By definition, I should think, the true perfumista wants to try everything, or at least, very nearly everything. If you're lucky (much luckier than I) you can afford to just buy all the latest perfumes unsniffed, but the rest of us have to make do with samples. Here are a few tips for getting your hands on samples of the latest fragrances:
Beg at brick 'n mortar stores
For many fragrances, especially new mainstream releases, about the only way to get a sample is to go to a store in-person and ask for one. Nordstrom and Sephora top my list of the absolute best foraging grounds: both stores will happily give you a carded sample (i.e., a sample from the manufacturer, usually attached to a card or folded enclosure) if they have one; if they don't, they will happily decant a sample for you. Nordstrom uses little glass vials; Sephora uses plastic atomizers. Being given a sample on demand makes me inordinately happy; if I was the sort of person willing to pay full price for a bottle of fragrance, I would do all my perfume-buying at Nordstrom and Sephora. As I am most emphatically not the sort of person willing to pay full price for perfume when I don't have to, I try to buy all my other makeup and beauty things at those stores.
Unfortunately, the "free samples on demand" policy is pretty much limited to those two stores; nobody else comes even close to that level of customer service. Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus (at least, my local stores) will usually give a carded sample if they have one, but of course, they don’t always have them. I have never managed to cadge a single carded sample out of Macy's or Lord & Taylor.
If you have no shame (and why have shame?) you can carry empty glass vials with you and ask if the store will allow you to make your own sample. This is rather hit or miss, but in general, I find the higher-end stores are much more likely to give permission than the lower-end stores. Bergdorf Goodman has allowed me to make samples any number of times, so have Saks, Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Takashimaya and Bloomingdales. Once, and once only, I was given permission to make samples at my local Macy's, and within minutes a manager materialized from out of nowhere and very nearly threw my friend and I out of the store. Thanks, Macy’s!
Smaller stores, again, are hit or miss. The Coach boutique I visited last month was passing out samples of their new fragrance to anyone who asked. Hermès is generally very nice about samples when they have them, especially at the flagship store in New York. L’Occitane gives them out when they have them, but they almost never do have them.
Beg or buy directly from the manufacturer
Another option, if the company has a website, is to write and ask if they will send you a sample. Some will, some won’t, but it is always worth a try. Some of the larger companies post free sample offers online right around the time a fragrance is launched. Unfortunately, they often take 4-6 weeks to mail them, and when they do, what you get is frequently one of those little liquid “bubbles” on a card or a pre-moistened towelette. I find either very nearly as useless as a magazine scent strip.
Another tip: if you find a website specifically devoted to an upcoming fragrance release, take the time to enter your name and address if there is a place to do so. When Hermès launched Terre d’Hermès, their teaser website allowed you to enter a name and address (and it was not at all clear what for), if you did, you received a 10 ml miniature bottle of the fragrance after it was released.
Some of the niche lines sell samples of their products online. A no doubt far-from-complete list: Abinoam, Aftelier, Amouage, Antonia's Flowers, Anya's Garden, Apothia, AromaM, Art of Perfumery, Ava Luxe, Ayala Moriel, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, CB I Hate Perfume, Creative Scentualization, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Eadward, Ebba, Fresh Scents by Terri, Ineke, Lagniappe Oaks, La Via del Profumo, Les Nez, Liz Zorn, Miller Harris, Miriam Mirani (Aqaba), Ormonde Jayne, Penhaligons (see their "Fragrance Library", picture at top right), Rich Hippie, Sonoma Scent Studio, Strange Invisible Perfumes, Tauer Perfumes.
Buy samples from online boutiques
There are very few online stores selling samples of mainstream scents, but check Beauty Encounter and Parfums Raffy (Raffy also carries some niche brands). Both of these stores sell carded samples only.
If it’s niche fragrances you’re after, you’re in luck – there are lots of great online boutiques with sample programs: try Aedes (7 samples for $15), Beauty Cafe (5 samples for $5, but only with an order), Beautyhabit (6 samples for $11), First-in-Fragrance (Germany, individually priced), La Crème Beauty (8 samples for $15), Les Senteurs (London, 6 samples for £15), Luckyscent (samples individually priced). All of these stores will send carded samples when they have them in stock, when they don’t, they’ll send you a decanted sample vial if they can. Most of these stores ask that you provide one or two alternates in case they don't have all of the fragrances you're looking for.
