How To Avoid Perfume Salespeople

Perfume salespeople are the bane of the serious perfume lover’s existence. Unless you are lucky enough to live in NYC or France, it is highly likely that your local perfume salespeople received virtually no training regarding their products. Because they do not know anything about perfume, and because they are dependent on commission, perfume salespeople will shamelessly lie to you if that is what it takes to make a sale.

They will tell you that Yves Saint Laurent Opium is a “light, fresh fragrance”, or that Chanel No. 19 was “Coco Chanel’s personal perfume” (it was developed a year after she died). One Scents of Self reader reports that a Sephora saleswoman once told her that Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue was an oriental perfume. After many years of frustrating and unhelpful perfume shopping experiences, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that perfume salespeople must be avoided at all costs. Evade their advances, and do not, under any circumstances, ask a perfume salesperson for help.

Trust me, if you are interested enough in perfume to be reading this (or any) perfume blog, you are already more knowledgeable than almost anyone in a given fragrance department. In the unlikely event that a perfume salesperson tells you something about a perfume that you did not already know, it is because he or she is probably making it up.

“But Ari,” you might ask, “what if I don’t see the perfume I’m looking for? Can’t I ask them to check in the back for me?” No. You may not. It will only end badly. If you do not see the perfume in question, it is not there. This is what will happen if you are foolish enough to ask the salesperson. First, she will cock her head in puzzlement. She will ask you to pronounce the name of the perfume again. She will “go check in the back”, which means that she will hide from you in the accessories department for four minutes. When she returns, she will announce that your beloved perfume has been discontinued, or that it never existed at all. No matter what the perfume in question actually smelled like, she will suggest Marc Jacobs Daisy as a replacement. It’s not her fault. She doesn’t know any better. But now you do, and you have only yourself to blame if you allow your interaction with a perfume salesperson to escalate to this point.

Whenever possible, it is best to take steps to discourage perfume salespeople from approaching you in the first place. The easiest way to do this is by dressing like an Olsen twin. Many otherwise brilliant women make the mistake of dressing well when they go perfume shopping in the hopes of “getting good service”. However, as I have already explained, encouraging perfume salespeople to talk to you is the last thing you want to do. Even some grungy sweatpants will often produce the desired effect, but for best results you should really try to look like you just crawled out of a dumpster.

However, some perfume salespeople will be more persistent. Undeterred by your Olsen-like attire, they will interrupt your peaceful perfume browsing and demand that you try the hot new light clean l’eau fresh fruity floriental noir. If you politely tell the salesperson that this perfume is not exactly to your tastes, she will immediately accost you with another one just like it. At this point, I usually try Jedi mind tricks. If the saleswoman is not particularly susceptible to suggestion, you can:

  • Earnestly explain that you are Ambassador [your name here] of the United Federation of Planets, and that your mission here is merely to study the mating rituals of pre-23rd century Earth. Sternly reproach the saleswoman that you will have to note the conspicuous absence of Klingon employees in the captain’s log.
  • Smile ruefully and tell the saleswoman that you are unable to smell perfume due to your longstanding cocaine habit.
  • Accuse the saleswoman of being a socialist for promoting French-made products. If she protests, demand to see her birth certificate.
  • Ask the saleswoman what hair products she uses to make her hair so soft. Before she can answer, reach out and begin caressing her hair while muttering to yourself about how soft it is.


Do you have any other suggestions for warding off perfume salespeople? Or do you have an ingenious strategy for educating them about perfume?


40 thoughts on “How To Avoid Perfume Salespeople

  1. The only SAs I can deal w/ are the ones at Art With Flowers at Tyson’s Galleria and even then I get weird vibes because while they truly do seem to enjoy perfume they still don’t enjoy it quite the way I do … and eventually try to push things on me. Like the perfume I unwittingly got suckered into buying a few weeks ago for a friend. It’s a lovely fragrance, but they LIED and told me that the pomegranate top note faded into a rich sandalwood … lies, lies, lies. I have 5 samples of the fragrance. It smells like lycee & flowers. It’s actually very pretty but it wasn’t really what I was looking for.

    And yes, Dolce & Gabanna Light Blue is an oriental & my taste in Chanel No. 5 sucks. Oh Sephora. The deluded SA thought that all the unwanted unopened nasty old lady Chanel No. 5 she was hoarding in her dark closet needed to be thrown out because it had gone bad. Which still isn’t as bad as the SA in Macy’s telling me how he hated Chanel No. 5 and I couldn’t possibly want a bottle of that despite the fact that I told him I was just buying a new bottle because I had used it all up.

