Why's it so hard to shop fragrance and is it possible I’m overthinking it?

When it comes to perfume shopping, it can be hard to find 'the one'. Our Associate Director of Creative Strategy, Michelle Bower, contemplates what makes the decision so difficult.

By Michelle Bower
Posted 17. 12. 2019

I’m a creative strategist by profession and curious by nature - you might say “of course you’re overthinking it”. But what if what’s really holding me back from finding my dream fragrance is that I’m looking for something definitive, when really I need to trust my instincts, start enjoying the search, and take a little help from an expert that puts no pressure on me to find the “right words” to articulate my fragrance brief.

Being fresh to a sector, brand or challenge gives us the privileged position to ask the (seemingly) obvious and yet difficult questions that affect a customers’ experience, and may also be keeping those non-customers at bay. It also gives us an opportunity to apply creative and novel techniques from other sectors to engage a new audience. This was the case when Molton Brown asked us to help them create a new store concept and sensory experience that would help them be seen as leaders in fragrance.

Fragrance illustration 1

Why do I find it so hard to shop fragrance?

  • Where do I start? The beauty halls are intimidating, online is one long scroll and those spritzer people are on commission, right?
  • I don’t speak fragrance, I don’t know my top notes from my sillage, my orientals from my chypres. (All of my fears about not speaking wine…. ditto)
  • I want something niche and unique that speaks to me and not just what a mega-corp has decided is commercially successful and aimed at me. The marketing seems to be more about them, their models, their celebs deals and messages than, er, me.
  • It’s an expensive decision if you get it wrong.
Fragrance illustration 2

Why is it really so hard to shop fragrance?

At D&P, we create total brand experiences that start with the brand’s Purpose, expressed with a unique Personality (in all we say and do), embodied in People, hired and trained to bring that purpose to life, who use unique service styles and Processes in meaningful Places to connect with customers and attract new customers to enjoy the Product’s benefits, framed in new and personalised ways.

Since we collaborated with Molton Brown to launch their fragrance collection this past year, with a global launch and a new customer experience in Bluewater, I’ve also (bonus brief for me) managed to define my personal challenge as to why I’ve not found or bought a fragrance in the last three years.

I realise I’ve been focussing on shopping the “what” of fragrance my entire adult life, when in fact it should have been the “why” I was adding it to my basket.

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© molton brown

Molton Brown was first established as a hair salon, in 1971 as a natural and personalised alternative to the prescribed-bob-look of hairdressing that had emerged in the late 1960s in London. A pioneering place where “why” came first, then “how” and “what”. Listening, responding, personalising and celebrating the individual were founding principles that shaped their business model.

That’s why Molton Brown commission individual, creative, unusual perfumers to create their best work, without the typical constraints that fashion and beauty brands typically impose. A truly creative brief to create something that will polarise customers, spark debate, intrigue and excite their customers. These fragrances are at the heart of all of their world-class products (not just perfumes), evoking empowering feelings in their customers (and fans), they are all still curiously made in England. Which is pretty niche, when you think about it.

So if I were to not overthink this process any longer, I’d shop by instinct, personality and my values. I’d be irrational, I’d have open-minded conversations about this curious fragrance world and remember that similar to foodie-culture and drinks-culture it gets so much more fun and inclusive when we all just give it a go and start experimenting, I’d be spontaneous and I’d have fun doing it.

That’s how we approached the customer experience to choosing a Molton Brown fragrance. I’m the proud owner of two of them, and as a bonus I’ve also learned more about my tastes, my personality and perfume in the process.

Don’t overthink it, trust your senses. Click here to learn more about yourself with Molton Brown's Fragrance Finder.

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