Bergdorf Goodman

Perfume counter at Bergdorf Goodman


Shopping for perfume used to be all about hitting the department stores and sampling countless smell strips.  Often this was done under the polite supervision of an enthusiastic sales associate who was rarely in my experience very knowledgeable. Having someone in close proximity, quite focused on helping you pinpoint and describe your impressions can be, well … a little off-putting. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. Being scrutinized by a stranger while trying to fully engage in a sensory experience is weird and distracting.


Making a perfume purchase after just sniffing in a store or at Sephora has another serious drawback. It doesn’t take into account that perfume changes (in most cases A LOT) over the course of a day. Sniffing a perfume-doused piece of paper only gives you a sense of that initial scent, before it dries down. Unless you plan on camping out for the day at Neiman Marcos or Bloomingdales, it’s impossible to get an accurate impression when shopping at a department store.


The times they are achangin. While many perfume lovers still prefer shopping in brick and mortar stores, there are loads of new and fun ways to get your perfume fix. They’re worth trying especially if you find the in-store process intimidating or you simply don’t have the time to get to one. Read on to learn some of the hottest fragrance shopping developments…




Thanks to technology and the growing niche perfume trend, there is a way around this perfume shopping awkwardness. This plus the reality that today’s consumers are simultaneously more informed, more impatient, less brand loyal, less invested in “stuff” and more invested in “ideas” has created the perfect storm for change.


Many niche perfume brands get this and are targeting online shoppers in fun new ways. Since no one can actually smell their fragrances, these companies have had to think outside the box to find ways to express what their perfumes are all about. Phlur, a brand that launched in 2015, allows you to explore each of their eight scents through an individualized Spotify soundtrack. For $18 they send three 2 ml bottles to you with no shipping charge and you have 30 days to apply that to a full bottle out of the selection. After trying their online shopping experience I have say they’ve got their act together. Learn more about Phlur from my review here.


Another one that has been hugely successful is fashion brand Maison Margiela’s Replica series of perfumes. It created an instantly buzz when it launched by using visual memories to capture its customers.  Each fragrance in their Replica series has specific sensorial memory and an image attached to it.  Flower Market is on my top ten list of current favs with Beach Walk one of my summer staples. Jazz Club is another one that has done phenomenally well. While it’s outside my fragrance wheelhouse, I can see why its product description of “Deep leather armchairs. Cocktails and cigars. Light reflecting on a piano” might sound totally addicting to others.




California-based fragrance brand Pinrose also offers a unique approach to the fragrance shopping experience. For shoppers who literally don’t know where to start they offer a scent quiz which is designed to discover your subconscious scent style. The Pinrose approach is to use an interactive quiz to help match you with your perfect fragrance instead of focusing on notes and fragrance families.


Using a series of 11 pairs of images, shapes and colors, Pinrose instructs you to select the one you are instantly and instinctively drawn towards. Their 10 plus fragrances each have catchy names like Wild Child, Secret Genius, Garden Gangster and so on. After making your selections,  you arrive at the big reveal which shows which are their scents match your scent style. The latest from Pinrose is an Intention Scenting gift set which pairs 9 of their perfume rollerballs with Intention Cards and an Intention Scenting guide.  You can read more about the Pinrose shopping experience here.


Another online tool worth checking out is The Perfume Society’s Virtual Fragrance Advisor. After entering the name of your favorite fragrance including the time of day and time of year you wear it (for me it was all day, all year –  which is an option) they pop out a list of 6 fragrances similar to the one you already wear and love. The iconic Michael Edward’s Fragrances of the World website also will steer you towards 3 potential new favorites.  The suggestions are based upon new fragrance releases that are most similar in style, scent and fragrance family to your current fav. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t care about the latest releases if you knew that one of them spells YOU all over it, you might be tempted to give it a whiff. Am I right? Click here to see your potential best matches.


