Lover her or hate her, Kim Kardashian West has an undeniable knack for turning nearly everything she touches into gold. Exhibit A: the latest fragrance launches from KKW Beauty — three new Kimoji perfumes, which were only sold online. Despite the fact that you couldn’t, you know, actually smell the perfume anywhere before adding it to your cart, it was estimated that Kardashian West raked in $5 million in just the first five minutes of sales.
This isn’t just a Kardashian gimmick — the online perfume market is blossoming thanks to the rise of niche perfumers and subscription scent services like Scentbird, which have made smelling a scent before you buy it a thing of the past. “I never would have gotten into perfume if I couldn’t buy it online,” says Alyssa Harad, a fragrance expert and author of Coming to my Senses. Walking into the fragrance section of your favorite beauty spot and sniffing bottle after bottle is actually a pretty poor way to find a scent you’ll like for more than five minutes, she says. “There’s too much scent in the air.”
Like just about everything in beauty these days, there is a tech fix for that—digitizing the sensory experience to help clear the air. But, you still have to actually like the scent when you spritz, so where do you start?
We asked the fragrance experts how to buy perfume online like a pro.
1.Figure out your scent type.
No scent will resonate the same way with two different people. “Since each person identifies smells in a different way and associates them with individualized events, finding a fragrance is the ultimate personal experience,” says Rachel ten Brink, co-founder and CMO of Scentbird.
Figuring out which scents will resonate with you requires putting some thought into what you are really looking for — a little scent psychology if you will. Harad starts by asking clients what kind of person they want to channel with each spritz. “Are you looking for scent that’s going to cheer you up? Do you want armor? Do want to be a femme fatale?” she asks. “What are you after?”
2. Learn to speak scent.
You don’t have to invest hours with your therapist answering those questions (phew) — perfumes are handily grouped into four categories with distinct personalities and common notes.
“Scent is just a language just like music or taste,” Harad says. “If you go to a lot of Thai restaurants, eventually you figure out that you like certain ingredients in the Thai food,” she explains. That’s how it works with perfume notes.
Here’s how they break down:
FRESH: Fresh perfumes are scents that are, you guessed it, as light as a breath of fresh air. Think clean citruses, fresh herbs, the pure scent of rain. Fresh scents tend to start out big and then fade fairly quickly, Harad says—perfect if you are looking for something to act as a pick-me-up on your way to work that also won’t give your officemate a headache.
WOODSY: This fragrance type smells exactly how it sounds — like a rustic walk in the woods. “Think about the inside of a spice box, a freshly split tree branch, sandalwood or cypress,” Harad says. Woodsy scents are notably androgynous. “If you are constantly feeling bombarded by scents that are too frou-frou or too feminine, then woods are a good place for you to go,” says Harad.
FLORAL: Floral perfumes are based around flower notes — including portraits of single blooms and entire bouquets. Rose, tuberose, gardenia, iris and jasmine are all common picks. But don’t write florals off as being nothing more than ultra-feminine scents, Harad says—they can get intense. “You can have a very floral, sweet, pink tea rose, and you can have roses with patchouli and amber and myrrh that are dark and thorny,” she says.
ORIENTALS: This fragrance family is full of rich, sultry scents (all grouped under a pretty un-PC name). “The reason these scents are called Orientals is because the aroma materials and the notes they’re based on are all from the spice route,” Harad explains. Think: amber, patchouli, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, saffron and the real standout, labdanum. “It’s kind of a sweet, leathery, honeyed note with this undertone of body funk and fur,” Harad says. “It’s got this dirtiness to it — like going from sweetness to sex.” In other words, this fragrance family is for those looking to command a room.
3. Sample, sample, sample.
“If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you should test out fragrances before committing to a full-size bottle,” ten Brink says. The reality is, fragrance is extremely personal — all the research in the world can’t change your mind about a perfume if you just simply don’t like it. So, before you buy online, order a sample. “Your wallet will thank you later,” Ten Brink says.
Harad recommends Luckyscent, where you can snag $45 sample packs. “You can search for perfumes by note so, once you figure out that all the samples you liked had one note in common, then you can browse full-size bottles by that note,” she says.
4. Take advantage of Artificial Intelligence powered recommendations.
Silicon Valley may not have figured out how to virtually transmit scent (yet), but perfumers are getting techy with AI-powered scent recommendations — aka fancy fragrance quizzes. As Forbes reported, Coty (which owns fragrances from Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss and Gucci, to name a few) adopted a seven-step questionnaire to recommend scents you will obsess over, Sephora uses a fragrance quiz, and Scentbird also has a scent recommender. “It allows consumers to choose different variables including the usual fragrance selections such as, woodsy, fresh or floral, and also the option to choose different life events, such as date night,” ten Brink explains. If you are stumped, let the tech do some of the legwork — er, nosework — for you.
5. Beware discount sites.
Before you add anything to your cart, check the reputation of the site you are buying from — discount sites can be shady. “If you’re investing in an expensive bottle of perfume and you’re going to wear it for a number of years, the best thing to do is to buy it from a retailer that you trust and then take care of it,” Harad says.
There are some wallet-friendly options. “FragranceNet.com is a good fairly reliable one,” says Harad. You can buy directly from another person, like on eBay — it’s riskier, yes, but it’s also a great way to find perfumes that are no longer being produced. “It’s like gambling,” Harad says. “You might get something really great but never spend more than you’re willing to lose.”
6. Don’t commit.
Buying perfume online is a brave new world — you might end up finding you don’t want to settle down with a signature scent. The idea that you have to is a myth, ten Brink says.
“Order tons of stuff and enjoy yourself,” Harad says. “It’s quite likely that you’ll surprise yourself — especially if relatively new to perfume. It would be a shame to exclude all that possibility.”