On the scent of a new market

How can perfume make its mark on the online market? Shrewd fragrance houses should take note of the latest technology to tap into scent-lovers’ personal tastes, writes Jo Fairley

Fragrance can be love at first sniff – or it can take a while to grow on us. But more than half of the 2,000 women who took part in a YouGov poll said they’d never buy a scent without experiencing it on their skin first.

This gives the perfume industry – said to be worth more than US$30 billion globally – something of a challenge. How does it seduce women, who happily buy books, groceries, electrical goods and even fashion while sitting at a computer screen, but still (a replacement flacon of Chanel No 5, Gucci Guilty or Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien aside) choose department stores, chemists and specialist perfumeries for this most emotional of purchases?

So where is the scent-lover and would-be shopper to turn when they want to explore the world of fragrance in cyberspace? For many, the first stop is blogs, which at least do the job of expressing a scent’s character, romance and mood.

Don’t be surprised to see working partnerships between online perfume vendors and the most widely read fragrance bloggers. Increasingly, websites are signing bloggers up to bring fragrances to life in a way that a simple pyramid of notes or packshot can’t achieve. Scent blog stars, Persolaise, Perfume Shrine, Now Smell This and The Scented Salamander, all do a great job of conjuring up scents in words.

Then there are apps. Tap the name of your favourite “juice” into fragrance house, Givaudan’s free iPerfumer or “professeur de parfum” Roja Dove’s new Scent Selector, and they’ll come up with other perfume recommendations. Nevertheless, many perfumers maintain that the highly personal interaction of perfume with the skin’s individual chemistry means there’s still no substitute for spritzing before you spend.

Sites that offer subscriptions to “try before you buy” sampling boxes are a good solution.  Perhaps the genius geeks at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters are working on the ultimate solution right now – a device that, at the click of a mouse, would puff the exact recreation of a fragrance into the air for discerning scentophiles.

For scent junkies – not to mention the entire online perfumery industry – the perfume equivalent of an iPod probably can’t come soon enough.