    (Denyse wrote about it here http://graindemusc.blogspot.com/2010/05/perfumer-claims-responsibility-for.html) November 29, 2010 at 2:37pm Reply

  • sweetlife: You would think they’d notice that the only higher numbers have been in the niche and prestige markets, where the scents have been less safe!

    I do believe you V, when you say that things are well-made, and that the people who make them believe in them, but I read so many press releases, and see so many campaigns that seem to have nothing at all to do with the juice, and it makes me very suspicious about whether there is any connection between the makers and the sellers of the stuff.

    It would be very interesting to think about what kind of market testing one could do that would actually solicit information about what people can learn to like when educated, or how to communicate with customers, rather than just asking whether or not folks like what’s on the table in front of them. I read with great interest (and some horror) Ann Gottlieb’s interview with Osmoz, where she claims to have educated consumers to crave fruity notes women once dismissed or were disgusted by–clearly it can be done.

    (Denyse wrote about it here http://graindemusc.blogspot.com/2010/05/perfumer-claims-responsibility-for.html) November 29, 2010 at 2:37pm Reply

  • dominga: That would be a great education tip for everybody!it is embarassing the situation nowadays:nobody,or just a few,rare people has got perfume culture when selling at their work place ! November 29, 2010 at 9:37am Reply

  • dominga: That would be a great education tip for everybody!it is embarassing the situation nowadays:nobody,or just a few,rare people has got perfume culture when selling at their work place ! November 29, 2010 at 9:37am Reply

  • sweetlife: And meant to say–obviously you know much more about this than I do! Just reporting on what it looks like from the outside… November 29, 2010 at 2:40pm Reply

  • minette: great post. part of the issue is SAs who really don’t give a rat’s ass about perfume. it’s just a job, and they want to do it with the least amount of investment they can. training? ha. and yes, as someone else mentioned, they get bonuses if they sell the most of the newest scent, so yes, the others take a back seat.

    nordstrom is better than some, but we have a gentleman in our store here who, maybe because of his training, thinks he knows better than me, the customer, what i will/should like. i find that irritating.

    i’ve found the most passionate perfume SAs at neiman marcus, actually. they’re not all into it, but the ones who are are fun to deal with. saks used to be a store i’d try to avoid (the SAs were rude), but they have a new counter manager, and she actually likes perfume and likes to talk about it, so it’s gotten better. we also have a wonderful boutique that carries a lot of niche stuff, and the SAs there are mostly well-informed.

    i can see perfumes organized by category, but i can also see arguing over which category some scents belong in (only perfumistas would find that entertaining!). i like the wine analogy a lot.

    honestly, though, i have to tell you, most of the women i know don’t care nearly as much about perfume as we do, so they don’t bother to educate themselves about it. they just want something they like, and that their partners don’t hate, and it doesn’t have to be an industry standard or a classic to please them. i mean, bath & body works pleases a lot of people (can’t stand the stuff myself). i try to educate the people i work with about scent, but you can see their eyes glazing over long before i’ve grown weary of talking about it (so i cut short the discussion at that point).

    when it comes to wine, many are happy with something easy to drink, something that doesn’t challenge them too much, maybe even something sweet and light. so it shouldn’t surprise us that the same is true with the perfume tastes of the general population. learning about nuances is fun, but it takes passion and time. most folks i know would rather spend their time playing online games and watching football (they know a lot more than i do about sports statistics!). we all have our thing. this just happens to be ours. glad you are here to make it easier to share.

    p.s. rose absolute is great! do you get much tobacco out of it? on my skin it is almost like a golden tobacco scent with rose. :) November 29, 2010 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Victoria: A, I believe that by and large the press releases and advertising are created by groups that are separated from the creative departments. Which is why you see the disconnect. This happens not only in fragrance though, but given the ethereal nature of scent, it is easier to do in this sphere.

