The Problem with Parfum Prices

Recently, I’ve become rather perplexed at how the various concentrations of a perfume are priced. For many, the extrait (also known as parfum) concentrations of perfumes are often deemed to be the best of all concentrations, because they are plusher, richer and fuller etc. etc. Obviously, this varies depending on one’s personal preferences. But I’m not so much interested in discussing anyone’s preferences regarding concentrations as I am with the pricing strategies of companies with regard to the various perfume concentrations.

Have you ever noticed that the extrait concentrations of perfumes tend to be rather extravagantly priced? I certainly thought so, so I did some snooping around on the web for a comparison of prices. For the purposes of my research, I decided upon Guerlain‘s Shalimar, since it is well-known and discussions about the various concentrations are well-documented on online forums such as Basenotes and Fragrantica. Here’s what I found on online perfume retailer Escentual:

Shalimar Eau de ToiletteShalimar Eau de ParfumShalimar ExtraitSince prices per ml vary even within the same concentration (e.g. the extrait costs £10.08/ml if you buy the 7.5ml bottle, and £6.06/ml if you buy the 30ml bottle), I decided to use the price per ml of the largest bottle size for each perfume concentration.

This works out at £0.72 for the Eau de Toilette, £0.81 for the Eau de Parfum and a whopping £6.06 for the Extrait.

I’m not sure if alarm bells are ringing in your head right now, but in my head, the reality of the ridiculous, incommensurate prices of the extrait concentration clanged louder than the clashing gongs of a vigorous lion dance during the Lunar New Year.

As I wasn’t sure what the exact percentage of oils for each concentration of Shalimar was, I decided to assume that the EDT had 10% concentration, the EDP had 20% concentration, and the Extrait had 30% concentration. Now, I know that the percentage of oils in each concentration varies across perfumes, so I do urge you to view these figures only as a ballpark that doesn’t apply across the board, but which will have to suffice for the purposes of demonstration here. Let’s do some mathematics.

source: wikipedia.com

Using my rudimentary logic, I hypothesised that an EDP ought to cost twice as much per ml as an EDT, and that an Extrait ought to cost three times as much per ml as an EDT, and 1.5 times per ml as much as an EDP.

It turns out that in reality, the EDP of Shalimar works out to cost 1.125 times per ml as the EDT and the Extrait costs 8.417 times per ml as the EDT and 7.481 times per ml as the EDP. It seems as though that in the case of Shalimar, the EDP would be the most ‘value-for-money’ in terms of how much perfume oil one would get.

Hypothetically speaking, if pricing decisions were to be made purely based on the concentration of oils in a perfume, then the price per ml of the Extrait should be (1.5 X £0.81) = £1.215. But we find that at the current price of £6.06 per ml, the Extrait costs a whopping FIVE TIMES more than it really should. [Note: I’m comparing it to the price of the EDP and not the EDT since that would work out to the most oil per pound paid. Hey, I have the license to manipulate the statistics in a way that best demonstrates my point! 😀 ]

What should we make of this? Perhaps we might try to explain this difference in pricing by considering that, perhaps, the bottle of the Extrait concentration costs more than the bottles of the other concentrations. Well, the Extrait bottle is SMALLER than the others, so technically there’s less glass used, and so should really cost less. Ok sure, they added a tassel here, or a ribbon there, or a little trinket on the cap etc. etc. That costs like, what, £0.01? Or perhaps we might appeal to the notion that the Extrait concentration of perfumes usually differs not just in concentration, but also in composition of ingredients. So it might use a higher concentration of a more expensive ingredient, say orris, for example. Fair enough, but would that lead to a five times increase in price? Call me a sceptic/cynic, but I honestly don’t think so, although I don’t have any concrete evidence to prove this (you can blame the perfume companies for their secrecy).

So what really explains this difference in pricing? I speculate that perfume companies price the Extrait concentrations at these levels primarily because it’s good for their profit margins. I suspect that with the extraits, perfume companies price them in this manner in order to market them as ‘luxury’ goods meant only for the extremely well-heeled who have mountains of dollars to throw at them.

Question [feel free to leave comments below!]

Is the Extrait concentration really worth all that money? Would you still buy the Extrait concentration knowing, at the back of your head, that you are in some way being ‘conned’ of your money?

And now, to demonstrate the illogicality of how a perfumista’s brain works, I’m off to dab on some Coco Chanel Extrait.