    1. Art with Flowers is a really nice spot, but did that little dog the owner keeps on the checkout counter scare that shit out of you the first time? The decor in there made me think it was a statuette or something and when it barked at me i definitely jumped a little bit.

      1. Apparently that happens a lot. She was moving around a little bit the first time I was in there, but the owner told me that she tends to startle people because they don’t think she’s real at first until she moves.

  2. When perfected the following three rules will keep perfume-peddling-phreaks out of your hair. They should be performed in this order.

    Step One: When you sense a salesperson arriving you must frown and stare at the perfume directly in front of you, it’s completely irrelevant what perfume it is, whilst simultaneously rubbing your chin. (When written down this sounds like it would actually invite a vacuous “Can I help you?” but in reality no one wants to disturb a person deep in thought). You must practice your stern look for this, not flustered, not puzzled, not frustrated. Think big-business man on lunch break. Knows what he wants. In a hurry.

    Step Two: COMPLETELY ignore them when they say hello to you. I mean like not even batting an eyelid. They will be a little taken aback by this and about 80% of sales-people will not risk a follow-up question or greeting.

    Step Three: Put your finger in your ear and say, a little too loudly, “What’s that you said? I could’t hear you, I’ve got my finger stuck in my ear.” whilst looking directly at the sales-persons chin. [It’s genuinely unnerving to have a person stare at your chin. Try it.]

  3. Ari, I am literally…LITERALLY…laughing out loud! I love your writing so much!

    I just read a really funny article today about interview questions for perfume and fragrance sales. I wish I could find it now, but actually, you should just write your own. Yours would be much better!

    ~Michelle for Primal Mist Perfumes

    1. This is an incredibly kind thing to say, thank you. I am finally considering seriously pursuing writing after many years of science, and your words are so encouraging and heartening.

  4. During my last trip to Sephora, the sales associate ignored me until I started picking up perfume bottles, at which point she asked, “Can I make you some samples to take home?”

    It was the best SA experience of my life! 😉

    I wish they could all be like that… great post Ari!!

  5. Very entertaining.

    The most frustrating experience for me is the SA statement, “It’s been discontinued,” when what they really mean, or all they really know, is “We no longer carry it.”
    Before the age of the internet and perfume blogs (yes, I am that doddering) I often accepted this statement at face value.

    One of the advantages of looking my age (don’t colour my hair) is that I can usually fend off the “hot new light clean l’eau fresh fruity” pressure by asking for something “more substantial” which the SAs somewhat willingly translate into their definition of “old lady scent.”

    Have to agree with Dee that I have had SAs at Sephora offer to make (generous spray) samples and thought that was standard practice there.

    1. I find that really frustrating too. Or even worse is “That never existed”! And then they look at you like you’re hallucinating when you insist that it did.

  6. As a reading, I enjoyed the post. Thanks for the laugh I had.

    As a personal experience… I don’t know, in the last couple of years I came across mosty either helpful or at least completely not interfering SAs.

    The weirdest experience I recently had with one SA at the Tom Ford’s counter: after a couple of minutes of a discussion (which means I cannot assume he didn’t understand me) about which scents from the Private Blend each of us preferred, I asked how Tuscan Leather develops on the skin. In response he got a blotter, sprayed it and handed it to me…

    1. Ha! Love the Tom Ford story! I think that part of my negative experiences with perfume salespeople is that I do not look like someone with a great deal of buying power. I am 5 feet tall and look 15 years old. Salespeople actively snob me. I am glad to hear that other people are having more positive experiences!

  7. I have nothing to report.

    This is because I live in the sticks, and my local mall only has a Belk, and the mall an hour away only has Belk and Macy’s, and the SAs there are very friendly and unpushy and perfectly pleasant to talk to and comPLETEly ignorant of anything other than the facts that Chanel makes No. 5 and Coco Mlle and a few other things that they’ve never smelled in their lives, that Guerlain only makes Shamilar (pronounced that way), and that the hottest thing on the sales floor right now is SOMEDAY by Justin Bieber.

    At least they don’t make me feel stupid and unworthy. I gain absolutely nothing from the interaction other than the wish that I should have a nice day, which is at least acceptable social manners.

  8. However, I will have to keep the where-are-you-hiding-the-Klingon-sales-force technique handy for visits to the Richmond malls. Or perhaps if I go visit my SIL in Chantilly we’ll go hit Tyson’s Corner and I’ll get to practice these…

    1. Mals, if you do visit your SIL, please please please let me know! It would be such a pleasure to meet you (and Bookworm, if she can make it!). We will shame them for their blatant discrimination against Klingons together!