    I read one explanation that the younger generation likes the sweet fruity blends, because they remind them of artificially flavored drinks and juices that they have experienced since childhood. I will try to look for that article, but I recall that the argument was very interesting. November 29, 2010 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: Alyssa, one thing I can tell you for sure is that many people in the industry certainly share our frustrations. November 29, 2010 at 3:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: Here is a great quote from Sophia Grojsman that Robin posted on her perfumers page. “It used to be an art, now it’s more of a business. Everybody wants an instant success. Fragrances are being tested by focus groups, which limits the likelihood of unusual scents emerging.” Women’s Wear Daily, 9/4/1992. November 29, 2010 at 3:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: Minette, I also generally like SAs at Neimans and Bergdorfs, where they tend to work for specific counters and often know their products. Of course, everyone is different in terms of passion they have for their product, but by and large, they are helpful.

    The blog audience is definitely exceptional in its strong interest in fragrance, especially when compared to the general public. I also feel that we have so many more resources now than we had even 5 years ago, from websites to books. It makes it very interesting to take up some of these topics.

    I definitely get the tobacco leaf-woody note in Rose Absolute. It lends it a rather sensual, voluptuous quality. It also smells quite expensive, considering that it is anything but! November 29, 2010 at 3:55pm Reply

  • Victoria: Angie, Les Senteurs is a fantastic store! When I lived in London, I used to spend more time there than would be considered reasonable by some. November 29, 2010 at 4:00pm Reply

  • angie Cox: Victoria,not to worry the wonderful people at Les Senteurs have saved my life as a perfume addict. November 29, 2010 at 3:42pm Reply

  • Musette: V –

    what a great post! I am rabid on the subject of good v. ‘bad’ SAs. A good one can make perfume shopping a pleasure and a ‘bad’ one can ruin your whole day.

    I believe in rewarding the ‘good’ ones – Barneys in Chicago is blessed with several wonderful, knowledgeable, respectful but interested SAs. Lydia is now a Malle rep but her love of fragrance covers all brands and it shows. Bradley is my treasure.

    But I think it is because Barneys, like a couple of other stores mentioned, pushes the notion of CUSTOMER service, rather than selling to a consumer. As a result, they get a whole buncho my money, bless them.

    OTOH, you could not pay me to go into Macy’s, lest I end up in jail.

    xo November 29, 2010 at 8:59pm Reply

  • Musette: V –

    what a great post! I am rabid on the subject of good v. ‘bad’ SAs. A good one can make perfume shopping a pleasure and a ‘bad’ one can ruin your whole day.

    I believe in rewarding the ‘good’ ones – Barneys in Chicago is blessed with several wonderful, knowledgeable, respectful but interested SAs. Lydia is now a Malle rep but her love of fragrance covers all brands and it shows. Bradley is my treasure.

    But I think it is because Barneys, like a couple of other stores mentioned, pushes the notion of CUSTOMER service, rather than selling to a consumer. As a result, they get a whole buncho my money, bless them.

    OTOH, you could not pay me to go into Macy’s, lest I end up in jail.

    xo November 29, 2010 at 8:59pm Reply

  • Musette: V –

    what a great post! I am rabid on the subject of good v. ‘bad’ SAs. A good one can make perfume shopping a pleasure and a ‘bad’ one can ruin your whole day.

    I believe in rewarding the ‘good’ ones – Barneys in Chicago is blessed with several wonderful, knowledgeable, respectful but interested SAs. Lydia is now a Malle rep but her love of fragrance covers all brands and it shows. Bradley is my treasure.

    But I think it is because Barneys, like a couple of other stores mentioned, pushes the notion of CUSTOMER service, rather than selling to a consumer. As a result, they get a whole buncho my money, bless them.

    OTOH, you could not pay me to go into Macy’s, lest I end up in jail.

    xo November 29, 2010 at 9:03pm Reply

  • Joan: I was in a gas station in New Jersey waiting for my friend’s car to be fixed, and I stopped by a perfume kiosk run by a fat middle aged man. I wanted to show off my haggling ability. Figuring the stuff would be cheap, like in the store run by a similarly fat middle aged man next to Macy’s in Philadelphia, I stopped cheerfully by.

    But of course, the prices were exorbitant. I asked for Tresor and Paris, and he said “What, those are for OLD ladies, not for a pretty little thing like you!” Then he presented a trio of eau de high fructose corn syrup to me, and they cost about $30. Could buy the same thing for $12 at Big Lots.

