There are new subscription services for perfume—are they worth it?
I just want to smell nice for a decent price.
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The first time I heard of a perfume subscription service, it was from the lips of a social media influencer. Influencer marketing is now the thing, with brands paying people with relatable—or fascinatingly unattainable—lifestyles to flash their products in front of the eyes of a captivated audience in a way that’s so natural, you think they’re just using that mascara or mattress because they happened upon it.
I’ve never been particularly interested in perfumes. My go-to fragrance for the past few years has been The Body Shop’s Shea Body Mist, which I plucked up from a T.J. Maxx shelf because I already knew I loved that scent in its Body Butter form. Prior to that discovery, I was content with Warm Vanilla Sugar from Bath & Body Works or nameless (read: I didn’t care enough to memorize the names) mists from Victoria’s Secret. You get the point—I’m not a fancy fragrance connoisseur.
Still, the right perfume can be a great investment. The fragrance of a perfume lasts on the skin longer than a body spray or lotion and it’s something you can indulge in every day for months before running out.
But how do you find the right one? I can get sick of sniffing scents quickly, so simply inhaling some tester bottles at Sephora isn’t going to do the trick—I need to wear and live in a perfume for a few weeks before spending the cash. Suddenly, I see what those influencers are selling.
What are the subscriptions?
As it turns out, monthly fragrance subscriptions are a hot commodity, with several companies investing in the idea. For my testing, though, I focused on three of the most popular ones: Scentbird, ScentBox, and Scent Trunk.
Scentbird: The mission of this company is to put an end to the “perfume graveyard,” which it refers to as the place where you house all of your unused, dusty perfume bottles that you thought you’d wear more than you do. To do this, Scentbird lets you sample any of 500+ brand-name perfumes in smaller packages before you welcome the full-size versions into your collection. When you sign up, the default subscription, priced at $14.95 per month, allows you to receive one perfume every 30 days. You can also upgrade to receive up to three perfumes a month for an additional $14.95 per perfume. If you agree to subscribe for three months, six months, or an entire year, your cost-per-bottle decreases (and you can cancel at any time, provided you give enough notice before your next bottle ships). As you receive scents in the mail, you can rate them, which can help you home in on exactly what you like. Each month, you’ll receive a small spray bottle containing about a quarter of an ounce (0.27 ounces, to be specific) that looks like a cylinder flask about the size of a ring finger with your new fragrance. If you’re not into the subscription idea, you can purchase any of the company’s perfumes in the same sample size but at a one-time, slightly more expensive price of $16.95. However, you won’t have the experience of switching up your scent every month as you would with the subscription. You also won’t receive a reusable case, which the cylinder slips into so you can roll the perfume up and down, with your perfume purchase, as you will with your first subscription order. Certain perfumes are available in full-size bottles for their retail price, though it appears that most are not.
ScentBox: ScentBox’s version of a perfume subscription service is practically identical to Scentbird’s. The company hopes to help you discover new perfumes you’ll love so that you can confidently buy them in the full-size form from the site. To do that, it asks you to add scents to your queue and it’ll send them to you. The site also has a “fragrance quiz” to help you decide on scents. Just as you do with Scentbird, you receive a 0.27 ounce spray bottle for $14.95 per month, which the company claims is four sprays a day for 31 days. Scentbox offers up to 850 different fragrances (compared to Scentbird’s claim of 500+), from brands like Gucci, Calvin Klein, and Victoria’s Secret. You can also purchase a one-time 0.27-ounce bottle for $16.95, or buy the full-sized bottle of any of its offerings for around their retail prices.
Scent Trunk: This service adds a different flare to fragrance sampling. Instead of choosing from preexisting name-brand perfumes, Scent Trunk helps you customize your own signature fragrance. First, you purchase an $8 “fit kit” that includes samples of six different scent families: citrus; woods; aromatic (described as herbal, fresh, and green); floral; amber (described as warm, sweet, deep); and chypre (described as green, earthy, mossy). The kit’s instructions say to roll each scent onto a different area of skin (I applied it to my arms, as it didn’t specify where), wait 15 seconds, then sniff. Then, you let Scent Trunk know which families of ingredients you want in your perfume and which scents you definitely don’t want. You’ll receive your sprayer (a tenth of an ounce smaller than Scentbird’s and ScentBox’s, at 0.17 ounces) containing a fragrance custom-mixed just for you soon after that. If you don’t like your personalized fragrance, Scent Trunk encourages you to email them and they will make a new one and send it free of charge. If you like your personalized scent, the subscription sends you a 0.17-ounce bottle for $16 every two weeks, month, or every other month (the company doesn’t make full-size bottles), but you can change up your scent as the seasons or your preferences change.
What is the ordering process like?
Scentbird: When you create an account with Scentbird, you’re sent straight to a purchase page indicating that you’re buying the subscription for $14.95 a month with free shipping, and asking for your credit card and shipping address up front. I found this off-putting; however, as I was planning to buy the monthly subscription (as opposed to a one-time purchase), it made things easier. From there, you’re able to go to the perfume section and select the fragrances you’d like to receive, filling up to all 12 months at once, if desired. If you never rearrange your scents, they will send in that order, but you can log in and make changes before each perfume ships.
