Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The sweet smell of a bargain

Check out this article from the Chicago Tribune:

The sweet smell of a bargain
By Nina Metz Special to the Tribune
December 7, 2008
The economy stinks. You, on the other hand, want to smell lovely. But maybe you're not comfortable plunking down upward of $100 on your favorite scent these days—for you or your gift list. Time to hunt down some deals and low-cost alternatives. "What's popular right now are the classic fragrances, and there are two reasons," fragrance expert Jan Moran said. "One is because typically they're better priced—they've been out for a while, and they have not seen the price increases that you see in new fragrances." Apparently it takes a lot of dough to launch a new fragrance, and that cost is passed on to you, the consumer, so the old stand-bys are going to be more competitively priced. "And two, in uncertain times—such as the economic times we're in—people often go back to the tried and true."OK, but let's say you're wedded to that pricey bottle. "People really bond to the fragrance that they've been wearing for years," said Moran, "and throughout good times and bad times, people will buy that fragrance because it makes them feel good. It's part of their persona, it's part of who they are."
Moran suggests roller balls or cream sachets (fragrance solids). "They're less expensive, and a little bit goes a long, long way. It's a very economical way of applying fragrance. It's a roll-on, so you put it just where you want it—whereas with a spray, you spray it all over, and there's a lot of waste involved in that." And then there's the Internet, where you'll find Web retailers that offer significantly lower prices on brand name perfumes. How do they do it? I rang up Howard Wyner, a Mt. Prospect native and founder and CEO of Scentiments (, which is based in South Florida."We're selling name brand stuff at deep discounts, so there's always going to be a little skepticism," he acknowledged. "There's always that talk about fragrances—that it can't be real at that price." Actually, it can be.According to Wyner, here's how it works. Perfume manufacturers sell their products in two ways. Retailers (such as department stores) often pay half the manufacturer's suggested retail price. If your favorite bottle runs you $70, the store probably got it for $35. Usually the manufacturer provides free samples and buys advertising that touts the store. But perfume makers also sell to duty-free stores in airports, as well as distributors (many based overseas) that then sell to discounters such as Scentiments. Sometimes these distributors actually become the manufacturers; Wyner cited French Fragrances Inc., which acquired Elizabeth Arden a few years ago. Because products from fragrance suppliers do not come with extra goodies—the free samples, the ads—companies like Scentiments buy at better prices than department stores, and can therefore pass that savings on to you. Plus, Web retailers have fewer real estate costs.Here's another thing to consider. Sometimes manufacturers sell their testers to fragrance vendors. "They may have overruns or they want to reduce their inventory of testers," Wyner said. "So we're able to buy them at 20 or 30 percent less than regular goods." At Scentiments, testers are labeled as such and come in plain cardboard boxes (as opposed to the packaging you're used to), but they are brand new—meaning, unopened and unused.Be a smart shopper, says Mark Jeffery, technology management professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, who offers some tips.
• Is the Web site linked to a reputable third-party price comparison site, such as Amazon or Shopzilla? Scentiments, for example, is a BizRate award winner. That means a significant number of shoppers have had a positive experience with the company.
• Use a service such as PayPal, which offers a layer of consumer protection.
• Is it easy to contact the company? Make sure you can get a response by e-mail or phone within 24 hours. • Jeffery also advises that you start with a small, inexpensive purchase to "see how it goes."
• Also, as you shop, take in account the shipping charges. Some Web sites offer free shipping.
• And a tip from Wyner of Scentiments: Most perfumes are sized using the metric system (milliliters) that are then translated into ounces. Don't be rattled if you see a brand selling at 3.3 ounces on one Web site, and 3.4 oz on another. It's all 100 ml; it's just a matter of how the number was rounded when converted to ounces.

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