Selling Perfume Online
Some Possibilities —

Sampling

Scent is powerful. When we are exposed to a scent it reaches our brain so quickly we can only react; it doesn't give us time to think. It's the way our bodies are wired. Perfume is, of course, scent. It is fast acting, for better or for worse. We smell; we react. Then we may think about what we have just smelled, if the scent has elicited particular notice. A great fragrance can help "sell itself."

But what happens when you're selling your perfume online? There are many good reasons for taking an online approach to distributing your perfume. Arrangements with retailers can be difficult to negotiate. Perhaps the power of your perfume is enough to make an immediate sale, once someone has smelt it. But first you have to get some of it — a sample — to them so they can smell it. Here are three ways you to do this —

Method # 1 — Scented test blotters

This is a low key method and might seem a bit amateurish but if your following feels a strong personal relationship with you, the perfumer, it can be appropriate.

You simply spray or dab a unscented test blotter (for sources, visit the Perfume Projects Vendors listings ) with your fragrance, wrap the scented blotter in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and mail it in a business size (or even smaller) envelop along with details for ordering a full size bottle.

The virtue of this method is that your shipping cost will be minimal and you won't be running up against prohibitions on mailing "hazardous materials" — i.e., perfume.

If you are paying both product cost and shipping and if your requests for samples are modest in number and if your conversion rate (people who buy from you after receiving your sample) is acceptable, this can be an excellent way to distribute samples. A "one-person" or small company can prepare the sample packages by hand; a larger company could have sample packages professionally prepared by an outside vendor.

Method # 2 — Glass sampling vials

Small glass vials with a plastic dabber stopper are the classic way of distributing perfume samples. At one time when you bought an expensive perfume at a sales counter you would be given a gift bag of samplers, often in these glass vials. Glass vials are cheap and can be mounted on a card with your sales message. A vial might contain enough fragrance for two or three small applications.

I have used glass sampling vials myself, both the standard ones with the plastic dabber top and another type, just slightly larger, that had a snap-on spray closure. This was a class act among samples and could also be attached to a business card size card to present details about the fragrance along with ordering information.

There are some downsides to using glass vials, even glass vials with a spray. Glass can be broken. I once watched a woman drop one on the hard floor of a doughnut shop and, surprising to me, the glass shattered freeing the scent for all to enjoy, whether they wanted to or not. This could happen in the mail too unless the vial was protected by bubble wrap or a well padded mailing bag.

And this brings us to two issues: shipping cost and postal regulations. Using a padded bag for shipping is a good deal more expensive than using a business envelope. You, the perfumer, would not want to bear the cost so you will have to ask your prospect to pay something for shipping. This once again puts you in the position of having to "sell" your perfume before it has been smelled.

The second issue is postal regulations. Does your postal service allow you to send these sample vials through the mail? ship these sample vials? Although the volume in the vial is minimal, will you come up against an all-inclusive ban on shipping perfume? It will be up to you to be sure you are in compliance with postal regulations but my own experience suggests that you could inquire at six different post offices and get six different answers. Likely if you wing it and just do it, odds are you will never have a problem but if you suddenly have a problem, it could put a major kink in your sampling system.

There is one more strike against using glass vials to sample, particular those with the plastic dabber top: they tend to look cheap and unexciting. They have been around too long. People have seen too many of them and, unless someone is a real perfume enthusiast who will judge by the scent rather than the presentation, they don't have a "value" image. They look like throwaways. While you may find ways to use glass sampling vials effectively, in my mind their day has passed.

As to the sprayer vials, they are very hard to find. Mine came form a closeout and although I was able to purchase a large quantity, I haven't found them anywhere since.

Method # 3 — Small bottles

If your regular size bottle is anything from one to two ounces, a 1/4 ounce bottle makes a good sampler. Historically major fragrance marketers made use of miniature bottles, bottles that looked like their full size bottles but were more like doll house size, containing just a small amount of fragrance.

These miniatures were effective because they previewed not only the perfume but also the packaging and packaging, like it or not, plays a major role in the sale of perfume.

Today to sample with small bottles you are unlikely to find any that reflect the design of your standard size but you can create a "family" effect through use of a sticker similar in design to the sticker used on your regular bottles. Because 1/4 ounce is a more generous quantity than the contents of a glass vial, your customer now has a chance to "live" with your perfume, to let it grow on him or her, and (hopefully) fall in love with it.

There are some difficulties with this approach. First, the cost of packaging and delivery again requires a payment from the customer to cover your costs, so again you must sell what cannot be smelled, but at least the sale to be made will be for a much smaller amount than the price of a regular bottle.

Postal regulations again can intrude and now you are shipping a bottle that really looks like perfume. Then there is another issue, perhaps more serious than the others. Suppose even if your customer falls in love with it, 1/4 ounces of your fragrance is enough to keep him or her satisfied for the time being ... and hence no desire or need to order a full size bottle! With this in mind it is worth making an effort to make the sale of even your small bottle profitable, whether the customer converts to the full size bottle or not.

Discussion

One powerful lesson jumps out of this look at methods to distributed samples of your fragrance. Before you can send out samples you have to do some selling. Even if you were to offer your samples absolutely free, without any charge at all, you would still have to sell prospects on the value of what you were sending them and your sales pitch would have to be strong enough to motivate them to take the steps necessary to request your samples — i.e., fill out a form, send you an email, give you their names and a shipping addresses, etc.

No matter how you slice it, selling perfume involves selling ... right from the start.

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Philip Goutell
Lightyears, Inc.