I’m just glad I got it for £6.50 off eBay.

~ The Smelly Vagabond

Pssst… There’ll be a lovely post and giveaway tomorrow, so don’t forget to drop by the blog! 🙂

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22 thoughts on “The Problem with Parfum Prices

  1. Hey there Smelly Vagabond,
    I think some of the difference may be in volume sold. I think that every Extrait that gets sold would be times 5,000 or more of the EdP or EdT. Also that means that making the EdT/P bottles would run much cheaper. There is also no case for the EdP/T in the box and I think the extrait bottle itself would be more labour intensive to produce, with the lovely saphire blue dabber.
    The pump pack comes with the Habit de Fête cage but the refill is less pricey.
    I don’t know these things, it’s just speculation.
    Give me the extrait any day.
    Portia xx

    • Dear Portia,

      I did consider that there might be economies of scale when it comes to the production of EDT and EDP bottles, but even so, I do think that at the scale some companies produce extraits, the costs would have to be mighty low even then. And even though I’m a huge, huge fan of Vero Profumo, I would never be tempted to pay £151.19 for 7.5ml of Rubj extrait, as compared to £156 for 50ml of Rubj EDP. I suppose if I were a multi-millionaire, I might be able to afford the extraits, but I think the money would be better spent on helping others instead. I spend too much money as it is on perfume already!

  2. I don’t have that much experience with being able to compare between the extrait and other concentrations of the same fragrance, but even for those few that I have compared, the results have varied. Bois des Iles was a much richer experience in extrait than in the modern EDT – different enough for me to want to get hold of a little bottle of extrait even though I have a monster bottle of EDT that I apply with abandon. On the other hand, with some of the Roja Doves I’ve tried I actually prefer the lighter EDT, so the premium for the extrait is not worth it at all for me (even if, according to an article I read on Olfactoria’s Travels, Mr Dove would prefer only to offer the extrait version).

    • Dear Sarah,

      Thanks for your thoughts. The only experience I have with trying on the extraits is when they are available at department stores! But most definitely, the experience varies from person to person. I don’t own many extraits myself, and when I do, they are always snagged cheaply off eBay.

  3. Dear Vagabond, as you already know in many cases the different between EdP and Extrait differs not only in concentration but in formula and in quality of ingredients.
    I go for extraits whenever possible (availability, price) because I get a more satisfying experience from them, they smell fuller to me. Also I don’t mind dabbing (I am not too fond of extraits that come in spray form).
    In some cases, such as Vero Profumo voiles d’extrait, I might opt for the VdE formulation which in most cases (except for Onda) I find as beautiful as the perfume.
    Cheers,

    Caro

    • Dear Caro,

      Yeah, I do agree that the formula and quality of ingredients might differ, but I just don’t believe that the price accurately reflects the costs. For me, extraits are indeed fuller and rounder, but I’m not that big a fan of dabbing because sometimes I just want to project my fragrance everywhere!

      • To tell the truth, I think most of the things we regularly consume do not reflect the costs accurately. If said thing (such as it happens with fragrance) is something I derive a lot of pleasure from, I really don’t care if I am being “robbed” by a company.
        Agree with the projection bit. Perhaps what I like best about dabbing is that it becomes sort of a special ritual.

  4. Dearest Vagabond
    An interesting piece. And i guess it differs from perfume to perfume (actually, Shalimar I currently prefer in the EdP to the extrait!).
    Generally speaking though the experience is quite noticeable, particularly in the older scents by Guerlain and Chanel.
    Of course there are some fragrances only available as extrait… yes Caron, we’re talking about you! Which is a different conversation.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Dear Perfumed Dandy,

      I do enjoy the extraits, but find them far too expensive to want to own them. I’ve also found that the current formulations of some of the Guerlain extraits don’t hold a candle to their EDC or PDT counterparts, among them L’Heure Bleue. All that said, I would give anything to have the extrait of Après l’Ondée! I had the good fortune to smell it once and I went to heaven and back.

      • Dearest Vagabond
        Yes. The EDC and PDTs of od were something to behold. I’m with you on the current L’Heure Bleue, though I think both Mitsouko and Jicky are better.
        Apres l’Ondee…. yes, it’s interesting, for a perfume about delicacy it does work particularly well in the more concentrated format, do they still make it though?
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • Dear Perfumed Dandy,

        Unfortunately my dearest Après l’Ondée is but a whisper of the past, although I am haunted by the beauty of her memory. Alas, no, she hasn’t been in production for quite some time now. A friend of mine managed to get one on eBay, but at the cost of over £500 methinks.

