One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Empty Promises

I had a mildly strange experience at a department store this past weekend.

On Friday I'd popped into The Bay (a Canadian chain of stores formerly known as the Hudson's Bay Company, one of the world's oldest commercial enterprises) to get a couple of samples, if they were available, which, as you probably know, they rarely are. I couldn't find anybody to ask, because, like most retail stores nowadays, The Bay is grievously understaffed, so I just kind of nosed around, peering behind the shiny counter displays which are a favourite hiding place for samples of new fragrances.

Success! There was a poorly hidden bowl of samples of the new Estee Lauder, Sensuous, so I grabbed one (but only one--I'm not greedy) without feeling any guilt; they may try to hide them, but if they're on the counter and they're free, then I'm having one. Noodling over to the men's department, I noticed the display for the new Givenchy, Pi Neo, and to the left of that, three identical small cardboard boxes which seemed like a good bet to contain samples, which, according to the text on the top of each box, is just what they were. Since there were still no salespeople in evidence, I opened one of the boxes, snagged a couple of the foil envelopes (an inferior way of distributing samples, Givenchy), and was on my way.

On Sunday I was back at The Bay on a pants-finding mission, and while at the checkout (for the mission was a success), I noticed a huge banner for the new Lancome scent, Magnifique. I motored over to the Lancome counter, and that is where the strangeness started.

On the counter were two bowls full of samples. I picked one of the cardboard sleeves up, was empty. I picked up another and another; all empty. I went over to the other bowl; eight or ten cardboard sleeves, all empty. Huh, I thought; people are just grabbing the little spray vials and leaving the packaging behind! I figured it might well have been one person who emptied them all out, spiriting away twenty or so vials, a whole one-ounce bottle's worth; I wouldn't put it past some piggy customer to do that. (It's not as if there'd likely be a salesperson around to stop them.) I patiently waited for the saleswoman to finish her conversation with the Clinique rep and make her way over to me.

"These are all empty!" I said, gesturing to the sleeves.

"Yes. If we leave them there, customers just take them, and we don't have a chance to do a consultation with them and discuss the scent," the saleswoman said.

I put off processing this until later and just asked if she had a sample I could have. "It's the new women's scent from Lancome," she said, heading for the sample drawer while simultaneously trying to make sure I wasn't stupid enough to think that this might actually be a men's scent, what with the bright red colour and the picture of Anne Hathaway and the fact that it was in the women's fragrance department. I don't know why I should have to defend myself, but I said, "Yeah, I know, but I have to try everything that comes down the pike." Picking up the tester and sniffing it, I said, "Roses. Very nice!" in an effort to assuage her apparent discomfort. "Yes, it is lovely, isn't is?" she said as she handed me the sample. I thanked her and went on my way. On the way out, I noticed that the bowl of testers for Sensuous was on the Estee Lauder counter, and a quick check confirmed that all of these expensively printed card-stock folders were also empty.

To recap: someone at the company has decided that they should take all the samples, remove the actual sample part from them, and display the evidence thats samples exist, thereby demonstrating that they don't trust their own customers. They might well be right not to trust them, but to prove it? What on Earth does that accomplish other than making them look suspicious and small?

You know what would be a better idea? Nice little signs on the counters next to the display units reading "Now Sampling This Fragrance". It would alert customers that there was a freebie to be had (because surprisingly many people don't know that you can just ask for such a thing) while simultaneously ensuring that the salespeople get to talk up the fragrance. (They could then take down the sign when all the samples for that product were gone, thereby alerting people that they shouldn't waste their time waiting for a nonexistent sample.) But to tease a customer with the prospect of a sample and then pluck it away, while simultaneously confusing them and making them feel untrustworthy; well, what kind of a way is that for a commercial enterprise to generate goodwill?


  • Threadjack!

    Way back in May you reviewed Perfumes: The Guide and mentioned that one of its major failings was the lack of an index, a shortcoming mentioned in every write-up I saw.

    One of their readers did something about it. If you head over to and poke around, you'll find not only an Excel-spreadsheet-format index (on the "Corrections" page), but also a quarterly newsletter with 16 pages of new reviews.

    I hadn't heard about it until today, so I thought I'd mention it in case you've been similarly out of the loop.

    By Blogger D.J., at 6:45 PM  

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