Once I understood that making those selections up front was optional, I felt that the process was quick and easy. I chose Glossier You as my first month’s perfume, one I’ve wanted to try for a while but didn’t have access to because the closest showroom was in New York (they’ve since popped up in Boston, where I am).
ScentBox: After placing my Scentbird order, I wasn’t surprised when ScentBox also asked for my credit card information before it asked for my fragrance preferences. The process, again, mimicked that of Scentbird’s.
For my first perfume, I opted for Gucci Guilty for no reason than I once heard a YouTuber talk about enjoying the scent and I wasn’t lusting after any particular perfume apart from Glossier’s You (which wasn’t available at ScentBox anyway).
Scent Trunk: Because Scent Trunk has the extra step of sampling the fragrance notes and customizing a bottle, its ordering process is more complicated. I received the sample kit in the mail days after ordering. I applied the fragrance notes to my arms, then took the quiz regarding which scents I liked the most, which one or two I’d like added for “some creativity”, and which I’d like to avoid. Based on my answers, my theme would be citrus with compliments of floral, and avoiding wood, aromatic, amber, and chypre. The site also asks what some of your favorite fragrances are, so I added Shea from The Body Shop and Warm Vanilla Sugar from Bath & Body Works.
At the end of the quiz, a list populated a handful of options of what my customized formulas could look like, all with different concentrations of the same ingredients. I chose an option that had vanilla and iris as the base notes (I assume they added vanilla based on me adding Warm Vanilla Sugar to my favorites list), orange and petitgrain (an essential oil from the leaves and twigs of a bitter orange tree) as top notes, and geranium and rose as middle notes.
My customized bottle showed up days later with a note from my fragrance formulator, whose name is Sarah, saying: “At the top, you’ll meet a light, fresh feeling blend of oranges: orange flowers, sweet orange, and petitgrain essential oil made with the leaves and pips from the bergamont harvest. Floral notes of geranium, rose and flowers settle gently on a deeper iris base, softened by vanilla.”
Is what you get any good?
Scentbird and ScentBox: I happened to love the Glossier You perfume that I got from Scentbird. If I hadn’t, though, I could have continued cycling through new fragrances each month until I found my new favorite. Same with Scent Box, which is what I’ll do—Gucci Guilty was fine, but not a new favorite like the Glossier.
For this reason, I think these two brands do what they claim. You get to try new scents every month, and you gamble with whether or not you’ll love them or you’ll be stuck with a new “graveyard” occupant. Regardless, after receiving the first shipment, you have just under a month to log into your account (on either site) to decide what sample-size fragrance you want to receive the next month if you haven’t already queued one, or whether you want to cancel (more on that in a moment).
Scent Trunk: This subscription particularly excited me because who wouldn’t want a customized perfume that hints at all of your favorite smells? Plus, it was fun to play a role in creating this me-specific formula. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it. It didn’t smell bad, but it smelled more like baby powder than I’d like—and I don’t want it to smell powdery at all. I can identify the vanilla, orange, and floral notes, as promised, but I just wasn’t attracted to the scent and found that I never wanted to put it on. I spritzed it on my wrist once in the office and one coworker told me she liked it, while another coworker left to work in another room. I didn’t find my perfect scent, but I wouldn’t say the company failed at taking into account what I said I liked. I emailed to say I wasn’t satisfied, and received a reply stating that if the scent I received was close to what I desired, I could send the company a description of what I’d like tweaked (if there are specific notes I’d like added, or if it’s too sweet or sharp), and they would adjust accordingly and send me a new sample. If the scent was completely wrong, re-taking the quiz is the best way to go about changing my fragrance, according to the company representative. I’ll update this story if the replacement fragrance is more to my liking.
Is cancelling easy?
Scentbird: Canceling was intuitive—I’ve had to go to the “help” page for other subscriptions— but lengthy. The company pulls out all the stops to keep you from cancelling your subscription. It makes the “cancel” button gray while making the “nevermind” button hot pink. It also leads you through multiple pages, all of which you have to seek out the appropriate button to continue with your cancellation. Scentbird even offers you $5 toward your purchase to stay, which I declined. I didn’t have to call or email, but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience.
ScentBox: Canceling was very easy. One button and you’re done, with an email confirmation sent for finality.
Scent Trunk: Similar to ScentBox, this was a one-and-done situation.
Are they worth it?
If you’re like me and haven’t experimented much with fragrance, I think subscriptions like Scentbird and Scentbox that let you choose preexisting scents are the better way to go about it. Trying to smell bottles in stores isn’t helpful, in my opinion. Exhibit A: When I went to Glossier’s Boston pop-up, I sniffed the bottle of You and couldn’t get a good read on the scent at all, even though I knew from my experience wearing Scentbird’s sample that I loved it. And why invest in a full-size bottle of perfume if you’re not sure you’ll love it on your skin? Part of the appeal of these subscriptions is that you are able to see how each perfume reacts with your natural scent.
As for Scent Trunk, I love the concept and have no complaints about the actual subscription process, but I wasn’t a fan of the results. If you’re interested in seeing how the company customizes your scent, I say give it a try.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.