Retail

Ditching The Department Store Fragrance Counter For Customization

Perfume is a personal choice for most consumers, as scents have an uncanny ability to define their wearers.

Buying perfume, by and large, has always been an in-store shopping experience, particularly at department store counters and in specialty retailers like Sephora or Ulta. And, fragrance shopping does not see an insignificant amount of spending, either, with approximately $12 billion spent capturing the perfect scent in a bottle in Europe and the U.S. each year.

But, perfume shopping is not exactly a delightful experience. One must try to suss out a particular scent in an environment unusually rich with them, and by the second or third scented piece of paper, one has likely lost the meaningful ability to smell much of anything.

And then, of course, there are the oft-parodied but somehow still existent over-zealous perfume sprayers working department store aisles — the types who ask if one wants to try the latest designer scent, usually approximately one second after having blasted the shopper in the face with it.

Needless to say, it’s not exactly the ideal environment in which to select a new perfume.

But fragrance firm PHLUR, which launched this summer, thinks it can do a bit better — mostly by letting customers stay in their homes when selecting their scents of choice.

Taking a page from the early Warby Parker playbook, PHLUR is only available online and provides customers with the opportunity to test drive its unisex fragrances at home. This gives the customer more than an idea of how the scent works on paper (literally), instead allowing him or her to get an idea of how well that scent wears throughout an average day.

As for the PHLUR products themselves, the official claim is that they race in the same league with niche, designer label brands — albeit for a much lower price.

But, the company does have designer roots in its founder, Eric Korman, the former president of global eCommerce for Ralph Lauren. As with many innovators, his business idea originated as a problem of his own he was looking to solve. Korman wanted to get back into wearing cologne but found the process of buying it in a department store less than salutary. In fact, the term he used was “awful.”

“I want to create a brand and a fragrance company from start to finish that rethinks the category and reignites and reengages consumers,” Korman noted.

Perfume is full of brands but is basically controlled by three players — L’Oréal Groupe, Coty and Estée Lauder — all of which license scents to celebrities and designers. There are also high-end, smaller batch, premium labels, though those come with the associated premium price tags.

PHLUR offers customers access to a premium unisex scents, but for $85 for a 50 mL bottle as opposed to $150. A set of two small sample vials one can try at home costs just $10. To create those scents, PHLUR — like most players in the space — contracts with professional perfumers from two specific houses, then has them create a scent based on provided music and image samples.

Some scent materials are off-limits, though, including items on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list of threatened materials. As a result, it’s safe not to expect sandalwood scents in PHLUR fragrances.

According to Korman, though, the point is to give the discerning perfume customer a better option aside from standing in line at a crowded counter trying to decide which smell they actually like, all while essentially swimming in a sea of other scents.

Because smelling good shouldn’t have to be an awful experience for anyone.

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