Buy them on ebay
There are any number of ebay sellers and stores devoted to selling decants and samples of fragrances, both niche and mainstream. You won't find everything on ebay, but you'll find a pretty decent selection ranging from the latest celebrity launches to the hard-to-find exclusives from Serge Lutens. If they don't have the fragrance you want, try entering a "Favorite Search" so that ebay will send you an email when your item comes up for sale.
I have had very good luck on ebay, but I am sure some stores/sellers are better than others. Checking a seller’s feedback is one obvious way to make sure you’re dealing with someone reputable; another is to post a query on one of the fragrance forums.
[Update: shortly after I wrote this article, new ebay rules halted the sale of decanted fragrances. Carded samples and partial bottles can still be found, but the selection is nothing like it once was.]
Once you have a bunch of samples, you can trade them for more by swapping. Swapping article is coming up next week!
Please comment if you know of any other stores or manufacturers with sample programs, or if you have other advice for obtaining samples.
Update 2: here are a few more sources for samples:
Mainstream samples ~ Scentmonkey.
Niche retailers ~ Home 101 Apothecary, Hampton Court, Your Cosmetics, Four Seasons.
Niche perfume lines ~ Anne Pliska, Gendarme, L'Artisan, Michael Storer, Histoires de Parfums, Les Parfums de Rosine. Yves Rocher does not sell samples per se, but their miniatures are very reasonably priced.
Decants ~ The Perfumed Court, The Posh Peasant.
Update 3: here, at long last, is the article on swapping perfume.
Great article! I find that it is often more difficult to get a sample of a department store fragrance than of some obscure niche release.
LOL at “If you have no shame (and why have shame?)”. Great article!!
Very good advice, as usual, R.
I had the Penhaligon's Scent Library you used to illustrate your post in my Swap Items on MUA for at least two years. No one showed any interest in it. In the end, I sold it on eBay.
Very true — if it is a Macy's exclusive, I pretty much give up.
Addicts can't afford to have shame
I am always surprised by which items generate interest from swappers and which don't — more than once I was sure I'd find a taker for something immediately, and like you eventually had to give up.
Robin, this is a great series, Perfumista Basics. I'm printing off the articles for future reference. I especially needed the decanting instructions. =:-0
I believe Beauty Cafe will only sell samples with the purchase of another item. At least, that's how I interpret the notice on their site.
Thanks — that is how I would interpret it too, and I've fixed the article!
Great tips, R! I've never had the moxy to ask that they fill a sample vial for me, though I've carried some around – you have inspired me to ask next time. I love the look of the Penhaglions library above – I believe they are the company with that Opus 1870 that I keep meaning to try. (Oops, checked the website and 1870 is not included in the cute little set – darn!)
My tip for going directly to the boutiques (Chanel, Dior, etc.) is to always say you are already wearing something when they go to spray you. They sometimes produce a sample, then, and you are usually telling the truth anyways.
Saying you are already wearing something is a great idea. At the men's counter, I also find it productive to say I think my husband will love this, could you give me a sample to take to him? That often works. Wish I could get my dh to go to the mall and get all my samples, he would probably do well at the women's counter with the same line.
Great article, R! Have you considered writing an ABC of Perfumania? It would sell like hotcakes
That's a good idea for getting samples of male frags. I always get scandalised looks and reminders that it's a MAN's scent.
You are very kind
So true — you would really think that a woman standing behind the men's counter would be tempted to try a few of the scents, but it appears they rarely if ever do!
Robin, excellent article as always. I just got two sets of samples today. One from Lucky Scent and another from Aedes De Venustas. I'll gladly swap my vials of Mono de Orio/Carnation or Yosh/Stargazer. Beautiful fragrances, but just not me.
Feel free to contact me.
Contact Beauty Cafe via email. They are in Historic Downtown Plano, TX and tell Lisa that Joyce from Noteworthy Fragrances in Minnesota referred you to buy samples. She is a truly amazing boutique owner. Good Luck
Great article R! I agree with all your points. Macy's is the absolute worst. They treat every customer as a potential thief. I spend as much as I can in Sephora and/or Nordstrom.