    If I’m young, I’m stupid, and if I’m old, I get ripped off while trying to mask my 2-Nonenal. I can’t win. November 29, 2010 at 9:24pm Reply

  • Julie: Thank you, V, for this article – I have met some crazy SAs who were just hustling for a buck, and some very nice ones. I do think the business is more frenzied, but on the other hand, the niche perfumista population is growing, or the likes of Sniffapalooza (bless them) wouldn’t exist. Any one who says a perfume is “old lady” just lost a sale for lack of graciousness. Joan, don’t let the hucksters get you down – your money spends as good as anyone else’s. Just find a true beliver to purhcase from. Me? I enjoy a good fruity-floral,but my heart belongs to chypres, and I want my choices (and everyone else’s) to be freely available. Long live variety with quality. November 29, 2010 at 9:55pm Reply

  • Carla: I have met only one SA who seemed to genuinely like perfume, at Bigelow at Boston’s Copley Mall. I think it closed since. November 30, 2010 at 7:03am Reply

  • Victoria: Musette, I love the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, perhaps even more than 5th Avenue in New York. Also, State Street! When I wanted to study in peace, I used to spend a lot of time at the Harold Washington Library. Still my favorite library of all! However, I am very sad that Macy’s took over Marshall Field’s and renamed all of its stores into Macy’s. November 30, 2010 at 9:04am Reply

  • Victoria: Joan, wow, that is rude beyond belief. I would also be indignant! November 30, 2010 at 9:06am Reply

  • Victoria: Julie, you’ve said it so well! I also like a wide range of fragrances, from Be Delicious to No 19, from Yves Rocher to Serge Lutens. As long as we can have a wide range of choice, I am happy.
    I also feel that with the growth of niche lines, there is so much more to choose from. November 30, 2010 at 9:09am Reply

  • Victoria: Carla, there used to be a Bigelow store in NYC, but it closed down. I loved it for its feel of an antique apothecary crossed with some sort of European pharmacy.
    How are the fragrance shopping options where you are now? November 30, 2010 at 9:11am Reply

  • Red: As an “older woman” who has had a very long love affair with fragrances I am often confused and frustrated with the way retail fragrance counters are arranged and have all but given up the past pleasure of trying new scents on my lunch break. Loved your idea of organizing by types and your analogy of wine education/selection. The way the wine industry and the retailers write information cards and display them with the wine has helped me become better educated about wines and has induced me to try some that I might not have had the card not been beneath it. Many are not willing to go online for education and ordering but would be willing to read a card in front of the fragrance. December 1, 2010 at 4:19am Reply

  • salwar kameez: its true.. i appreciate your article… December 1, 2010 at 4:46am Reply

  • Felix: Well, Ysatis basically is still on the market for older customers only. Nothing wrong with that, though. December 1, 2010 at 4:52am Reply

  • beautytipshub: really like this post..Want to hear more from you in future @beautytipshub Thanks for this one:) December 1, 2010 at 5:12am Reply

  • Victoria: @Style Spy
    Sorry, I missed your comment! I find 13 flankers to be completely unreasonable and confusing. December 1, 2010 at 9:37am Reply

  • Victoria: @Red
    Wouldn’t that be wonderful! I do not consider myself a wine expert by any stretch of imagination, but I feel very comfortable shopping for wine thanks to the information one can find at the store. It also helps that the wine shop assistants are usually very helpful and actually know their products. December 1, 2010 at 10:03am Reply

  • Victoria: @Salwar
    Thank you! December 1, 2010 at 10:03am Reply

  • Victoria: @Felix
    There is certainly nothing wrong with that, quite the opposite. However, it is not a helpful sales strategy to dismiss your customer’s preferences, on whatever basis. December 1, 2010 at 10:05am Reply

  • Victoria: @beautytipshub
    You are welcome! December 1, 2010 at 10:05am Reply

