Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Navigating The Sea Of Perfume Sales Associates

A Mainstream Marathon requires me to smell endless perfumes.  As I watch others reaching for the coffee beans, I feel cocky that my nose has built up enough endurance to sniff for hours without needing a break.


Somewhat less satisfying, however, is dealing with a parade of sales associates. 'What perfume do you wear now?'  'What was the last perfume you bought?'  

Responses rattling in my head:

A. Those questions are irrelevant.
B. It's just too tedious to address.
C. I didn't ask for your help.
D. You're killing my Marathon buzz. 
E.  Hell if I remember.

Instead, I say, 'I'm on an Hermes kick at the moment.'  This is true, actually, with Eau des Merveilles and Kelly Caleche making regular appearances.

'Do you wear Jo Malone perfumes?'

Before I can respond, the associate is regaling me with examples of layering options and the new tea collection, shoving scent strips my way.  

Perhaps irritation is playing into my opinion, but my chronic indifference to this line is confirmed.  The perfumes seem watered down (disappearing from the scent strip within minutes) and the packaging is...booooring.

Then I say what I always say to well-meaning, uneducated perfume associates: 'If you don't mind, I'd like to just experiment on my own and know that you're available to answer any questions that might come up.'

She responds by saying what they always say, 'Oh, well okay.'

It isn't two minutes before another sales associate comes to ask me if there is anything I need.  Done with the 'if you don't mind' bit (I can really only tolerate saying it once), I politely say,' no, I'm fine.'

To the third associate?  'No, I've been helped.'   

Jesus, enough already.

Then come more uninvited scent strips.  'Oh, you just must try this new nasty-cloying-floral from the house of Cheap Crap.'  

I might be paraphrasing.

To effectively communicate my long-suffering, I smell the strip before laying it down without responding.  Then, I continue with my own sampling.  This always gets the tight little smile that tells me they're almost ready to leave me the hell alone.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a fourth sales associate walking toward me but she never arrives.   I can only assume the others use their Charades skill to say, 'She's Just Not That Into You.' 

And they wonder why so many people shop online... 

Image from 


  1. I know, I's terrible getting chased around. I had a pretty good experience at Saks the other day, but I was with someone who already knew the SA's and it was more like friendly catching up than the old hard-sell. But as soon as she left and I stayed to look at a few more things I was assaulted from all sides once again. I think maybe they do this because 1.) they're on commission; and 2.) they want to scare all the habitual samplers who aren't buying away from the testers. Whatever the reason it's excruciating and keeps me away from perfume counters!

  2. I hate how they always ask what you usually wear. I usually say "I collect perfumes" so they stop trying to pin me down to a type, but they still talk to me like I know as little about perfume as they do.

    I'm also indifferent to negative on Jo Malone. It irritates that they all wear their smell profiles right on their sleeves -- it's very mall store. How about a little abstraction?

  3. Like Elisa, I use the "collection" brush off, and it often works, or causes a momentary double take at least. In extreme cases I may say I own 65 bottles already, making it is hard for me to generalise - or even remember. Rather than prompt the SA to rub her hands in glee at my obvious susceptibility to a purchase, this fact usually has the desired effect of making them back off sharpish, branding me as one of those weird hoarding types. Which I suppose isn't far wrong, really. But it's a good smokebomb line, at least!

  4. Before trying to become a real perfumista I was seriously into the mainstream/department store perfumes so I'm so used to getting away from multiple "helpful" SAs that it doesn't even bother me any more. At all. I would have been much more conscious if it was a small private boutique but with bigger stores I do not care: no matter how many times I'm offered help, I smile, refuse and go on with my business.
    Though last weekend I met a really annoying SA at Neiman Marcus: first he insisted on me trying out Acqua di Parma (I didn't plan to do that but didn't mind because I was waiting for another SA to make me a sample of what I wanted to take home to try) and then he started acting as a used car dealer trying to guilt me into buying something just because I smelled couple of blotters that he sprayed... I told him off but it got me thinking: are there actually real people who would buy a $100+ bottle of a perfume on a spot after they tried it for the first time?

  5. Hi Olfacta - I hear you! And you're right - some SAs are better than others. But generally, I want to be left alone to sample and sniff. Most 'help' I receive is irritating. Just let me do my thing!

  6. Elisa - it sometimes works to state that I collect perfume, but the questions still come; 'what is your favorite?' 'What are you wearing lately?' Really??

    I have no need to chat with, nor share information about my perfume collection or habits with an SA. Best if they just go about their business and leave me to my sampling.

  7. Hi Vanessa - what irritates me is having to deal with SAs at all, especially after stating what it is I want. Having to address this irritation more than once; or figuring out how to answer the barrage of annoying questions just pisses me off.

    I like your strategy, though!

  8. Undina, hello! Wow, sounds like your SA experience was annoying squared! Yes, I suppose people do buy expensive perfumes after one try - in fact, that seems to be what the SAs count on. Those that have any knowledge at all encourage us to wear the perfume over time and see how it develops.

    Sounds like you have a good plan in place when shopping for perfume - I'm impressed!



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