Monday 9 April 2018

Are Decants Harming The Perfume Industry?

We think of the Internet as a regular fixture in everyday life but it wasn’t always the case. In the past, and that makes me sound very old, if you wanted to share something then it would mean a telephone conversation or a letter. With the advent of email our communication got easier, but it was the appearance of Facebook that really seemed to alter the way that many people bought perfume. I’m talking about the “split sites” and “swap sites” that continue to appear on a regular basis. Whilst it seems like a great club to be a part of, is the fashion for decants actually harming the perfume industry?

The launch of a new perfume used to be trumpeted by the latest glossy magazine or a newspaper feature, with the press being courted to write a favourable review. We took their words and opinions seriously, even if some of them had been “encouraged”, but still managed to go and smell the latest scent in our local branch of Dingles, Jollys and David Evans. However, the advent of the blog, the vlog and the podcast turned everyone into a critic, and steering your way through the minefield of opinions became harder.

The next step on from this was the desire to own and experience as much fragrance as possible but, with many having a hefty price tag attached, the idea of sharing a bottle started to become very attractive. Originally it seemed to be done in a smaller “under the table” way but it soon became a business in itself. With people buying a 100ml fragrance and decanting it into anything from 1ml you can see how profitable it could be for the not so “sharing” element of the perfume community. So let’s take a little closer look at the process of decanting.

It seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? All you need is a bottle of fragrance and some glass or plastic vials to spray it into. Well, think about the environment that it’s being sprayed in, the cleanliness and suitability of the vial, the age of the fragrance being sprayed, and even whether your precious perfume is going to be diluted before it gets to you. I know, it’s just fragrance we’re talking about, but for the companies producing the scent it is their livelihoods, especially the niche brands who have far greater overheads. So, how have they fought back?

There was a time when customers expected samples to be given out without question, but smaller companies have now had to start charging. This is for two reasons, firstly to take on the de-canters at their own game by guaranteeing the highest quality fragrance, and secondly as a way of covering their manufacturing costs. Some companies will take the price of the sample off a future purchase, which I think is very generous, and then you can have a full bottle to enjoy. I don’t think that the demand for decants is going to subside any time soon but unless we support the companies, by purchasing direct from them, there may be less to decant in the first place.


  1. Very interesting, Stephan, and as one of our bottles is up there in your photo I thought I'd add my tuppence worth. It's one of the reasons why lots of us have started to sell smaller atomisers and taster sets. That way we can do all the proper testing first (tests that make the products legal to sell) and can guarantee the purity and strength. I don't think that decanters know it's also illegal in the EU, including the UK of course, to sell any cosmetics that aren't in their original packaging. Even retailers are breaking the law when they do this. We have no idea how a perfume will smell if it's put in a plastic bottle. For me, what'a really irritating is to see one of our bottles on Ebay, next to a 5ml plastic decant bottle, being sold for more than we'd charge for a 9ml in its original packaging.
    If people are really doing this "to fund my perfume habit" then maybe they could just buy the 9mls in the first place, and then they wouldn't have to sell the rest.
    But the worst thing is that if the decant does have something dodgy about it, the buyer will get a really disappointing impression of our fragrances.

    1. Hello Sarah, I always love your comments because they come from an “insider” perspective. It’s worth pointing out that 4160 Tuesdays offer a fantastic sample service. You order one sample with postage and then the next three are retail price only. Also, if you buy a full size fragrance then there’s always a surprise in the box. You’re an excellent example of how the niche market can operate. Best, Stephan

  2. I’m more than happy to buy tester decants directly from the company and I’m thrilled to see more houses offering samples to the public. I do wish they put them in spray vials and offered a reasonable amount to sample though, maybe 3ml. I have the same concerns about the “splitters” on the fragrance web sites. I don’t know who they are, what they’re selling, etc. There are a lot of fragrances that smell alike. Maybe I’m only getting 20% of X and 80% grain alcohol and knock off oil, or maybe all fake fragrance. I also appreciate that some of the houses are offering 15ml sizes as well. I’m happy to pay a bit more per ml and only have the amount I need. If I had to buy 3oz of every fragrance I like, I’d have 10 lifetimes worth. Some of the houses seem to take advantage of that though and ask an excessive price for 30 or 50ml. A popular brand passed down from generation to generation comes to mind. That’s the other service that the splitters are providing. I don’t want to spend $300+ for 100ml of the latest and greatest when 20ml is more than enough.
    As an aside I recently read that Creed (in the USA) is limiting its 1000ml flacons to 2 per year per person. The only reason to do this would be to limit splitting and decants. Even the biggest oversprayer isn’t going to go through 2L of Perfume in a year.
    My recommendation to combat splitting is to offer 2 or 5ml spray samples at a modest price or sell smaller sizes. I just ordered a perfect 15ml size from one of the independents!

    1. Hello TheEtherMan, thank you for reading and for commenting. Great points. Best, Stephan

  3. A friend of mine owns a perfume shop and we discussed this subject a few weeks ago. Decants offer excellent free marketing to perfume brand companies. Many buyers of decants only buy because they are unwilling to pay expensive prices for a scent they don't even know fully. Besides, the actual profit margins on decants is pretty low. By trying decants they tend to find fragrances they love, and end up being long-term customers to the brand company.
    I think perfume companies are absolutely crazy to try and legally restrict decants, which is what they are doing. That would be like Mercedes banning people from selling used cars, or selling customized MB cars. Perfume companies should focus on targeting (i.e Chinese) forgeries, not decants.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I completely agree that decants are a great way for customers to experience fragrances but it's just a matter of making sure that they are receiving the best possible sample. I think that perfume brands offering trial sizes on their websites is a very positive step forward, especially when it comes off the price of a full bottle. Best, Stephan

    2. Yes, but the problem with that is that perfume companies expect you to take interest to search for them and make the effort to order samples from them. People are busy. There are hundreds of competitors out there. The micro sellers of decants offer multiple brand products to their benefit.

      These micro sellers of decant actually find new organic customers for perfumers - which is the hardest part of marketing. Organic customers tend to become loyal customers. Perfume companies spend millions a year out of their own pocket to achieve that very thing.

      So why would they want to block or making illegal getting it for free? Not only have the decanters purchased the original product which means a sale was made for the company, but they market the product for free! Why would a company want to block free marketing? I find it irrational and unintelligent.

      My friend (with the perfume shop) told me her perfume sales is bigger for the brands who ignore to chase after the micro-sellers. And what sells the slowest? Any products owned by Coty, for example, a very aggressive company on targeting micro-sellers. That shows you the impact of decants.

      Marketing is becoming more and more difficult with all the algorithm changes for online exposure, increased advertising costs, ad saturation, unfair market dominion by China who never contribute in tax and sell forgeries, etc.

      Perfume companies are shooting themselves in the foot when they try to block these small sellers. These micro sellers are no more damaging to the big companies than bloggers and YouTube reviewers.

      Ultimately people want to own the actual branded bottle and once they love the product they will venture to buy the full bottle at the original store or some fancy department store.