  • Carla: Hi Victoria, thanks for asking, I think I lost my reply, so will re-post. I am used to Europeans, but as an American, I still feel uncomfortable because SA’s here do not smile. I have tried to strike up a conversation at the lovely Hamburg shop Harald Lubner on a few occasions, no success though. I must say, I love the selection here. I love that I can pop into a shop and spritz an Amouage just for fun! December 1, 2010 at 11:03am Reply

  • Victoria: @Carla
    I love small pharmacies in Europe, where you can find pretty much anything, from over the counter medicines to cosmetics. One observation I made is that beauty care and soap/shower gel type products are available in a greater range of scents. December 1, 2010 at 12:27pm Reply

  • Madelyn E: Hi Victoria , I ” love ” the commment about Ysatis being for “older” women. Exactly how does the SA define “old” , above 35 ?
    Really, this disturbs me as I vividly recall Ystis’s grand entrsnce on the fragrance scene about 1984 ish.
    Put me in a class of liking the gasp “old lady ” scents then. I really don’t mind.
    If cloying, watermelony, raspberry, sickening sweet strawberry florals are for the youth of today, count me out.
    BTW, as for skin care or cosmetics, I think Companies that are prestige with elegant , pricey moisturizers really require an age appropriate SA. How does it make sense to have a 25 year old trying to talk about antiaging benefits of say La Mer, Sublimage , Sisleya like high end creams to a 50 year old + customer ? What could they know about wrinkles , or about looking younger ?
    It is such a rare pleasure for a ‘perfumista” like we are to be waited on by a educated SA- It truly makes for a mutually beneficial relationship and ensures the great liklihood of a return visit. December 2, 2010 at 5:00am Reply

  • Victoria: @Madelyn E
    A return visit is what I feel the fragrance retail does not encourage. First time sale is one thing, but what truly drives a long-term success is something that you are hinting at. Like Alyssa, I think that the brands focus way too much on brand loyalty in this respect. However, I feel that most launches these days aim more for a one-hit wonder, rather than a classic. December 2, 2010 at 10:02am Reply

  • Daisy: Another great article. This reminds me of an awful experience I had recently where the SA was incredibly rude. I came in specifically to sniff a new release and he told me that he “hated it when customers come in to smell and not buy.” He actually said that. And then he said the “the worst are the ones who ask [me] for samples,” before adding that I “better buy something!”

    I think he saw the horrified look on my face, so he added quickly, “Oh, I’m not on commission or anything.”

    If that wasn’t bad enough, he ignored me for the most of the time so he could chat to a coworker about how Justin Bieber came into the store that morning. His Bieber talk only was interrupted twice: once to snatch a bottle out of my hand and tell me to not “get them out of order,” and another to just hand me the brands catalogue so I could look up the notes myself instead of answering my questions.

    I should have just left after the first rude statement, but I felt so flabbergasted all I could do was stand there, surrounded by perfume bottles, stunned. August 3, 2012 at 2:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m appalled, Daisy! That sounds like the worst SA story I’ve heard. I would be flabbergasted too at such rudeness. August 3, 2012 at 2:56pm Reply

      • Daisy: It was definitely one of the most shocking experiences I have ever had. So bad that I haven’t been back since. August 3, 2012 at 3:18pm Reply

  • Anna Minis: Daisy’s story is really shocking. Do you actually consider to go back there? is it perhaps the only perfumeshop in a small town? Here in Amsterdam you can spray as much as you like. Some SAs are not so well trained ( i was told that Coco Noir was discontinued) or want to tell you some tales they are told about frozen apples or Himalaya poppies, or Holy Armenian Books, but they let you smell in peace if you want to. Some are better trained (at Skins). others make it a great pleasure to buy a new perfume . And I know a little shop in the Albert Cuypmarkt in Amsterdam where the Sa is a real parfumista (”Grimme”). She loves perfume and knows lots about it, great to talk with her! I enjoyed this post very much. August 3, 2012 at 5:42pm Reply