  5. Carol Duke Since I am a VERY small niche perfumer, working in naturals, I want to answer from my point of view: i looked at the smellyvagabond site just to confirm my guess that he/she has never actually tried to CREATE perfume and so has NO idea of the cost of t…See More
    18 minutes ago · Like · 1

    Carol Duke continued…..quality of the perfume itself. This is the whole concept of a package being consistent with the presentation. I could bottle my perfumes in small little green bottles that I have purchased long ago for a mere fraction of the cost of my present bottles, but, with retail markup, they still would be expensive and not perceived as valuable….
    16 minutes ago · Like · 2

    Carol Duke any ideas, anyone?
    15 minutes ago · Like · 2

    Ida Meister Carol, small independent perfumers are in a class by themselves, I strongly feel
    Large , moneyed corporations may do exactly as they please, or those with enough funding to package in an outrageously luxe manner.
    As illustrated by Guerlain and others (and I was first a Guerlain girl).
    12 minutes ago · Like

    Carol Duke i did love Guerlain and Hermes and poca Robanne—-we had no choice many tyears ago.
    10 minutes ago · Like

    Carol Duke But when the person with no real idea of what challenges we face comments on the pricing, it is frustrating. if a commercial perfumer creates a fragrance with non-naturals, they are a tiny fraction of an essential oil. So it hardly matters that the concentration is that much higher, say 3-4x higher if the actual ingredient cost is quite low. But take a natural fragrance and make it 4 times more product….. wow…you have some very expensive product!
    about a minute ago · L

    • Dear Carol,

      I wanted to apologise first of all if my post rattled you in any way; I didn’t mean for that to happen, and I thank you for sharing your perspective from an independent perfumer’s point of view. To address your points, I am cognisant of the cost of raw materials; although I have never addressed that question on the blog, I have myself looked into the cost of raw ingredients, as I was once enamoured by the thought of being a perfumer. I do think costs really are quite prohibitive if one isn’t buying in bulk, and this certainly adds up to overall costs. Regarding bottles, again there is the question of economies of scale. While indie perfumers such as you may have chosen to go with more expensive bottles to reflect the ‘luxury’ of the product, this isn’t necessarily the case with large corporations. And sometimes, even with indie perfumers operating on a small scale, I don’t believe the cost of the bottle is as exorbitant as may be claimed. I have seen the exact same bottle used by certain brands going for £1.25 online, and that’s not even at a wholesale price. Yet the price charged for the perfumes is exorbitant, even adjusting for the cost of ingredients, time and effort of the perfumer, shipping etc. etc. So while it may not be the case with you, I do believe some large companies, and even perhaps some indie perfumers, exploit the concept of an ‘extrait’ to increase their profit margins.

      At the end of the day, my issue was more with large corporations for whom the costs really are a fraction of the price anyway, sometimes as little as $5 a bottle. I’ve got the extrait of Guerlain’s Insolence myself, and bought it when it was on sale for £12.50. Even at this price, the company still makes a profit. When I think of how they regularly charge £75.60 for the extrait, I can only wonder how much of my money goes into profits.

      Ultimately, it’s up to companies to choose what they want to do, and if we really like something, we’re going to pay for it anyway even if we know that we are being ‘conned’ in some way. In this way we ‘vote’ with our dollar. But in order to do that, we do need to make more informed choices, and if my humble post managed to get people thinking about the potential discrepancies in prices, then I’m content with that.

  6. Not that I think that a company has to justify their prices for any of the luxury goods they sell (free market and all that stuff, you know 😉 ) but in case you were actually curious to get some ideas as to what might go into the price of the extrait bottle, in addition to a much more limited distribution, volume of sales, much more expensive packaging (smaller bottle might be more expensive to produce) and much more expensive ingredients – all of which might contribute a lot to the price increase – here’s one of the recent articles at Bois de Jasmin that gives a couple more insights into what goes into each bottle of extrait.

