Uh oh. The New York Times is onto us! This is why I need “Thunking Thursday.” Do you feel that your collection of samples is starting to look like hoarding? What (if anything) do you plan to do about those samples?
Facebook Fragrance Friends recently posted the question: where have members received excellent customer service when trying/buying fragrance? I thought that was a great question and it offers the opportunity to articulate the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. While I appreciate comments that warn about particularly bad experiences, I also value (maybe even more) fellow fragrance-lovers’ input on particularly good ones; and I also like to give a shout-out to the folks who extend themselves to make a customer’s experience as pleasant as possible. So here is my random list, in no particular order, and I apologize in advance if I’ve left anyone or any place out! I’ll do another post on customer service online, and outside the US.
In-person experiences in the US:
Neiman Marcus. It may be partly because I live in the South, though I’m not a native Southerner, and it really is true that Southerners seem to take a little more time and extend a little more warmth and courtesy with customers. Not all of them, and not all the time, but overall this is true to my experience, including at a large store like Neiman Marcus. I go to the one in my city occasionally; without exception, the sales associates in their large, top-of-the line fragrance department have been courteous, helpful, enthusiastic but never pushy about offering various fragrances to try even when I have said candidly that I was just browsing, or they didn’t have what I originally wanted. Several have been very knowledgeable, not just about a couple of the brands they carry, but about fragrance generally. All have been kind, and usually able and willing to offer small samples. If I were wholly devoted to a high-end house that is rarely available online, I would absolutely develop a relationship with one of its sales associates at NM.
Scent Bar. Such a fun boutique to visit! On my one and only visit to LA, a few years ago, I sought it out with a friend, at their first location in Hollywood. I understand they now have two locations in addition to their website LuckyScent. The store has a delightful set-up, with fragrances displayed by categories on open shelves along all the walls (floral, green, spicy, etc.), fronted by a long bar-like counter. The sales associate responded knowledgeably to my interest in florals, especially lily of the valley, pulling out a wide range of fragrances for me to try, including some I had not heard of before. I ended up buying a terrific Byredo sampler and was also given several samples of the other suggestions she made. I love supporting an independent business like this, btw.
Nordstrom. This department store chain is famed for its customer service, and our local store fits the claim. It has open containers throughout the fragrance department with small, empty sample atomizers that one is invited/encouraged to fill oneself from the many testers on display. Now THAT is nice. Sales associates there have been less expert than those at NM or ScentBar, but still very helpful and courteous.
Sephora. Although service can be hit or miss, depending on the store you visit and who’s on duty that day, I have had several excellent experiences at Sephora, with enthusiastic young sales associates. What they might lack in detailed knowledge, they have compensated for by their willingness to suggest and offer samples of various fragrances, in sincere attempts to help. As a result, I’ve bought more at Sephora than I otherwise might have, because most of what’s in its stores just isn’t “me” — I don’t really experiment with make up, or use most of the products they carry.
What have others experienced that counts as excellent customer service? Praise and compliments only, please, we are dwelling on the positive in this post!
Having plunged into perfumes a little over two years ago, I now have dozens of samples of fragrances that I haven’t yet explored beyond the initial spritz at a store, let alone written about them. So I’m going to try to clear some of that backlog by posting short comments on at least one scent sample every Sunday, and posting longer reviews or essays on a Fragrance Friday once a month. Let’s see how it goes!
To get started, here is a great article about how to get perfume samples, from the website lovetoknow.com: Places to Find Free Perfume Samples. Many of the leading perfume bloggers have also posted at least once about getting, using, and storing perfume samples.
My favorite ways to get perfume samples: 1) from department or specialty stores; 2) choosing one or more as a gift with purchase; 3) buying discovery sets from a single brand, or ordering a group of related samples from a service like Surrender to Chance. I have even found some great sample lots on ebay, though I rarely look for samples there. A Scentbird subscription is another great way to try new fragrances, although the monthly travel sprays are much larger than the usual “sample.”
