ScentBird, ScentTrunk and Olfactif – Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

On more than one occasion I tried to dissuade my readers from blind buys – be that full bottles based on somebody else’s reviews or sample sets selected by unknown authorities. But then recently I came across an article in Luxury Daily about Opulent Box, a jewelry subscription program

“While most people shop for jewelry they love, they’re missing out on the surprise factor, and that’s what we’re wanting to achieve with the Opulent Box,”

said CEO Jon Yedwabnik, Opulent Jewelers, the company that for mere 25K per quarter ($100K per year) offers their affluent consumers a surprise box with brand name estate and vintage jewelry.

I suspect that most of my readers do not have a perfume budget that amounts to even one tenth of the quarterly jewelry subscription cost but if you decide to spend $25-$100 to get a surprise factor or want to wear some popular mainstream perfumes without committing to a full bottle, one of these services might be exactly what you need.

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In all years I’ve been running Undina’s Looking Glass the only time I used my “perfume blogger” status to get anything from a brand was 4 years ago when I tried to buy from a new niche line samples they haven’t offered at the time. I didn’t succeed then.

The second time I attempted that recently when I started working on this post. On the ScentBird‘s website I noticed a section For Bloggers. It offered bloggers to get their subscription free. I provided the required information – my blog address, number of subscribers, FB & Twitter accounts – and explained in the note the purpose of my subscription. I think, I even suggested holding a draw for whatever perfume I would receive. I got rejected. I don’t remember the exact polite phrasing (and for some reason I can’t find the letter now), but it was clear that my blog wasn’t big enough for their purposes. I was slightly offended (they kind of offered themselves!) but mostly amused: both services that specialize in much more expensive niche perfumes – Olfactif and ScentTrunk – had previously offered me their subscriptions (I haven’t accepted) while the mass-market-oriented one decided to save ten bucks on me.

Since my blog is my hobby and I make a living from other sources, I paid for ScentTrunk and ScentBird subscriptions (3 and 2 months correspondently, with some %% off of the first month with coupons I found online). I didn’t have to pay for Olfactif since I had a box gifted to me by Jeffrey Dame, when one of his perfumes was featured there. So here’s how these subscriptions stack up against each other.

Features Comparison Table for ScentBird, ScentTrunk and Olfactif

Name
ScentBird (https://www.scentbird.com) ScentTrunk (https://scenttrunk.com/) Olfactif (http://www.olfactif.com)
What you get
8 ml glass spray decant (you choose your scent from the list). With the first month you get a travel case that can be used later with the following months’ decants 3 x 2 ml plastic spray samples (selected presumably based on your profile), in a box, information cards for each scent, a drawstring bag and testing strips 3 x 2.25 ml glass spray samples (the same set per collection for everybody)
Collections
Feminine and masculine. There are more than 60 brands, mostly mainstream but there are a couple of niche brands Unisex, masculine and feminine. About 40 niche and indie brands Unisex (“for women and adventurous men”) and masculine (“traditionally masculine scents”). There are about 35 niche and indie brands
Base cost
$14.95/month including S&H. US only $18/month including S&H. US & Canada. +Tax if you’re in Canada $18/month including S&H. US only
Subscription options
$84/6 months ($14/month); $162/12 months ($13.50/month) $96/6 months ($16.5/month); $180/12 months ($15/month) $51/3 months ($17/month); $96/6 months ($16/month); $180/12 months ($15/month)
Delivery
Once a month, ships on the 15th regardless of when the subscription starts Once a month; ships within several days after the subscription starts and then every 30 days Once a month, around the 1st. Subscriptions made before 15th of the month get that month’s subscription box
Payment
Credit Card only Credit Card and PayPal Credit Card and PayPal
Cancellation
Online; any time before 5th of the month. Subscription can be put on hold for a month By e-mail request, at any time By email request; any time before 15th of the month. Subscription can be put on hold for a month
Returns/Refunds
Not offered Full refund by e-mail request if you’re not satisfied for any reason Not offered
Referral program
Get a friend to subscribe – get one month free (plus a friend gets the second month free) Points offered for recommending to a friend (see Coupons & Discounts) Not offered
Full bottles
Not offered There’s a small collection of full bottles offered for purchase. Online shopping is in its infancy: all you can do is to scroll the page to browse the selection sorted in the descending order by price Bottles for perfumes featured in the subscription are offered. Filter by price, brand, note, season or category.
Coupons & Discounts
Search Internet for a one time discount code Search Internet for a discount code for the subscription. You will also get some points for different actions on the site – placing the order, reviewing perfumes you tried, referring friends, etc. After you collect enough of these points, you can convert them into a $10 or $25 discount for the full bottle purchase from the site $18 credit toward the full-bottle purchase of a featured fragrance every month (even for discounted subscription options). You can also find a 15% off the subscription price coupon online
Customer Service
After I reported the wrong perfume sent to me this month, I got a replacement within three days and they suggested keeping the wrong perfume After I reported the duplicate box sent to me in the second month, I got an immediate refund. Unfortunately, the next box I got only the next month (and with a delay), which slightly defeats the purpose of a monthly subscription N/A (since I didn’t subscribe, I didn’t have any experience with it – please chime in if you did)
What I like
You know exactly what you’re getting and 8 ml is more than enough for most perfumes if you’re not prepared to get a full bottle