    But if you just wanted to vent – sorry and disregard 🙂

    • Dear Undina,

      Thanks for the informative link, I certainly learnt something today! That said, Victoria herself notes that “Guerlain has not always used baudruchage on its bottles, and my bottle of Nahéma from 2012 doesn’t have it.” I’m not sure whether the current extraits on the market still employ that technique, as I haven’t bought any in recent years, and one can’t really tell when the bottles are hidden away in boxes!

      Even considering all these factors, I still have a niggling feeling that it shouldn’t contribute to the stark difference of roughly five times the price if based solely on ingredients alone. If we consider the baudrucheuses who seal the bottle, they can seal around 100 per hour. Given that this might be considered relatively unskilled labour (I’m only speculating, I don’t know how much practice is required), they would be paid £6.31 per hour (minimum wage) if they were working in the UK. That said, such work would probably be outsourced to where labour is cheapest, so even £6.31 per hour would be on the higher range of what they would be paid. That works out to £0.0631 per bottle, which really is rather negligible.

      • I can tell you aren’t a business person! (neither am I but I’m older ;-P )

        First of all, extraits are made in France so no outsourcing for a cheap labor.

        Next – you should not just shake off those other costs. Better raw materials might add a lot of costs (somebody has to constantly source them, they need to be transported, stored, etc.). Better quality + lower volumes = higher prices.

        The extrait bottle is much more complex and expensive than (especially the newest) EdP bottle.

        Then, 9.53 EUR per hour is the minimum wage in France. In addition to salaries an employer must pay a 13th month’s salary, five weeks’ paid annual holiday (I’m not sure if it includes national holidays or those are extra) and 40 to 60 per cent in social security contributions. Also (not sure if it’s mandatory) companies pay travel costs from employee’s home to work and lunch allowance or provide lunch vouchers. Plus, as it happens with actual employees (as an opposite to automated factory line), there will be sick days, cost of training new employees, additional costs of rent, heat, water, etc. And you need to add management costs, HR, etc., etc.

        I’m 100% sure that all these costs (and those that I haven’t thought of) wouldn’t account for the price difference. But why would anybody go through all these troubles just to get an extra couple of % profit on a luxury item?!! After all, if it doesn’t make a difference to you (and other customers) we’ll stop buying extraits – and companies stops making them (or they’ll become even more rare, exclusive and expensive).

        The ironic thing is that I don’t even like Shalimar and think that it smells awful on me 😉

  7. Found this post – and all the comments quite fascinating! My first thought was the expense of the small bottle – tooling costs would be very high, amortised over a low volume. Then the more expensive ingredients would account for some of the disparity, meaning that a straight ‘multiplicatory’ factor of price per ml won’t fly. I may have made that word up. 😉 Then there is still probably some wiggle room in there for luxe pricing, but one can only speculate how much…

  8. I’m sure that numerous reasons for the extrait costing more; ingredients probably being the biggest reason. I am also sure that there is a premium just for “extrait”. In any case, I always go for the extrait if I can bear the cost. I usually find that they make me much happier as you state, they are general richer, deeper and more full bodied. Great subject.

    • Dear Scented Hound,
      Yes, there are times when only something rich, deep and full-bodied will cut it. That said, I think my general preference is for projection. I can’t spend half my time sniffing my wrist when I’m out in public!

  9. I tend to agree with Portia – it has to do to a large degree with the economies of scale.

    Here’s another related point though: the market for extraits. A simple question: who buys them? I believe the majority of extrait buyers are either loyal customers of a certain fragrance (e.g. ladies who always wear Shalimar) or connoisseurs. I don’t think the average Joe or Jane buy extraits – they are harder to wear, harder to sample and harder to sell.

    Perfume companies have figured that out and charge more for them. Extraits are dubbed as the ultimate luxury fragrance item. Companies take advantage of that and charge premium just to make more money.

    Let’s look at analogous example: Tom Ford’s regular line and the Private Blend. Between the two you have quite a bit of a price differential. Could you argue that the Private Blend is includes higher quality fragrances? Sure, maybe some of the ingredients are of higher quality and and the concentration may be higher but as we agreed, this is not really the price driver. The packaging, perfumer’s commission and distribution are likely at about the same cost.

    What I think really drives the price difference is the different markets. The Private Blend is for the high end luxury market and connoisseurs. They would pay higher prices either because it is not a big deal or because they must have it. The higher prices also support the “luxury” and “exclusivity” image. Many people judge the quality of a product only based on the price: if it’s expensive, it must be good. It’s not always true, but it’s a way of thinking.

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