The only thing I will add is that, if you're at a particular high-end store a lot sampling, it's worthwhile to try to cozy up to an individual SA, if you click with anyone. I have “go-to” gals at both NM and Saks who (if they're there) will make me samps (or let me make my own.) I try to know their schedules.
I honestly believe that the rest of the staff in Saks would like me banned from the store, though. And, on your other topic, I get the *strangest* looks from female SAs sometimes when I try on men's frags! Seriously, even if you were buying it for your man, wouldn't you try it on? I guess for many people the answer is “no.”
Hope you liked some of the rest of your new loot
I so agree about Macy's. Their staff are so generally unpleasant, and that goes for the whole store, not just the beauty dept. I try never to buy anything there at all, and have been very sorry to see them gobble up all the smaller dept store chains. They need to take some lessons from Nordstrom, honestly.
Absolutely, cozy up to an SA if you can! My method has been more like becoming so recognized that they'll give me a sample just to make me go away, LOL…
Also an excellent tip. And it's so true about buying men's scents for yourself, you get the most horrified looks (from female SAs almost exclusively). You'd think it was the nineteenth century and we were scandalously smoking or wearing pants or something.
Okay, I'd like a tip on how to find your Holy Grail. I have been searching for almost 5 years and I still don't have one. And the really disturbing part is I know it's out there… somewhere. Don't get me wrong, I love perfume but I want to find my HG so this frustrating search can end. I have found my HG in so many other parts of my life but cannot find THE ONE when it comes to my fragrance….HELP!!!!!!!!
LOL! I'm sure the men trying things at the women's counter have it even worse.
I am meaning to do a post at some point on how to find scents you like, but if you've been looking for a HG for 5 years, I doubt I have any advice you don't already know!
Oh, you enabler, you! I just went and ordered that Penhaligon sample set. Ha! I like ordering from them, I had the choice of Lord and Lady on titles (in addition to the usual boring Mrs, Mr. etc). And they asked for additional instructions if my location was difficult to find! I bet the UPS guy knows us by name at this point, lol. Looking forward to the article on swapping, I just started doing that over on MUA a couple of weeks ago and am having lots of fun!
Kind of OT, but I was just in Neiman Marcus today and they are now carrying Parfums de Rosine! I also noticed that they also carry TDC, but unfortunately no official samples of the latter (alas, I'm now back “on topic”) The SA did make me a vial of a Creed that they didn't have carded.
Most unfortunately (for me) the NM stores don't all have the same stock…so hoping those brands will show up at my local store, but won't be surprised if they don't. Would love to have PdR available locally!
Hope you will like it then, LOL! It is a very cute set, and just tell them Lady Gail's butler will meet them in the lane
I do live in Brazil, and here it's very difficult to get a sample, without buying a full bottle.
And no place sells samples.
It's really bad that we can't get samples anywhere.
So true! Honestly, sometimes when I ask the SAs to try a female frag,
Hey, my comment was cut in half
anyway, the SAs will give me such a horrified look that I have to check I'm not wearing a flaming red Victoria's Secret underneath my T and jeans! Geez!
LOL — I am not at all surprised. I have also been told more than once that a certain perfume was either too “old” for me, or too “young” for me. SAs like to stick to a perfume's target market
That is unfortunate, I'm so sorry!
What really flips me out is when a local boutique — high-end, carries Lutens, Bond, etc. — won't give me samples or let me make them. Maybe their clientele is so flush that they buy from a quick sniff.
Must be it.
And I'm with you, Robin. Sephora and Nordie's get almost ALL of my makeup, etc., spending, mostly because of the CS.
You gotta admit though that 'too old for you' sounds much better!
For as small as these samples are, why would anyone want to swap any samples in the first place?
Really — I'm quite surprised! Most niche boutiques are so very generous with samples. Guessing they don't sell online?
Why not? If you want to try something, you don't need much more than a vial, and sometimes, swapping is the only way to get a really obscure scent.
LOL — so true!!
Mike Storer is selling samples on his newly redone website:
They're sold in sets of the three men's scents and the three women's scents. Heavenly!
Mike is the nicest person. I'd definately support him!
Thanks for the tip!
