Whether for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's or anniversaries, perfume or aftershave is often an easy gift. Provided it's legit, Dior is Dior whether bought in Harrods, Asda or online - it's cost that counts.
Important! Make sure you shop safely
Whatever you're buying, including perfume, there are always two main risks: either it's a dodgy company, or it's a legit company that has financial problems and goes bust.
Follow these quick tips to help you minimise the risks...
Pay by credit card for goods over £100
Pay by credit card for something over £100 and Section 75 laws supercharge your consumer rights.
Unlike debit cards, cheques or cash, pay in full or part (even just £1) on a credit card and by law the lender's jointly liable with the retailer.
This means you have exactly the same rights with the card company as you do with the retailer. So if it goes bust you can simply take your complaints there instead and get money back if there's no delivery.
It's important you ALWAYS repay in full each month, so there's no interest cost. See the full Section 75 guide.
Protect purchases under £100 via chargeback
Section 75 doesn't apply to purchases under £100, but there's still an option which can help. It isn't a legal protection, just Visa and Mastercard's chargeback rules, but it's a good back-up.
Spend on a Visa, Mastercard or Amex credit card or any debit or charge card and, if the goods don't appear, you can try to ask your bank/card provider to reclaim the cash from the seller's bank, so long as you complain within 120 days of realising there’s a problem. See the Chargeback guide for full details.
Check the site's legit
Bogus websites are often set up to cash in on popular products like perfume, so be wary if it's an unfamiliar site. Most folk know to look for a security padlock on the bottom right of a website, but that doesn't mean the site's legit, just that payment's secure.
To find out who registered the site and when, search the Whois database. Reputable firms should also appear on the Companies House site, the UK Government's official companies register. Be very wary of businesses with just a PO Box or email address.
Study the site's worldwide web ranking on Alexa. Anything in the top 100,000 means it's reasonably big and a good, though not foolproof indication of legitimacy. Do a quick Google search for other shoppers' experiences.
It's also worth noting that if you're ordering items from overseas, you may have to pay extra tax so always check this first - find more info on the HMRC website.
Know your cancellation rights
Many people are surprised to learn you've MORE rights buying online (or by telephone/catalogue) due to the Consumer Contracts Regulations.
This gives a legal right to send most goods back within 14 days for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault. You'll usually need to pay for the return delivery. Read Consumer Rights for a full guide.
However, of course, this is balanced by the fact that order online and that automatically means a time gap between ordering and delivering - when the company has your money. So if it goes bust during that time, the consumer contracts rights don't help.
Understand there's sometimes no protection
Ultimately, there is always a risk that a company can go bust. If the above routes don't apply, then you have to make a decision about whether you're willing to take the risk of parting with your cash.
Don't be overly scared of this. Every day we all make transactions based on trust, and this is part of that, but do balance up the amount you're spending against the risk. Don't give large amounts of money to a company you're not sure of.
Don't let your anti-virus run out
Crucially, ensure your security's up-to-date - free software can be downloaded in about five minutes. More info in the Free Antivirus Software guide.
Slash scent costs with codes, vouchers and sales
Particularly in the run-up to Christmas, retailers use sales, money-off codes and vouchers to lure customers in. Where high street shops are often expensive, these deals mean they can sometimes beat online retailers.
Enter the code SCENT50 online at FeelUnique* to get £10 off a £50+ spend on fragrances till Mon 22 Dec.
The Fragrance Shop
Go to VoucherCodes* to get 15% off at The Fragrance Shop in store and online till Sun 21 Dec. Check out the Ts and Cs as exclusions apply.
If you're spending £50 or more on fragrances online at Boots*, enter the code UKFRAG5 and until 6 Jan 2015 you'll get £5 off.
Go to VoucherCodes* to get a free delivery code on Debenhams beauty orders (including fragrances). Delivery's usually £3.99 if you spend under £30.
Debenhams* is not usually the cheapest place to buy fragrances, but it does currently have fragrances and gift sets with up to 50% off.