Ease of cancellation (though they cleverly offer to put the subscription on hold when you’re cancelling)

Packaging that is both cute and functional. Rusty gave the highest approval to the testing strips (see the picture below)

They try hard to be nice to customers and to engage them

During the sign-up you go through some type of personalization where you get express your preferences of some aspects of perfumes – “fresh”, “floral”, “woody”, “oriental.” These are supposed to be taken into the account while preparing your monthly box. It didn’t work in my case (I got twice exactly the same box – even though after getting the first one I changed the profile) but I think it’s a good direction and hope they’ll improve with time

You can buy additional samples (the same 2.25 ml size) for any of the perfumes they sell as well as the previous collections (unless sold out) and perfume books

If you think of starting the subscription, you have until the 15th of the month to decide if you want to do it that month and get the samples offered

Very well-written and informative FAQ section

What I do not like
It’s an unusually deferred gratification: you pay (or at least decide that you’ll be continuing the subscription) by the 5th of the month and your order arrives around 19th. And it’s even worse if you subscribe in the end of the month: it takes almost a month to get your first order Perfumes that I got in the first two boxes were all on the cheaper/cheapest side of the offerings, with which the site teases (not even mentioning Amouage samples used as main images all over the main page). With my final box they’ve redeemed themselves though: all three samples were “top shelf.” But I would have preferred a better mix for each of the boxes

My negative review for one of the perfumes is still awaiting an approval (for the last 2.5 months) while the positive one had no problem being approved

Beautiful but extremely wasteful packaging
~ ~ ~

Rusty plays with Scent Trunk's test strips

Conclusion

Personally, despite the rejection from their marketing people, I found ScentBird‘s service the most useful: I got two decants I wanted (GHAG‘s Miss Charming and Montale‘s Intense Cafe) much cheaper than I could find them elsewhere (not counting split groups but they don’t always have what you want). But then it’s not really a subscription, is it? Still, if you see something you like in their online store, it might be a good value for the money. Also I think it might be a good gift (the offer is 3 months for $44) for a “civilian” (© Tara) friend.

As to the actual subscription services, I still think that you’ll be better off testing perfumes in stores (if possible), exchanging samples with other perfume enthusiasts or buying them from brands’ sites or in split groups. But if you live too far away from the stores that carry high-end mainstream or niche perfumes and you’re not too big on communicating with others to arrange exchanges or splits, I have a couple of recommendations on how to decide whether you want to play with one of the services and with which one.

If you’ve tried and/or do not want to try 50% or more of perfumes, full bottles of which a service offers in their online store, do not subscribe.

Since ScentTrunk sends “customized” boxes without disclosing who gets what, there’s a good chance that you’ll get three of the perfumes that are already in their store at the moment you’re checking it out before signing. So just look at what they offer and think how many of those you haven’t tried yet or tried and wouldn’t mind using for $3/ml.

Olfactif, on the other hand, offers for sale perfumes from their previous collections, so you do not know what you’ll get next but can try predicting the future performance by calculating the ratio of the perfumes you tried and disliked to all perfumes you tried from their collection. The smaller the result, the better chances that going forward they’ll keep selecting something that is closer to your tastes.

If you are not familiar with most of the perfumes in both stores, go with the service that offers more brands that are new to you: if you’re making a leap of faith, at least you’ll get exposed to something completely new.

Have you ever tried any subscription services (not necessarily perfume-related)?