Lucky, me. Taking these suggestions to heart, I visited both Sephoria and Nordstrom's and I'm telling the truth here, I received 25 different samples. The young ladies at Sephoria were totally gracious and created my little spray samples, then labeled them in little baggies and told me to come back if I needed more! Then off to Nordstrom's and a lady from Juicy Coutoure told me she was bored and I could have any sample I wanted…well, not one to allow anyone to be bored, I helped her have a pleasant afternoon as we discussed the nuances of the gourmand notes of Angel, the Rose notes of White Linen and about 15 others, some very new to me, some not so new. One of the other fragrances ladies told the Juicy lady that she wasn't doing her job right if I did not walk out with at least 20 samples. My goodness!!! Of course I thanked her again and again and will most likely go back and purchase Valentino's Rock and Rose. So good..a very heady fragrance and you feel you may have had that extra glass of wine you really didn't need. I would have spritzed more, but did not want to be arrested for being DWUIF. Driving while under the influcence of fragrance.
OMG, I don't think I've ever even had that many samples in my entire life! LOL! Except, of course, when I was left on my own with a basket of samples in an Oxford Street department store, a few years ago. The samples didn't win. Well, you know, SAs should stand guard by samples not leave them unattended, shouldn't they?
Anyway, well done! Sephora's very good: even the Paris stores make up samples these days. It's the making up thing that's surprising not the giving away of samples: Paris parfumeries have always been very generous.
Congrats, sounds like you did well!
I didn't know that J, everyone always tells me it is nearly impossible to get samples in Paris.
I was amazed when I got made up samples at two different Sephoras, without having to promise my first born to anyone.
Maybe it's still difficult to get samples elsewhere, though. I only tried Sephora on my last trip.
Hi Katia, I sometimes order samples on ebay or luckyscent or other niche perfume sellers. I'm sure they'd be happy to ship samples to you, if you don't mind the shipping fees. Sometimes they're worth it; I occasionally order from ebay.uk if I can't find something here. Good luck.
Reposted for “perfumeblogger” as the long link stretched the page:
On January 19, 2008 PerfumeBlogger said:
The ebay site below has the best offer on Maître Parfumeur et Gantier (MPG) samples I've seen.
I've been trying to get my hands on a sample of Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose, l'Eau d'Hiver and Une Rose ever since I heard about the line, but I have no idea how to do this! Has anyone ever been able to get a sample of Frederic Malle?
The Frederic Malle website used to have a quiz, and if you filled it out, sometimes they sent you samples. Might be easier to just buy decanted samples online. Try The Perfumed Court (link in article above).
I have just found this site and have quickly become addicted..I think I'm a stage 2 by the way
I have just ordered from Lucky Scent:
Profumum :Dulcis in Fundo
Coppeneur :Eau de Cacao
Les Nereides :Imperial Opoponax
Serendipity 3 :Serendipitous
L'Artisan Parfumeur:Piment Brulant
La Maison de la Vanille :Vanille Noire du Mexique
Comptoir Sud Pacifique (limited) Sample:Vanille Mokha
Tauer Perfumes Sample:Incense extreme
Tauer Perfumes Sample:Incense Rose
I am absolutely thrilled that they ship to the UK and that postage for samples is only 5 dollars.
My journey begins here!
my initial likings are 'darker' vanilla, labdanum, orange sometimes, myrrh and benzoin…interesting to see how they change with exploration.
Welcome Gailie! You've picked a nice selection, hope you will love some of them! I hated most of my first niche samples, but later many of them grew on me
I ordered 2 more today too from les scenteurs, London: eau de charlotte by Annick Goutal and Arabie by Serge Lutens.
Enough now, no more. (not for this month anyhow…)
Straight to Heaven by By Killian is already on this list for next time.
how come nobody mentioned 'theperfumeshoppe.com'??? aren't they supposed to have a great service, great choice, samples program at reasonable prices etc. I would really appreciate your feedback on this.
I believe at the time I wrote this that their sample program was on hiatus — you're right, it's a great store.
I was thrilled when the SA at Nordstrom's started filling my bag with free samples, and would love to have seen my face when the SA at Sephora asked if I wanted a sample of anything. I thought I was greedy asking for about 5. Then she said come back if I wanted a sample of anything else! SWEET!
This weekend I ordered samples from Luckyscent, the Perfumed Court and the sample set from Ormande Jayne. So fun!