  • Nukapai: Thank you for a great post. This isn’t a new issue but it does seem to be highlighted these days with the avalanche of new launches and the number of brands around. It worries me that many brands don’t seem to invest in staff training (or if they do, the training consists of filling the sales assistants’ heads full of fiction and mumbo-jumbo which just clangs with even a slightly knowledgeable customer). Lack of care about customer service is another issue and can happen anywhere (even at a new niche perfume boutique in London, as I found when I took a group of people there on a perfume tour – and despite pre-warning the store we’d be coming with a group of enthusiasts, there was a lone bored-looking sales assistant who didn’t even say hello to us as we walked in…and it went downhill from there). September 10, 2013 at 5:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Mugler’s approach with Angel was very refreshing–it invested into staff training, and the outcome speaks for itself. Everyone tries to cut corners today, and when it comes to retail, the training is one of those things that get sidelined. Plus, even when the training happens, a lot of it is old-fashioned, repeating the same wrong, misleading concepts. September 11, 2013 at 6:47am Reply

      • Nukapai: Indeed re: repeating same old, same old. The average consumer needs well-informed opinions and assistance and the well-informed customer needs to have someone they can relate to and trust to buy from. Most of typical perfume staff training misses these points. If you have an enthusiastic and friendly sales assistant who doesn’t necessarily know the industry, it’s enough for them to understand the products they are selling and to freely admit to their knowledge gaps. I would trust and buy from someone like that. Unfortunately a lot of companies still seem to fill their SAs heads with nonsense… or nothing at all. :/ September 11, 2013 at 7:14am Reply

        • Victoria: Sometimes nothing at all is better than the totally wrong, misleading information! :) September 11, 2013 at 7:30am Reply

          • Nukapai: Totally agree. As long as it’s a friendly person who understands how to handle customers of course :) September 11, 2013 at 7:34am Reply

  • Isabelle: Interesting article particularly in the view that vintage/cult fragrances are automatically associated to older women… To me, this shows lack of knowledge and taste from the modern consumer. I totally agree that fragrance marketing should be more similar to wine and be made more exclusive. Shops offering a limited selection with maybe one brand promoted every month would surely gain in terms of differentiation and in terms of profits as they would show that they cater for consumers’ needs and not their own needs in priority.

    On another note, maybe the best way to make fragrance shopping enjoyable again would be to stop continuously mentioning designer brands and focus some thoughts on not-on-the-high-street niche and independent brands that usually offer new and more exciting alternatives than the likes of Paco Rabanne et al..? It would also show that we are not all driven by marketing hype…

    To make fragrance shopping a pleasure again, I believe one needs to also change their way of shopping and search for unique and exclusive products that cannot afford the huge marketing budgets invested every year. September 11, 2013 at 3:13am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you, Isabelle. But I don’t know if focusing on department store vs niche is any better, because today they are all the same to me. I find more misleading (and overpriced) option among niche perfume lines than at the department store. Plus, if you live in a small town or away from big stores, getting a hold of niche brands can be very tough. On the other hand, a walk through Planet Parfum is enough to find some nice perfumes at affordable prices–Chanel, Guerlain, Roger & Gallet (great budget option), Jean-Louis Scherrer, Cacharel, etc. September 11, 2013 at 7:09am Reply

  • perfumerpenny: Fascinating discussion! A few observations from me:
    Although there are loads of fragrances, it is not very many if we compare it to other products like wine, like songs, films, food. There is potentially a much much longer fragrance ‘tail’ than exists now!
    Newness is relative – you haven’t had it before it’s ‘new’ to you. In other areas (music for example) the ‘old’ and new are embraced together and it’s really common to have a collection spanning decades – frustrating to hear that fragrance classics are not seen as such.
    Sorting by odour type in a shop would be good if the customer likes a specific odour type and they know what that is. Yet many people like multiple odour types. Also many shoppers come in to buy a specific fragrance and may not know it’s odour type. Some always buy the latest from a particular perfume house. Whichever way you look at it organising fragrances is hard, no one way suits everyone. I guess this highlights why good customer service and knowledge of perfume is vital to making perfume buying a good experience.

    Bad customer service is bad wherever you get it and makes me particularly sad in fragrances. There are some great perfume courses but ultimately the interest and passion for perfume AND the customer is what makes it great. September 11, 2013 at 5:44am Reply

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