 

Images: my own

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Fragrance Republ!c through the eyes of Plebeian

 

Dear readers and friends, before you go on reading this post can you pause for a minute and think what you know about Fragrance Republ!c. Just try to think what you’ve heard about them and what your impression about their business is.

It’s not a trick question. If you’ve heard or read about them, what you can recall will be probably more than you can read on their website. There’s no About Us section. There is not much information about what you’re subscribing to either. The site provides minimum details allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks (and who is better than ourselves to trick us into assuming things that weren’t actually promised?)

Fragrance Republ!c is a new brand, one of co-founders of which is Francois Duquesne, a former President of L’Artisan Parfumeur. The brand operates as a “club”: you need to be a member – albeit a non-paying one – just registered, to purchase their perfumes. They call it “Free People.” With a $35/month, $100/3 months, $200/6 months (why would anybody pay for 6 months in advance when it’s exactly twice the price of 3 months subscription is beyond my understanding) or $350/year “Patricians subscription” you’re going to get every month a 15 ml bottle of a new perfume created by one of six perfumers featured on the site. I’m not sure about that part though since they don’t promise that the list of perfumers is final. And by the time I’m finishing this post the next perfume announced for April has been created by the new, seventh, perfumer, not listed initially. So for all we know it can keep going like that for each next month in one’s subscription.

Brand’s Facebook Page provides a mission statement:

Fragrance Republic Mission Statement

It’s not clear who serves on the Advisory Board in addition to “Senators”, who for $1,500/year get to be on that board for 2 months. How many permanent members are on that Board and how many can pay their way to that body that “determines future fragrance to be released”? It doesn’t say anywhere so I can’t even guess the qualification of the Board that sets the criteria and accepts the final product.

Speaking of the product, other than “no artistic boundaries” and “IFRA compliance” (as if any of these two are necessarily a good thing), there are no promises as to quality of ingredients: for all we know it can be another eccentric-molecule- or not-a-perfume-type creations. And there’s a curious passage about the delivery in Terms and Conditions:

Any merchandise purchased from our Site will be shipped by a third party carrier. As a result, title and risk of loss for such merchandise will pass to you upon our delivery to the carrier.

Nice. I’m not sure I’d want to buy anything from any online store on those terms.

When a couple of years ago Chandler Burr conducted his OpenSky experiment, I was against it. But at least it was somebody who we knew by reputation (either you shared his tastes or not) and who had to persuade us to buy every next episode of his series.

When a year ago Olfactif decided to offer a new sampling program, I was against it. But since I wrote that post, Olfactif has improved by switching from 1 ml dab vials to 2.25 ml spray samples. Also several commenters – mostly those who were new to the niche perfume world – suggested some benefits they saw for themselves in using that type of service.

With Fragrance Republic you’re offered to blind buy 15 ml/$35, 45 ml/$100, 90 ml/$200 or 180ml/$350 of unknown perfume(s) by random perfumers from a new brand, creative director(s) of which haven’t proven yet that they know what they are doing. And I didn’t even mention yet totally unremarkable packaging, completely unmemorable names and, as I suspect, close to 0 resell/swap value of those that you didn’t like.

I stated it more than once: I’m against blind buys and I constantly try to dissuade people from doing that. I understand that the thrill of the blind-buying and the anticipation of the positive outcome for some people might be higher than the disappointment they would experience from the negative result. So within the individual’s money-is-no-object limits it’s probably fine to indulge in that type of irrational behavior from time to time. But to build a business on that vice, encourage it and benefit from it – that is something that I cannot condone.

I do not believe any brand can release 12 (twelve!) great perfumes in twelve months – and keep going (even today, after they’ve released the 7th perfume, you still can subscribe for a year). But even if they are the next Amouage, Frederic Malle and Serge Lutens triune, it’s completely improbable that they will release one after another twelve perfumes that will work for you – so why to pay for something knowing full well you won’t like it? Even if you can easily afford spending $350 on your hobby, isn’t it better to reward brands that have created perfumes that you actually enjoy and want to wear than pay for the fake privilege?

Caesar Palace in Las Vegas

Oh, and in case you decide to participate in their “community of passionate fragrance users”, keep in mind that

By submitting or posting any materials or content on the Site, you grant Fragrance Republic a perpetual, irrevocable, non-terminable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to use, copy, distribute, publicly display, modify, create derivative works, and sublicense such materials or any part of such materials. […]Fragrance Republic will be entitled to use any content submitted by you without incurring obligations of confidentiality, attribution, or compensation to you.