Yesterday, to my delight I happened upon the Pacifica perfume line at Whole Foods. Currently French Lilac is filling my personal space with a heavenly aroma. I LOVE that they use mostly natural ingredients. I wonder if they would even notice if I decanted some samples from their tester bottles? Worth a try!
I'm jealous, my Whole Foods doesn't have any of the Pacifica scents
I checked them out yesterday, and their stock has dwindled down to about 25% of the number of bottles there a week or so ago. Apparently, I am not the only one in town who appreciates their availibility at WFs.
Score – wow! I felt lucky with my 3 samples from Sephora. I tried at Nordstroms but they are having a “scent event” today and asked me to come back. Too bad.
That is too bad! I guess they were too busy. Usually they're very nice about it.
Just browsing and found this, I am an independant distributor and will send samples at cost and postage to interested parties who live to far away to meet up with.
Please contact for more info.
I received a sample of Tom Ford's White Patchouli from Nordstrom's a few weeks ago. When I went back today to buy it, I told the lady the reason I was buying it there was because I appreciated their policy of giving away samples to customers and I wanted to encourage this practice by giving them my business.
I then asked if she had any other samples of perfumes I could try. She was so gracious and appreciative of my comment that she and another sales person went into the back to get me samples-some of which were miniatures.
Thanks for the suggestion Robin!
Hi, what kind of samples?
Hi, if you have a favourite perfume I will see if there is an equivalent and just charge postage, it will be a phial of perfume/aftershave.
Thanks for your interest & best wishes for 2009.
That worked out great, good for you!
Wow! I'm totally surprised because I always thought Macy's were way more generous when it comes to perfume samples.
I always get samples when I ask for them at Macy's, and they give me a minimum if 5 glass spray bottles! And when I tried asking Nordstrom's they hardly gave me any. It seemed obvious that they selected the 3 smallest sample vials there were!
You must have a very nice Macys
I am going to check out Nordstroms for sure now! I really love Sephora for making samples for me. It is great. As for Macy’s, some of the Sales Associates can be “snobbish,” but it seems that the store has heard that their attitude could be better because I have no problems when I go in and ask for a few samples, (either carded or made for me on the spot). One thing that I have noticed though, (has anyone else?)–when I request a sample of a men’s fragrance @ Macy’s, the plastic spray vial is noticeably larger than the ones used in the women’s fragrance dept! That makes NO sense. Great read and FANTASTIC advice! I have been browsing for some niche scents now and I hope that I find a lot of great scents! Other advice: I have visited several sites and requested samples. Most replied, “No,” while I found success with Kenzo and TM Angel. Very nice customer service! =]
Macy’s has actually decanted samples for you?!? Quite surprised!
This is an amazing post! I just recently began to get interested in perfume, and now I want to check out every single link on this page! WOW!
Next stop…your article on swapping perfume!
ebay is probably the worst experience I’ve had looking at samples.
I’m not really bothered about trying EVERYTHING, so I haven’t been looking online to buy samples, just to browse. and nearly everything I looked at on ebay you’d be paying about £10-£20 for a range of1.5ml-7ml sample, ridiculous. and half of the samples I looked at had been used up a little bit, so I refuse to buy from ebay.
I’d sooner go to a store and beg for one or take a little vial in and spray out a sample myself. I don’t see the shame in it? they let you pump out your own makeup testers or so I’ve heard.
but what I do when want to try a fragrance a few times before I buy, is I spray it on me everytime I walk past a store that sells it.
I completely understand your experience with EBAY. I have always felt, why consumers should have to pay for “PERFUME SAMPLE’S”. They should be free for potential customer. I was just speaking with SA the other day at Macy’s US, who “stated that companies are not sending them anymore, and they are only allowed to give them to buying customers. So, unless you making a purchase no goodies for you. II have never had any luck with Neiman’s either. If you live in the US, Nordstorm and Sephora are your best places for getting perfume sample without having to pay for them. I have purchased blind before, PLEASE DO NOT EVER DO THIS, it smelled great on my skin for the moment, but later I didn’t like it. A blog needs to be created about “Blind Buys you have regretted”.
Here’s 2 of mine
Beyonce Heat Perfume
Sarah Jessica Parker SJP NYC
I have worked Fragrance Retail for the last 13 years.