Sephora has also jumped on board with an in-store fragrance finder called Fragrance IQ. If you’ve never seen one, take a look:



I’ve used theirs a couple of times. Once was while visiting family at a Sephora in Santa Barbara right after it started appearing in stores a few years ago and then later back in New York. It’s clearly geared for anyone and everyone who either doesn’t want to track down a salesperson or just wants to play around. All of their recommendations are those that they carry in their stores so it’s not the best for me at least. Which isn’t to discount that it might be extremely helpful for someone. a teenager possibly, to lead them in the right direction.




I visited brick and mortar shop Perfumarie located in New York City last year right after their opening.  It was at a fun-filled Sniffapalooza event and Perfumarie was one of the stops on the agenda for the week-end. Located in SoHo, Parfumarie  specializes in blind perfume testing. The way it works is that the store is lined with 32 identical fragrance spouts, each containing a different scent and with no hint of brand, price or packaging. You test the fragrances in numerical order, select your favorite and then get a sample vial. It’s all about immersing yourself in fragrance with no preconceptions.

I think it’s brilliant. How often have you purchased a perfume just because the bottle was gorgeous or the brand was one that you loved? 🙋




DNA testing is being used increasingly creative ways. It’s already being explored by the cosmetics industry to create bespoke and personalized products. Companies like Vinome is even using DNA testing to help people navigate their way to find their ideal bottle of vino. Is it that much of a stretch to imagine that DNA testing will be used to help find custom curated perfume? 

What do you think of these new ways of shopping for perfume? Have you ever looked beyond the department store to purchase fragrance?

Until the next time,











  1. Karin Nauber says:

    Wow! What an innovation in scent shopping! I never would have thought there were so many ways to shop for perfume.! Your description definitely makes me want to try it!. I am not sure what it is about me, but I have a hard time with wearing perfume. Even my favorite scents seem to become nasty-smelling by afternoon. Well, maybe not “nasty”, but certainly not the enjoyable scent I put on in the morning!

    Do you have any suggestions on how to find a scent that will stay with me in a good way? It seems like I can’t wear anything for very long… Thanks!

    • Erica says:

      Well Karin,

      I’m not really sure why your favorite perfumes seem to turn on you. All perfume changes during the course of wearing them and they never smell the same as they do when first applied. My best guess would be that you might not love what’s called the dry-down. This can be entirely different from the way it smells when you first spritz it on.

      Since the ones you have aren’t working for you, my advice is to get some samples of new scents. Try wearing them for a minimum of 6 hours and see what you think at the end (separately obviously, not together). 

      Just a suggestion!


    • Jerimy says:

      Erica, thank you for putting this together. Buying cologne (in my case) is as miserable an experience as you point out in store. I like the idea of trying something at home for a few days to get a feel, or smell, of how it will work with me. I usually resort to the cologne ads in men’s’ magazines and rub the scent on my wrist to see if I’ll like it. A little tacky, I know, but hey, I get to avoid the department stores!

      Thanks again for the recommendations.


      • Erica says:

        Hi Jerimy,

        You wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve met who are also wrist rubbers. I totally get it because you get to smell the scent from the mag and no one is peering over your shoulder and trying to hard-sell you. 

        Thanks for popping by.


      • fyre says:

        I’m really picky about what scents I wear and honestly, I mix a lot of my own essential oils to get that perfect mix of what I want.  That being said though, there are still are fragrances out there I still love and some new ones that will have me drifting across a room to ask a stranger “what scent are you wearing?”

        I concur with your reader Sondra as well, who commented on the marketing strategies revealed in your article. I really love seeing innovative marketing strategies that defy archaic practices.  I can’t just smell scents on a strip.  I actually have to wear them.  I would do the same if I wanted my man to have a new scent as well.  I find that a different body chemistry can make the same fragrance smell drastically different on different individuals.