Shout-out to the stores that have been particularly generous with samples and where I try to direct my business when buying fragrance (or other items) in person: Sephora, Nordstrom (where they put out ready-made samples, even of Tom Ford, on the counter with a note that says “Take one, it’s yours!”), Neiman Marcus, among department stores. My local Nordstrom even puts out empty spray vials so you can make your own samples from their testers! Saks has been a bit more stingy, but if you find a nice sales associate and communicate that you are serious about fragrance and may actually buy something, you can get some very nice ones, like the By Kilian samples I was given last weekend, after a failed trip to buy Guerlain’s Terracotta. I’ve also had good luck at some, but not all, Jo Malone counters in various department stores, and purchases have followed! (I don’t actually understand why these stores don’t give out manufacturers’ samples more freely, as they are provided to them by the manufacturers for the express purpose of encouraging people to try their fragrances, and maybe buy them).
Among independent or freestanding perfumeries: Les Senteurs, in both of its London locations, have been generous both with samples and with information. Their staff are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about fragrance, and their stores are lovely. Go visit if you can! I may be asking my husband to stop by to pick up the new Papillon Perfumes Dryad for me on his next trip to London, as one of their sales associates spent quite some time with me two years ago describing Liz Moores and her work (and yes, gave me a couple of samples); and last fall’s visit to their Belgravia location was equally pleasant.
In London’s Burlington Arcade, the Penhaligon’s boutique staff kindly offered several samples, both of their newest, high-priced line and of my beloved, late lamented Ostara. The sales associate also insisted that I take a sample of Blasted Heath, the more masculine companion fragrance to another of my favorites, Blasted Bloom.
The Perfumery, in the old Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter, of Barcelona, is a charming store not to be missed, often staffed by one of its owners, who is happy to share his knowledge, passion, and samples with purchase. The fragrances carried there are very unusual, although I recognized brands like Aedes de Venustas, Making Of, and J.F. Schwarzlose. I bought a full bottle of the gorgeous Orquidea Negra, by the perfumer Daniel Josier, as a souvenir of our trip, and also brought home some lovely samples of Ziryab, Kaleidoscope, and Santa Eulalia.
A local perfumeria near our hotel, the source of a heavily discounted bottle of Serge Lutens’ Chypre Rouge, also gave me manufacturers’ samples of L’Orpheline and Bapteme du Feu. I had not expected to find so much Serge Lutens in a little neighborhood store filled with celebrity and designer scents!
A note about samples: once you have a more educated olfactory palate, you can likely understand much about a fragrance from just one small sample, and that is by far the most affordable way to go. My nose isn’t that well educated yet. I often need to try a fragrance more frequently, in larger amounts than the usual 1-2 ml sample, to learn the fragrance and its notes, its development. Each one I try is a lesson. One current solution is to look for small travel sizes of various fragrances, in a wide range of types, notes and prices, for as reasonable a price as I can find. Some manufacturers sell sets of their fragrances in sizes from 5-15 ml, which is ideal for me. I’ve been able to try several from Miller Harris, Annick Goutal, Penhaligon’s, Byredo and others that way. Among cheaper brands, good for learning though not longevity, Yves Rocher also has very reasonably priced miniatures and frequent online sales.
Scentbird is another good option for me, because I can choose from among their offerings for the fixed monthly subscription price, and recent choices have included scents from Amouage, Arquiste, Histoires de Parfums and other high-end brands. If I want serendipity, I can explore local discounters like T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s and see what they’ve got for, say, under $15. Case in point: a 1.6 oz bottle of TokyoMilk Dark No. 28 Excess, for $7.99. It has notes like amber, patchouli and oak that I’m curious about but don’t want to spend a lot on before I know more about how they strike me. I can happily spritz away with this one without guilt, and maybe even cajole my daughters into trying it! Honestly, at this stage, I’ll try anything, because I am enjoying the learning curve. I don’t have to fall in love with each one or even like it much to appreciate the lesson it offers.
Featured image from: makeup.lovetoknow.com