I am the person who you ask for samples at the stores.
My advice in getting samples from us is simple:
-Be polite and friendly when approaching the salesperson.
-Know specifically what you want!!. Asking “Hey you got any samples?” Is considered tacky and will get you nothing.
-Showing genuine interest in the fragrance or Implying that you are interested in purchasing and you wish to try it out for a few days first is quite helpfull.
– Purchasing a fragrance usually entitles you to as many samples as you like. Take advantage while purchasing.
– Lastly, build a relationship with your fragrance sales person. We are here to help you navigate the murky waters and its no secret that you get more flys with honey.
See you at the perfume counter!!
Great advice, thanks!
Really great blog Robin! I have become a niche collector over the past several years and certainly do have my share of buyers’ remorse with some scents and this “sample info” certainly is great advice!
Thanks, really glad you find it helpful!
This is an awesome article that gave me some new ideas for samples. They really are a great way to get a more in depth test of a fragrance. It greatly reduces the dreaded buyers remorse which is good with bottles costing so much.
[link removed: please see comment policy]
Can anyone help? My boyfriend smelt a perfume on a lady as we passed and absolutely loved it. He said is smelt like the moment right before it rains. . . . I’m at a loss.
Could be nearly anything ozonic, but try Demeter Thunderstorm.
This was one of the first things I read when I NST several years ago and it is still helpful. Macy’s perfume department is still the worst, IMO, and it’s hard to find someone to ring up a full bottle let alone a get a sample of anything. Full price + bad service x no samples = lost my business.
The real clincher was when I asked for a sample of Queen Latifa’s first fragrance which was a Macy’s exclusive at first. I knew they had them because I saw an open drawer full and I was refused. I was told those were only for people who bought a bottle. Huh? They don’t need samples!
Yep, I’ve been told the same thing! They are the anti-Nordstrom.
Thank you Kevin for having mentioned us among the artisan producers of their own line of fragrances. At La Via del Profumo we cannot afford shipping samples but we always add free samples with all order. Specially samples of the newest launches. Some customers who have been accustomed to our practice even ask us what sample they would like to receive when they order.
My sis was awesome enough to make a trip to the fragrance counter, while she was at Nordstrom today, to get me samples of La Panthere and the new Elie Saab. She asked for a sample of the new Jimmy Choo Flash as well, and the lady at the fragrance counter, who I’m pretty sure is the “head” of the department, said she could only give her 2 samples, so she sprayed the Flash on a blotter for her to take home. Is asking for 3 too much? I can’t tell you how much business my sister gives to Nordstrom, so she, and I, was kinda bummed, and hadn’t gotten a pretty much great big NO from them before. I mean, the ladies from different stores are always so nice. Maybe I’m just being a baby, but I too don’t/can’t buy like 90% of my fragrances full-price, and I’m not about to buy anything without giving it some good testing. My sis is the same. : /
I actually did this several times while trying to find a good scent myself! I guess you do have to have a shameless attitude though, because when I tell people about it they think I’m joking lol… I always keep the little pouches and viles just because they look cool. I’m thinking about starting a collection.
I’ve gotten decanted samples at Macy’s Herald Square and Macy’s Bay Shore. I think it depends on the sales associate.
I want to add that I wasn’t buying anything when I received the decanted samples at Macy’s. But I was polite, friendly, showed serious interest and respect for the sales associate’s advice.
So glad this post is still up here: what a fabulous compilation, great advice and priceless input from comments…
Joy, bliss, hurrah! Thank you Robin!
I just sent in my first order for a collection of samples from Luckyscent (who delivers to Canada for $8!!!)… unfortunately it’s ‘on hold’ which must mean that something I ordered is out of stock.
When my order does arrive, it’ll be like finding a forgotten $20 bill in a coat pocket
What fun!! And glad the article is still helpful, but it is woefully out of date. In Canada, also look at Etiket, and I think The Perfume Shop still sells there.
In the US, other general niche (you will have to check shipping to Canada, I don’t know) stores worth checking are Twisted Lily, Fumerie, Osswald, Indigo Perfumery.
Another idea, next time we have an open thread poll on the weekend, ask if any Canadian peeps can share where they buy samples.