  9. Absolutely hilarious! Socialists! The dept store counters here are small enough that the same person has to cover ALL the perfumes. There is just no way that they can know about everything, so I don’t expect anything. I have been offered Light Blue and Pink Sugar way too many times, but I just tell them I’m not interested and keep sniffing. The Hermes boutique is an exception (and the only fancypants store we have here in SD) – they have to only know about one line so they are knowledgeable and ridiculously generous with the big samples. Love them.

    1. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it! That Hermes stores sounds like heaven. I have only tried a very few Hermes because they can be hard to find, and very expensive once they are found.

      1. If there’s anything specific you want to try, let me know! I think you like gourmands, so Ambre Narguile is a must try!

  10. I absolutely loved this post even though I have just written one whose title includes the phrase “the sample-scoring power of a good coat”. Yes, I am convinced that my snaffling not one but two 4ml vials of Hermes Santal Massoia recently was directly correlated with my “statement puffa coat”, if that is not a contradiction in terms.

    And of course if one were to be pedantic, there are educated SAs outside of NYC and France, not least our very own nickgblue in London! But I take a satirical post as glorious as this with a goodly pinch of poetic licence.

    As for my own MO, speaking as a woman of a certain age, not much height and tinted hair, I will actively engage with SAs (in a controlled manner) for the specific purpose of sample acquisition, and that’s about it. My response when unilaterally accosted is to say: “I know most perfumes, thank you, but I am checking to see whether there might just be one or two new things I haven’t come across”. That usually shuts them up pretty quick.

    1. I loved your post, too! Clearly there is more than one way to skin a cat (eee, I hate that saying)! I am sure that most European countries have better salespeople than their American counterparts. I would be flabbergasted to come across a salesperson as knowledgeable as nickgblue!

  11. This is a hilarious article. I enjoy the blank stares I get when I answer the question “What do you usually wear?”, since of course they have never heard of any of the brands i mention.

    I think im gonna pass on the advice about looking like a hobo, as there might be other people i actually do want to interact with. A fair number of SA’s recognize me by now anyway, and know i dont need their help.

    1. I’m impressed that they even ask you what you usually wear! The salespeople around my parts assume that everyone wants to smell like Light Blue or Pink Sugar. Preferences? What are those???
      I guess it’s okay if you don’t want to dress like a hobo. But I have to tell you, I think you’re missing out!

  12. Really, really funny and well-written article.

    The main thing that seems to keep salespeople from coming at me is to tell them, promptly, something like, “Oh, I’m not buying anything today, I’m just sniffing things.” “Just sniffing” doesn’t cut it; it’s essential that “not buying anything” is stated clearly. At the Macy’s that I used to frequent they would veer off in a “why did you waste my time?” manner, as if I had approached them. At Neiman Marcus they smile politely and go away and don’t approach me again.

    1. Thank you very much! I have very bad luck at Neiman Marcus, again probably because I do not appear to have much buying power. I remember one saleswoman who, after I politely said that I did not care for her first perfume suggestion, refused to show me any others.

      1. I must have had bad luck with Macy’s and good luck with Neiman Marcus. The SAs at our local Macy’s were dreadful, and while the Neiman Marcus people did clearly like me better when I was dressed up, they were still faultlessly nice when I was in there in grubby jeans. But I’ve heard more or less the opposite, about other branches of those stores.


    I usually make a triumphalist entrance, smiling first, then I look to the shelves full of perfumes and the pupils of my eyes dilate and grow larger (an effective melodramatic tool), and they automatically understand I’m a geek, or in the worst case a dangerous maniac.

    If, even then, they were coming at me and I had to listen to their whole ridiculous spiels (getting the picture that every smell they’d suggest will makes me feel sick), that means I met someone who’s dumb, stupid or not worthy of respect, so I’d stop the flow using the eternal question “are you working hard or hardly working?” … followed by an “Please shut up, It’s a total mess, you’re boring me to death!”. And then nothing feels the same, everything changes.
    I feel lonely again, I feel free to smell everything I want … and when I leave the shop, I wonder if they could learn to forgive me, totally unwilling to choose between Light and Dark…… perfumes. 😀

  14. Neiman Marcus salespeople are for accosting…they really won’t approach you.
    Ari, such wonderful writing! I’m so glad you’ve ventured back from the deep, dark hole of biological terror. It’s so enjoyable to read this while I pretend like finals period isn’t real and I am just relaxing for an hour where I have nothing else in the world to do.
    But really, I do miss you and hope that I will be able to see you while I’m home between Dec.28th and Jan.6?

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