Wilkinson* is offering 20% off selected fragrance gift sets online and in store until Wed 31 Dec.
Top prices for popular fragrances
Here's a round up of the cheapest prices we've found on some of the most popular fragrances.
Gucci Guilty Black
Eau de toilette, 50ml
£26.49 at The London Perfume Company. Delivery's free.
(Next cheapest £33.95 delivered at All Beauty.)
Vera Wang Princess
Eau de toilette, 50ml
£18 at PerfumeShopping.com. Delivery's free.
(Next cheapest £23.98 delivered at Fragrance Direct.)
Hugo Boss Boss BOTTLED
Eau de toilette, 30ml
£19.95 at All Beauty*. Delivery's free.
(Next cheapest £22.40 delivered at Fragrance Expert.)
Eau de toilette, 125ml
£19.95 at All Beauty* Delivery's free.
(Next cheapest £23.75 delivered at Perfume Click.)
Important: these prices were correct at the time of writing, but prices change all the time, so do double-check before buying.
Top five smell-alike perfumes
Smell-alike perfumes are supermarket and store-bought own-brand perfumes that have similar smells to the big designer perfume brands - but different names, packaging and, most importantly, different prices.
These are not copies. Yet we’ve noted a remarkable similarity in the smell of the perfumes, as well as the bottles and boxes in some cases.
While many people sniff at these cheap perfumes, it’s important to note that much of the cost of the big-name versions goes on pricey marketing and advertising. After all, those flashy billboard adverts don’t pay for themselves.
Some people may be snobby about smell-alikes as gifts, so this could be more suitable if you’re buying perfume for yourself. Some of the smell-alike perfumes are also weaker than the posh smellies, so you may need to apply more often. Considering how much cheaper they are though, they're still generally worth it.
The 2014 MSE Smell-alike Test
At the end of November, we carried out our own (non-scientific!) blind smell test with 30 members of the MSE team taking part.
The results of individual comparisons are listed below, with the best-matched at the top. The score for each is the total percentage of testers who couldn't tell the difference or preferred the cheaper one.
1. Next Just Pink*. SCORE 80%
Next Just Pink 75ml, £14
Ralph Lauren Romance, 50ml, £52
Our blind smell test found that out of 30 people, 11 couldn't tell any difference - and of the 19 who could a staggering 13 preferred the CHEAPER perfume.
2. Lidl Suddenly Madame Glamour (in store only). SCORE 63%
Lidl Suddenly Madame Glamour, 50ml, £4
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, 50ml, £67.50
Our blind smell test found that out of 30 people, 3 couldn't tell any difference - and of the 27 who could 16 preferred the CHEAPER perfume.
3. Lidl Suddenly Women (in store only, limited stock) . SCORE 60%
Lidl Suddenly Women, 50ml, £4
Chanel No.5 50ml, £67.50
Our blind smell test found that out of 30 people, 7 couldn't tell any difference - and of the 23 who could 11 preferred the CHEAPER perfume.
Lidl says this perfume is subject to availability and once stock has gone, it's not planning to re-stock stores until 2015, so get in quick.
4. Zara Women Gold. SCORE 57%
Zara Women Gold, 75ml,
Paco Rabanne Lady Million, 80ml,
Our blind smell test found that out of 30 people, 10 couldn't tell any difference - and of the 20 who could 7 preferred the CHEAPER perfume.
5. M&S Isis*. SCORE 53%
M&S Isis, 100ml, £16
Issey Miyake L’Eau d’Issey, 25ml, £35
Our blind smell test found that out of 30 people, 7 couldn't tell any difference - and of the 23 who could 9 preferred the CHEAPER perfume.
Buying online's often cheapest
The internet's usually the cheapest option when purchasing aftershave, perfume, eau de cologne and eau de toilette. Rather than keeping pricey shopfronts with fancy displays to draw you in and make you spend, they simply pile it high in warehouses and sell it cheap.
So don't be sucked in by smooth sales patter and gleaming window displays when you're on the high street. When comparing prices online and in store, don't forget to note down the size of the bottle, and what you're buying, eg, eau de toilette/parfum.