         Sniffapalooza sounds like a blast.  What a great concept as well for a brick & mortar.  DNA testing at it’s finest is finally coming to pass I see…..sign me up….  I’ll sip on my bespoke vino while pondering the origins of my soul-mate scent!

        • Erica says:

          Hey Fyre,

          I love that you have been creating your own  scents using essential oils. I’ve been involved in creating my own perfumes using essential oils as well as synthetics in the mix. Long story why I’ve found synthetics versus all naturals work best for my blends, something I’ve written about here but should probably say more about. Thanks for giving me an idea for a later post!

          Enjoy your glass of vino and hope it gives you some inspiration.



        • cjciganotto says:

          Hello Erica,

          There was a time when I gave many perfumes, especially to women. I went to the store and always relied on the recommendation that the seller gave me. After reading this, I can see how the purchase of perfumes online has changed everything. 

          From the questionnaires to know which fragrances are of your liking until the shipment of three very small containers so that you can choose the one you like the most. It’s brilliant!

          Great everything!



          • Erica says:

            Hi there Claudio,

            Shopping for perfume has more options now than ever before. Companies are coming up with more and more ways to make online shopping a fun and interactive experience. It might even be safer than relying on a sales associate to pick something out for someone they’ve never met. 


          • mathieu says:

            Hello Erica,

            It’s so cool that through a Spotify soundtrack , Phlur allows you to explore three 2ml bottles of the fragrances you want for less than $20. 

            I’m always looking for a great masculine perfume. Like you, when I’m shopping at a department store, those pesky sales people always try to convince me of something that my nose doesn’t like. When they try to pressure me to buy a product, I will be brutally honest and they can be offended. It can be very awkward.

            I didn’t know before I read your article about these other ways of fragrance shopping. I will for sure try a new way of shopping for fragrance.

            At least it I won’t have to be rude if I do not like it 🙂


            • Erica says:

              Hi Mattieu,

              I’m with you about wanting to ditch the awkward experience. One little trick I’ve learned is to ask the sales associate – called SA in perfumista speak – to spray their recommendations on a blotter and say you’ll need some time to see how the perfume smells after the dry down. Accepting the sprayed blotter and saying “I’ll be back later if I like it” is a great way to escape. There’s always a chance that you actually will like the fragrance much more over time too.

              Thanks for dropping by:)


            • Jasmine says:

              Hey Erica,

              This was a great article. I know we’re in the internet era, but I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve heard of these online fragrance shopping experiences. I still do the smell test whenever I’m in brick and mortar stores. It never occurred to me that sniffing fragrances like that doesn’t take into account how the perfume dries down over time.

              I think businesses are becoming smarter and smarter by taking advantage of online sales. Their marketing ideas such as visuals and music are genius, cause both of those play a major role in people’s lives. They bring out feelings in us, and a feeling is a great thing to have attached to a product. After reading this article I’m determined to try an online fragrance shopping experience. I wonder how accurate they are when trying to find fragrances that are suited for me. Thanks for the informative post!


              • Erica says:

                Hi Jasmine,

                Most people don’t know about many  of these online shopping sites. Since they’re new or newish they can’t afford to advertise like the major perfume brands do. These days brands can become successful in so many other ways, like just by getting a celebrity endorsement on Instagram. Suddenly everyone wants to have it!

                There are so many things now that drive brand interest and loyalty but people feeling that personal connection is key. We all want to wear something be it in fashion or fragrance that speaks to what we are all about or what we aspire to be, right?

                As far as how accurate these online fragrance finders are, my experience is that none I’ve tried so far come close to nailing it. I’d love to hear about your experience though so would love to hear back from you!



              • Tucker says:

                I’m curious to know if you’ve ever read the book Jitterbug Perfume written by Tom Robbins? One of the central themes of the book is the importance of our sense of smell and how it governs so many of the subconscious choices we make. How we smell is important, but I also think the means by which we acquire our preferred fragrances is changing. You highlight some of the ways in which that is happening very nicely in your article!