Travels and Musings: “Sephora. Missing the mark with men.”

This entry of Travels & Musings recounts how Sephora is missing the mark on a growing customer base: Guys seeking fragrance upgrades.

This entry of Travels & Musings recounts how Sephora is missing the mark on a growing customer base: Guys seeking fragrance upgrades.

“Sephora. Missing the mark with men.”

W 114498 Travels and Musings: Sephora. Missing the mark with men.There are occasions where I’ll turn up in…please don’t make me say it, it’s depressing each time I do…Sephora. Yes, I might look at a Sephora simply to kill time and sniff a very stale and dated bottle of cologne. Or two. At least as my wife looks around at various shades of cosmetics and I do the “guy thing” and wait.

Now, it may be the worst kept secret that I author a blog on fragrances and a few people probably read it or trip over a review because they Google’d a fragrance and something on my site triggered a visit. Other than that, I’m not announcing myself to the world as either an expert on matters olfactory; I don’t think my picture’s been posted around every fragrance retailer in the greater New York Metro area to be recognized, nor am I wearing a name tag or a t-shirt self-promoting.  Frankly, it’s probably better that way.

This particular day, though, as I’m standing around the Men’s Fragrance section — limited that it is — a guy in perhaps his late 20′s with his girlfriend are clearly looking for something without much success. He seems to know his way around the wall, or at least all 20 feet of so of it, but hasn’t found something that strikes him. Nervously, but with conviction, he turns to me and says, “YSL Homme is some really super stuff, don’t you think?”

Ok, I’m not a huge fan, but I won’t say it’s horrible. For me, it’s mediocrity in a bottle, so I turn toward him with a look that suggests confusion, and reply, “That all depends on what you like.” That’s when he opens up and freely admits that he’s been using YSL for years but he wants something “different”.

christian dior eau sauvage eau toilette spray658 300x300 Travels and Musings: Sephora. Missing the mark with men.

“Different, how? What sort of notes are you drawn to?”

“How do you mean…notes?”

“Do you like woods? Spices? Fruits? Citrusy scents? Green? Florals? Tell me things you like and you’ve worn.”

So I learn that he’s been stuck in a groove and isn’t sure what to try, but he’s not into really heavy scents and feels lost. The last thing I’d subject this guy to is a bottle of Le Male or A*Men, so I think of what he’s really seeking. Behind him is a bottle of Dior’s Eau Sauvage – they’ve been making this juice longer than he’s been around, and it doesn’t have a familiar ring to it, so I have him test it on a paper strip   His eyes widen a bit and he has a positive reaction. More importantly, he hands the strip to his girlfriend who clearly likes it. “This is really good, I like it,” he replies. Good start. “What else do you recommend?”

By this point, I ask how he feels about orange and wood.  I direct him to Terre d’Hermes, he sprays a strip, smells, and again it’s a fairly positive response. So I look at him and ask him what he’s really seeking. “Are you more looking to step up your fragrance game?”

terre hermes 286x300 Travels and Musings: Sephora. Missing the mark with men.His eyes widen as he replies, “Exactly, man,” as he passes each strip to his girlfriend seeking her approval. It’s apparent he’s not doing this just for himself, but also his partner.

“OK, you’re looking for an upgrade,” as I turn to his girlfriend who nods wildly and smiles. By now, my wife’s joined my side and I gave him my suggestions the meager options that Sephora offers at full price. “But…before you grab the first bottle and run, the juice in the bottles in here just sits under hot lights all day for however many years they’ve been around.” My wife chimes in and provides the “stale” and “out-of-date” commentary, or “how many bacteria you’ll find on the average tube of lipstick in a Sephora”. We both explain why people browse Sephora and buy elsewhere: It can often be outdated product, or where department stores turn back outdated stock to manufacturers for resale in places like Duty-Free Shops (a really safe bet, since it’s too difficult to return things there once you’ve purchased). And Sephora, sadly. We both redirect him a few steps away to Neiman-Marcus.  He ends up shaking our hand, thankful for the short steer into his fragrance upgrade, and I’ll be left wondering what might happen for him next.

How do I know he’s interested? He whips out his camera phone and starts taking pictures so he knows what to find.

Meanwhile, I didn’t ask to be queried as the guy who might know a thing or two about fragrance. I was just standing there before watching this couple struggling to find something other than Diesel as a new scent. But frankly that’s somewhat the problem with Sephora. You might be able to find someone who could help you, and if you’re really lucky, there’s a remote chance they’ll know something other than what everyone else is buying. During this visit, our entire conversation was uninterrupted, including the advice we gave to shop elsewhere.

I guess it’s pretty easy to chase business away from Sephora. Especially if they don’t know what they’re doing. But it’s also clear that guys want to upgrade their fragrance game and need informed points of view.

Are you listening, GQ?

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About Andrew Buck

Andrew Buck is the editor-in-chief of Scentrist.com, and a lifelong appreciator and aficionado of fragrance. He's also the author "(Not) PMO-in-a-Can", a practitioner's perspective on project management, in addition to several articles on the topic. When not writing or discovering new scents, he is a technology manager in New York's Wall Street financial sector. You can read more about him on the "About" page, or say hi to him on Twitter @scentrist.
  • Jennifer Morgan

    I was rooting for you from the point where this young gentleman is open for suggestions for something other than YSL Homme, which I agree is lackluster. I practically screamed “yes” with your first suggestion of the classic Eau Sauvage, and further cheered with your follow-up suggestion of Terre D’Hermes. You were so on-point. While both of these I feel are gateway to a bigger, better men’s fragrance world, they still have the provenance of say a cap-toed men’s dress shoe. Classic, quiet, confidant. Way to go!