Get up to 50% off fragrances at Boots
Go to Boots* in store and online and you'll find up to 50% off a limited range of fragrances.What's more, if you're spending £50 or more on fragrances online at Boots, enter the code UKFRAG5 and you'll get £5 off until 6 Jan 2015.
We've found that even with this discount though, prices are often similar to those on Amazon, so always do some price comparisons before buying.
Get up to 50% off fragrances at Superdrug
Go to Superdrug* in store and online and you'll also find up to 50% off selected fragrances. You can collect in store for free or delivery's £3 (or free if you spend £10 or more).
Get 15% off at The Fragrance Shop
Go to VoucherCodes* to get 15% off at The Fragrance Shop both in store and online until Sun 21 Dec. Check out the Ts and Cs as exclusions apply.
You can collect in store for free or standard delivery's £2.99 (or free if you spend over £40).
Search all the major retailers with just one click
To quickly search and compare the biggest retailers, we've built a special tool called the MegaShopBot. It includes specialist perfume comparison sites such as FragrancesCompared* and Cheap Perfume Expert, as well as all the other mainstream shopping comparison sites.
Just pop in the name of the perfume you're after, click 'compare', and it'll automatically scan the three big perfume comparisons, plus a selection of the other retailers, ensuring you can quickly find the very cheapest price immediately.
Then for belt and braces, check the price of perfumes at all the major supermarkets - plus Superdrug and Boots - using the MySupermarket* site.
For a full guide to slashing the cost of buying anything and everything online, see the full 40 Online Shopping Tricks guide.
Know your perfume from your eau de cologne
The perfume industry's big business, so there are lots of types to choose from. Yet don't confuse perfume with the weaker eau de toilette or eau de cologne, as you may find it's a false economy.
As a rough guide, the main tiers of fragrance type are below, ranging from weakest (generally cheapest) to strongest (priciest):
Splash and aftershave
Low perfume essence at about 1-7%.
Eau de cologne
Again, lowish perfume essence, at about 2-6%.
Eau de toilette
Also sometimes known as cologne, contains slightly more perfume essence at about 5-15% (typically about 10%).
Eau de parfum and perfume
Also called perfume extract, these are top of the range at roughly 10-20% essence (typically about 15%).
The higher the concentration of perfume essence, the longer the perfume's scent will last and the less you'll need - but the more expensive it's likely to be. The fragrance style and ingredients used also affect how long the scent will last, so it's worth experimenting with different types before shelling out on a big bottle.
Thanks to the International Fragrance Association and British Society of Perfumers for the info above.
Check if a perfume's really a bargain using online price trackers
Most of us know just because a retailer lists a perfume as "on offer", it doesn't mean it's cheap. Yet the trouble has been sorting awesome offers from pants promos.
To help, there are sites that chart products' price histories to show if the item's 'was' price is realistic. You can also set up alerts that will land in your inbox when your favourite items drop in price.
MySupermarket* is handy for tracking high street perfume prices, as it now includes Boots and Superdrug as well as the six big stores. Just search for an item, then on its page, scroll down and you'll often see a chart of the stores' average prices for that item over the last year. Results can be fascinating. When we searched...
Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male (75ml) eau de toilette is £30 at Asda at the time of writing - 20% less than its average price.
DKNY Be Delicious Fresh Blossom (30ml) eau de parfum is £36.50 at Boots at the time of writing - 44% more expensive than its average price.
To use the MySupermarket price alert service, search for a product, click 'add price alert' and it'll fire off an email as soon as the price drops in one or more stores.
CamelCamelCamel lets you enter your desired price for items on Amazon (where prices tend to yo-yo) and fires off an email when Amazon hits it. Simply pop an item's URL into it, and enter the maximum price you want to cough up. You'll then get an email when the price falls to that amount or lower.
Zeezaw works in a similar way. Just sign up, create a list with the max price you want to pay for Amazon items, and you receive emails when the price drops.
