Thursday, December 13, 2007

Buying Perfume at Discount Stores

Dear Meg,

I was looking at perfumes on the internet today and found out that Wal-Mart sold some higher end perfumes. I don't really go to Wal-Mart alot so I was really surprised to see this. For comparison, Gucci Envy Me (EDT, 1.7 oz) was $49.86 at Wal-Mart. It was $62 at Sephora and Nordstrom, and (also EDT, 1.7 oz). Now I realize that there's definitely a difference in level of service at Wal-Mart versus Sephora and Nordstrom, but still, what gives?

I have also wondered why sometimes you see perfume at discount places (Nordstrom rack, Ross, TJ Maxx, etc.) at cheaper prices than department stores. They seem to generally be in resellable condition (box isn't beat up, no obvious marks).

If the products at Wal-Mart and discount stores are real, how old would they probably be? Old enough that the scent would have altered? Or just not moving fast enough at the higher end stores? Or are they defective, which is why they are not at the department stores?


Unfortunately, I know very little about perfume (I'm allergic to most scents so I don't buy it), but I thought Christine's question was a good one, and I was wondering if any of you guys could fill her (and me) in on whether perfume at discount stores is just as good as the bottles at fancy department stores.

My gut feeling was that it definitely is, but I don't know whether age could affect the scent...but then again, I'm not even sure if it's the case that there's less turnover at the discount stores. What do you think?


laura said...

I inherited my grandmother's makeup, accessories, and perfume. (Mom got the *actual* jewelry, sigh.) Which was a magnificent score of hats, gloves, costume jewelry, vintage Ferragamo pumps, handbags, scarves, lipsticks and Chanel No. 5. (My grandmother was the adminstrative assistant to the president of a big union based in our hometown and she was very stylish a la Joan on Mad Men, although I think/ hope had better morals!)
This is relevant because of the Chanel No 5. The actual perfume was the biggest bottle of perfume I had ever seen and she had bought it in 1979 in Paris. I got it in 1990 and it was 1/4 full. It smelled fine and lasted long, etc until I used it up (maybe in 1995?) I saved the gorgeous bottle. The eau de toilette spray did turn a bit sticky-- as if some alcohol had evaporated out of it, but it smelled fine. No idea of its provenance or age when *I* got it, but it would be safe to say it was 5 years or so old then, and I had it another 5. I *still* have the scented sparkly powder, which she had just bought in the month prior to her death but which is now over 15 years old. It smeels fine and works fine.

An interesting note re: perfumes and allergies: I absolutely LOVE Chanel No 5. But when my grandmother's bottle ran out I was a nanny living in Wyoming-- buying a new bottle was way out of the question. My fiance got me a bottle of it (small!) for Christmas right before our wedding so I could wear it that day. In between times I had developed an allergy to the perfume or they changed the formula. From research I have done, it is most likely that the formula my grandmother purchased in 1979 in Paris is no longer made or sold. I can't wear the newer formula.

Last note in this very long comment-- I still have her stash of handkerchiefs (because all of them were monogrammed my her mother, herself, or my mother as a little girl-- so sentimental!) I don't use them (except one I used at my wedding) and they are tucked into a vintage handbag. The entire bag and the handkerchiefs still smell of Chanel No 5 and it has to have been at least 30 years since she spritzed them with it and folded them neatly into her drawer...

Elle said...

Perfumes do age and their scents can change after the bottles are opened. The liquid can discolor, too, especially with cheaper colognes. (Or what I like to call "drugstore colognes" - for example, when I was younger I used to wear this stuff called "Navy" made by CoverGirl; you can only find it in drug stores and discount stores.)

Keep in mind, however, that most of us use the label "perfume" to refer to several different formulas:
Perfume, strictly speaking, is the purest form of scented product and usually includes 15-40% perfume concentrates. It's also the most expensive form of scent.

Eau de parfum contains about 7-15% perfume concentrates. This is the most popular and common form of perfume. It provides a long-lasting fragrance and generally doesn't cost as much as extract perfume.

