Monday, 23 June 2008

Perfume Sales Assistants: Behind the Scenes

Its said that if you experience good service, you're likely to tell a friend; and that if you experience poor customer service, you're likely to tell ten of 'em. Good call.
I constantly read posts on online forums that tell of unsatisfactory retail experiences whilst shopping for fine fragrance. Whilst I recognize that 8 times out of 10 the S.A. is likely to be at fault, I also believe that there is often a degree of expectation and haughtiness on behalf of the customer that may ultimately cause their own undoing. How do I know...? you might ask. Well, because I've been there and done that. After almost a decade of fragrance consultancy, I would like to lift the lid and put to rest some common misconceptions with regard to your average sales rep. Here's how it works...

Department stores and large retail chains employ representatives from diverse fragrance houses. For instance, L'Oreal (responsible for Armani, Ralph Lauren, Cacharel etc) will put a S.A in store to promote lines from the L'Oreal portfolio. Similarly, B.P.I or Beauty Prestige International will place a S.A who will promote "their" scents (Gaultier, Miyake, Rodriguez). With the number of fragrance houses on the market, there is no wonder there are many reps on the floor at any given time. ALL BUT FEW of these reps are employed in this manner. They are paid a wage to sell you a brand which their house represents. This is chiefly because their knowledge is greater for these scents, than those that other houses release.
Contrary to popular belief, no-one works on commission anymore - however sales incentives are sometimes offered. (Eg: if there is a launch or refocus on, for example, Versace fragrances, the S.A's from the company representing Versace will need to sell a particular quota in order to win a prize or cash reward). These incentives are not that regular, however, again, with the number of houses represented (and thus S.A's on the floor promoting their lines), it can easily be understood how many customers can feel overwhelmed and pressured to buy.

The key to avoid awkward stand-offs with assistants is to observe the following:

1. 90% of the time, they will offer you scents from their houses. This is because their knowledge of these scents is greater than for others. If you feel you are being unduly swayed to purchase something you're not completely sold on, simply ask the question "aside from the fragrances in your company's portfolio, what else can you show me?"

2. Always be polite and don't expect the worst from your S.A! Many customers go into stores with the outlook that they are going to be "poached and preached to", and build a defensive wall around themselves. This wall is impossible for even a good S.A. to penetrate.

3. Keep in mind there are good S.A's who do wish to help, despite their loyalties to their companies. Seek them out, and hold on to them for dear life!

4. External promotional companies hire staff to promote a wide range of products from alcoholic beverages to event tickets to perfumes. Often, fragrance houses will hire promo staff from these agencies during a launch or promotion to increase the brand's in-store presence... keep in mind these people have almost no knowledge of the scent, nor the industry. This is not through ignorance - rather lack of training and experience. Don't get mad when they fumble or give you questionable information, and try and hold your tongue if you know better. Simply thank them and move on to a staff member who seems to be a permanent fixture in the store, or one who appears to know what they are talking about. Chances are, that when the promo person's shift is over later that day; they are unlikely to ever return to that store for that same event.

Bottom line: keep a level head.
There is always a certain degree of snobbery in fragrance circles which really is almost a part of the fragrance culture. Don't be an upstart, just for shits and giggles. It will get you nowhere.


Mariannetm said...

Living in a country for some time where there is a huge language barrier, I can say that I truly miss being able to speak to a perfume sales assistant.

There is a perfume that puzzles me a bit, well not the perfume itself but what I am not smelling in it and so many others do.
The perfume is Un Jardin Apres La Mousson and what I truly do not smell is melon, any kind of melon, be it cantaloupe or be it watermelon. I did smell some ginger and a hint of fresh citrusnote.
This fragrance wears like a beautiful mousseline veil and I love it's drydown.
Where is the melon?


Hi mariannetm,

May I ask, in which country do you reside? I also have difficulty communicating with local Sales Assistants as Danish is not my mother tongue.

I have only recently obtained a sample vial of 'Un Jardin Apres La Mousson', and will wear some tomorrow and get post back here with some impressions. I will be on the lookout, in particular, for the melon!

Mariannetm said...

The country where I live is the Czech Republic.

Europe has the strangest languages.

I look forward to what you have to say about Jardin Apres La Mousson.

Sofar I have not tried one fragrance by Tom Ford and I am getting more and more curious..

Mariannetm said...

The Redolent One, I just wonder how I am supposed to call you or to adress to you.

"TRO" if you wish but that could be a bit too much AngloSaksen or too American. I'm just not sure..

Dimitri:THE REDOLENT ONE said...

Hello Marianne,
I would be delighted if you call me Dimitri.

Mariannetm said...

Oh, that's a nice name.


Dimitri:THE REDOLENT ONE said...

Marianne, today I am wearing "Moussin" as mentioned I might yesterday.
Ellena commented that, in creating the "Jardin" series, he wanted to create scents that conjure memories of the gardens he visited... representing them through scent - perhaps not always in a literal sense. Have you read Chandler Burr's book "The Perfect Scent" where he spends a year with Hermés in Paris, and Sarah-Jessica Parker in New York whilst they build their respective fragrances? I think you would enjoy it enormously.

Melon apparently contains scent molecules that are the same as acetone (nail polish remover). Ellena mentions that acetone, when used in perfumery lends a shimmering/lightening effect. With the first opening spritz of "Moussin", I get a fleeting (but sharp) acetone accord. Once identified, I can detect it swimming beneath the surface always. It becomes very hard to miss. Of the "Jardins", the only one I am yet to experience is the "Mediterranné". "Le Nil" also contains melon/acetone. It would be nice to sample this trio back to back and then identify the notes common to them all.

Mariannetm said...

Thank you Dimitri for this explanation. I could not place the topnotes and melon did not came to mind.
My nose is not well trained but learning how to detect scents is a little bit like learning how to appreciate other cuisines from the world. My family-in-law is from Indonesia by origin and they still cook the traditional way when they come together. Both the grandmother and the mother of my husband have tought me how to prepare these meals and shared their personal recipes with me. For example now I can detect if a dish contains dried shrimps or not, and lemongrass or lemonleaf or salamleaf.

The Perfect Scent is on my wishlist. I love to read Chandler Burr's articles on perfumes.

Today I will go to Sephora and spoil myself with some spritzes of Mousson and Mediterranee. I found Le Nil easy to love but the pomplemousse is a little too robust to my taste. It takes hours before I can enjoy the wonderful drydown of Le Nil.

Angela Cox said...

An interesting post Dimitri. I have learnt that the S.A's are rarely trained . It horrifies me that the Guerlain girlin our town ( who tries ) has not had traing about the fragrances so I end up telling her things . It's also true of the Chanel assistant in our town .I realise talking to them that often it's a job not the passion I have. They are not even aware of sites like Basenotes. We are very lucky to have one lady on general perfumes who having been in her job for decades knows a lot and recently was delighted when I took the box of vintage Lanvin I had just won to show her. If I need advice I would phone Les Senteurs who cannot do enough for you.