Get up to 50% off at Debenhams
Debenhams* is not usually the cheapest place to buy fragrances, but it does currently have fragrances and gift sets with up to 50% off.
Delivery's usually £3.99 if you spend under £30, but go to VoucherCodes* to get a free delivery code on beauty orders. If you prefer, you can collect in store for free.
Do remember though, these offers don't always beat other retailers, so be sure to do some price comparisons before purchasing.
Unboxed perfumes are even cheaper
Some internet retailers, including Half Price Perfumes* and FragranceX.com, sell testers and unboxed perfume or aftershave at an even cheaper price. While at first this may not seem like a good idea for a prezzie, it's easy to turn around...
Tie a ribbon around it!
Buy an unboxed scent, then simply buy a nice-looking gift box for a pound or two and pack it in that - or even just tie a nice ribbon around it.
The money saved on buying the perfume should more than cover it. It'll look as if you've made an extra-special effort (rather than an extra cheap effort!)
Get 20% off selected fragrances at Wilkinson
Shop online at Wilkinson* or at your nearest store to see what's on offer - in the past it's had some cracking offers. Currently it has 20% off selected fragrance gift sets* online and in store till Wed 31 Dec.
Delivery's from £3.50 or you can collect in store for free. As ever, be sure to do some price comparisons before purchasing.
Uncover 60%+ off hidden Amazon bargains
Amazon often offers 60% and better reductions, yet it directs people to other areas, sending them to higher profit margin products instead.
There's a geeky way to manipulate Amazon's web links to display all heavily-reduced bargains. All you need to do is fiddle with Amazon web addresses (URLs) to bring up lists of knock-down prices. Here's a couple we've specially created for 60%+ off fragrances* and 75%+ off fragrances*.
We've built the Amazon Discount Finder tool to quickly reveal hidden Amazon mega-bargains across a huge range of departments. Have a play to see what you can uncover.
Don't forget your local pound store
Discount stores and pound shops are also worth a look if you don't mind experimenting. One forumite reports finding a cache of 99p bargains in their local:
Granted some aren't to my taste but I have four that are looovely. They're actually eau de parfum rather than toilette which is a bonus! The boxes look quite cheap but my local store always has one out to try.
It can be worth ordering from the US
A couple of large-scale US sites deliver to the UK and can be competitive, though don't forget to factor any extra delivery fees and charges into the price as these can add a chunk. Big ones to try include Strawberrynet* and PerfumeEmporium.com*. Read How safe are these sites? above before buying.
It's worth noting that if you're ordering items from overseas, you may have to pay extra tax so always check this first - find more info on the HMRC website.
(Please note: We're talking about the US-based PerfumeEmporium.com, NOT the UK-based Theperfumeemporium.co.uk, which went bust in 2010. They are unrelated sites and PerfumeEmporium.com is still running.)
Check if you can grab cashback on top
Once you've found the cheapest retailer for your scent, you may be able to get additional cashback by purchasing it via a cashback site. See the Top Cashback Sites guide for full info on how the system works, plus full safety help.
Take advantage of points promos running at Tesco and Boots
Tesco is currently running a Christmas Clubcard Boost* points promotion which lets you double vouchers' value, so a £5 voucher gets £10 of goodies - and the promotion includes selected fragrances, in store and online. You'll need to exchange your Clubcard vouchers for Boost tokens before Sun 14 Dec, but you have until Wed 24 Dec to use them.
Boots* has a hefty fragrance department and often runs points promotions. These can sometimes help undercut online retailers, especially for newer or more costly perfumes.
Boots also sometimes runs triple Advantage Card points events - sign up to the free weekly email to get a heads-up when these events are on. For more info on making the most of your Boots' Advantage Card, see the Loyalty Points Boosting guide, and see the Boots Deals page for the latest discounts.
Scout out extra gifts before you buy
Particularly around Christmas and New Year, shops may offer extra gifts with the perfume, so make sure you check for any 'free gift' deals before buying.
Plus it may also be cheaper to buy a gift set rather than the fragrance on its own, so factor this in.