But, after all, it’s the land of the free – so you can become a Senator if you set your mind on it.

Olfactif: Yay or Nay?

 

I’m constantly on a lookout for new perfume-related … everything: brands, lines, perfumes, services, media coverage and other events. Naturally I got curious about the new service offering a subscription-based access to niche perfumes samples.

There are many ways to obtain samples for perfumes you want to try. I won’t be covering here getting samples from B&M stores, swapping with other perfumistas or participating in splits, all of which are my preferred methods. I want to look into different options for purchasing samples.

Lorraine (Dear Scent Diary) has recently compiled a list of the brands that offer samples. But it’s always a good idea to look for an official website and see what their samples policy is. if I’m interested in the particular brand, all other things being equal, I always try to buy samples from the brand directly.

Sonoma Scent Studio Samples

There are many services and online perfume stores that offer perfume samples of your choice, sometimes in a selection of sizes. Some of these companies have been around for a while, others are relatively new.

So let’s take a look at the new kid on the block: Olfactif. Three dab vial samples (0.7 ml or 1 ml, I’m not sure and they don’t provide that information on the site), perfectly packaged, delivered monthly for $18 subscription fee. First month was offered free (I’m not sure if they plan to do that for future new subscribers). There is no obligation to keep the subscription for any minimum number of months. Steve (The Scented Hound) wrote about his experience with the first installment.

$18 for three 0.7-1 ml niche samples including S&H is neither an outrageous price nor a bargain. For $17-$19 you can get 3 samples of your choice (including the latest releases) delivered from Luckyscent, Surrender to Chance, The Perfumed Court or The Posh Peasant. Aedes de Venustas offers 7 samples of your choice for $20 including S&H ($5 of which is refundable with any full bottle purchase within the next 3 months). Luscious Cargo offers 7 samples for $25 including S&H. MinNY offers 5 samples for ~ $28 including S&H or sells individual samples for $5.

Perfume Samples

So what makes Olfactif different or unique?

A good deal? One month’s subscription fee can be applied to a purchase of a full bottle of one of the featured perfumes. Taking into the account that it’s a full retail price plus shipping charges it’s not too exciting.

Interviews with perfumers and information about perfumes? Look to the right: most blogs listed on My Reading List do it for free with a lot of passion and talent.

A surprise? You pay $18 by the end of the month and then for a couple of days might enjoy not knowing what you’re getting (until your package arrives or the reveal – whatever comes first since according to the site’s FAQ you’ll get the package “a day or two before the first of the month or a day or two after”). I saw some comments from people being excited about that part – not knowing. I remember thinking that there was something in Chandler Burr’s blind sniffing idea but I just couldn’t get past $50+ for a blind buy of 50 ml of a perfume and a chance to play guess games for a month on Mr. Burr’s say-so*. Olfactif offers a speed-dating: 1 ml# x 3 for $18 and you can close your eyes and still do a blind testing.

And that brings me to the last point. Curation. It’s an appealing concept. But who is Tara Swords and why would anyone rely upon her taste in choosing perfumes for them? She might be Turin, Burr and Coifan all-in-one but we don’t know that.

There must be something in the air: it looks like there is market for that type of service.

Last year there was a press release about MinNY launching Fragrance Flight, a Global By-Invitation Private Members Club with Privileged Access to Information, Luxury, & Curated Scents. Since then all I could find was a closed door and not a single mentioning of it. The first rule of Flight Club?..

Recently I saw on Twitter “bergamot: Curated fragrances delivered to your door. Launching Spring 2013.” You can sign up to get notified about the launch.

I have no real objections to Olfactif’s doing what they plan to do: it’s just a business, not worse than other businesses, and I hope that eventually either Olfactif improves: more customized approach, selection based on a user’s profile and previous months’ feedback, better deals, pre-releases, etc.; or there will be another service that does it better. In the end we, consumers and perfume enthusiasts, might benefit.

But if you are [still] reading this you do not need Olfactif in its current form: whether you know anything about niche perfumes or not, I believe you can do better. But if you see in that service something that I’m not seeing (other than nice boxes for storing samples) please share.

 

Images: my own.

 

* BTW, OpenSky is still running Burr’s project; there will be the ninth offering in May. I wasn’t following it after the third episode but from what I gathered now a year later they still haven’t figured out all the quirks.
# UPDATE: Now Olfacif offers 2.25 ml spray samples, which is a huge improvement.