Eau de toilette has around 1-6% perfume concentrates. This gives a lighter scent that doesn't linger as long as parfum or perfumes. Eau de cologne is sometimes used interchangeably with the term eau de toilette.

If you're looking for bargains in scent products, note that you can often find them online. These days, my scent of choice is a Cartier product that retails for $90/bottle at Nordstrom, but i've found it for $30 less at

Anonymous said...

sometimes what looks like the identical product isn't! It's not uncommon for the 50ml and 30ml EDP to be sold in the same sized box, although the product inside would be a different size; a lot of the 'discount' perfumes I find at WM etc are in fact the 30ml size, hence the lower price. It's a great size to buy if you're just trying things out, or you want to build up a scent wardrobe, but don't let them fool ya!

Kai Jones said...

The ladies at Now Smell This (great perfume blog) routinely list what's available at discount stores like Ross and Target, and often review fragrances they've picked up at discount/outlet stores.

tmp00 said...

I don't know about Wal-Mart, but TJ Maxx, Ross and Loehmanns get overstock from other department stores. Since they are in the box they are usually just the same that you would get at Saks or Bloomingdales.

I assume Wal-Mart just has a lower margin than a full-service department store so can afford to slash the price, getting say a 5% return on the item rather that 25%

I think you would be more apt to get old product off of eBay or some of the smaller internet sellers (I don't mean reputable ones like LuckyScent or Aedes); I always check out feedback on those sellers before I'll bother to buy. A $20 savings isn't worth anything if you get bad juice, or nothing at all..

Pattykate said...

I do work part-time in this business and one should be just a bit skeptical of fragrances listed at such reduced prices, but for the most part the product is legitimate. According to the Vendor Reps these are generally items that have been removed from stores for any number of reasons. Thus, they may be dated, but if not opened, should be good. Also, the vendor told me that often a large company will do what they call "back door" bottling which is intended for the discount stores or online. She did say to beware because fakes are out there being passed off as the real thing. Just be careful where you purchase. Also, if you want the best deals, i.e. sets at Mother's Day and Christmas, stick to your department stores. Gift sets are generally only available there.

Christine said...

Thanks for posting my question Meg. Since it's the holiday season, I'll just stick with Nordstrom since it means gift sets with extra lotions!

Jen38 said...

What a fabulous post Meg! These women really know their fragrances.
What great ideas came from this.

I love Chanel No. 5 as well. Like Laura, I am nostaligic with my scents. My current favorite is Fresh's Lemon Sugar and Vera Wang's Princess.

Also interesting about the newer formulas and allergies.

Tessa Pugh said...

I'm not going to comment on the scent topic. I am more concerned with the fact that you addressed us readers as "guys." Even if there be men among us readers, referring to us collectively as guys does not indicate good breeding.
Love your blog. Hate being called a "guy."

Anonymous said...

I've been a perfume junkie for years and I used to buy all of my fragrances at department stores. However, the more I've studied and read the longer I've collected fragrance, I've learned that here are many great ways to buy the same great scent for discount prices. My favorite way is to shop online at I've always had great customer service and I can buy their "Tester" bottles which means that you get the original scent minus the fancy box. I also like and I'd also like to suggest that men & women read some of the fragrance blogs like Now Smell This and Bois de Jasmine for additional fragrance ideas. There are many wonderful perfume and perfume oils out there that are owned by owned by small companies who don't advertise. You'll get the chance to try a more unusual and distinctive scent that many people haven't heard of and you'll often pay less for quality ingredients as well. Kai, Monyette Paris, Sage, Magic by Minnie Wilde are just some of the great scents out there. Lucky is another fun site to go to read reviews about less traditionally popular scents. Luscious is another fun site and both offer wonderful customer service and you can also purchase samples there. Don't feel like you have to go to Sephora or Nordies and pay full price in order to get a great perfume. I do still rarely buy from retail stores but it's usually when a new fragrance has hit the market and I just don't have the patience to wait for it to hit the discount sites. If anyone needs additional information, I'm happy to post more ideas. :) Nancscents