Cheap Perfume

13 tips to slash costs and sniff out bargains

Whether for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's or anniversaries, fragrances can be an easy gift if you know what they like. For a lot of people, having a signature scent is important, and as long as it's legit – whether bought in Harrods or Asda – it's only the price that changes. 

So don't be sucked in by smooth sales patter and gleaming window displays when you're on the high street, as buying online is usually cheapest. Or if you're not that fussed about the packaging, have you tried the cheaper smell-a-like? We've these and more tips 'n' tricks to help you bag fragrances for less. Always double-check prices before buying, as they change frequently with new sales happening all the time. 

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  1. Slash scent costs with codes and vouchers

    Check for codes for major online retailers that each stock a wide range of fragrances and gift sets. If the codes have few exclusions, they can be good for bagging hard-to-come-by discounts on top-end expensive brands such as Chanel and Dior among others, as well as popular celebrity fragrances from the likes of Ariana Grande, Shawn Mendes and Britney Spears.

    Don't forget, it's also worth checking voucher code sites as you could get a better deal with another code. There'll often be various codes listed for different retailers. Here are a few discounts we spotted on 7 February:

    • MyVoucherCodes* - 15% off £75 spend at The Perfume Shop, 10% off your first Lloyd's Pharmacy fragrance order, 18% off The Fragrance Shop, and more
    • VoucherCodes* - 21% off at Sephora, and more
    • VoucherCloud* - 22% off at Parfum Dreams, 20% off Lookfantastic app orders, and more
  2. Check prices at other retailers and save 15%

    Here at MSE, we live and breathe discounts, and there are several discount perfume retailers which line the streets and vie for our attention online. Perfume discount chains such as The Perfume Shop can make you think that they will always be the cheapest, but when we checked the price of a 90ml bottle of Alien at a few different retailers, we found this wasn't always the case. 

    We found the exact same bottle of perfume ranging in price from £91.80 to £108 – a 15% difference:

    Mugler Alien eau de parfum (refillable) - 90ml

    Retailer Price Any discounts or extras found?
    Lookfantastic £91.80 No, but two free gifts
    Amazon £99.99 No
    Perfume Direct £101.99 No
    The Fragrance Shop £108 PERFUME18 for 18% off and one free sample
    Mugler £108 No, but two free samples
    The Perfume Shop £108 No
    Boots £108
    Superdrug £108 No
    John Lewis £108 No

    Prices correct as of Wednesday 1 February 2023

    As you can see above, discount perfume retailers may not necessarily be cheapest and it's important to check elsewhere before buying. With Alien being a 'posh' perfume, too, it's likely there will be more fluctuation in price. 

    Beauty retailers are often cheaper than perfume retailers

    In February 2023, MSE Olivia compared prices of 20 perfumes from The Perfume Shop to online beauty retailers such as Sephora and Lookfantastic, and in each case found that The Perfume Shop was beaten on price and the beauty retailers were cheaper.

    Lookfantastic, for example, often has promotions and codes running, so it's likely you can bag a higher discount. 

    Boots often has deals on perfumes, and in the past we've spotted 'up to 50% off' perfume sales. However, this is likely to only be on a select few perfumes, so try not to be influenced by a sale hype if your chosen perfume isn't included.

  3. Top smell-alike fragrances

    Smell-alikes are the own-brand fragrances you can find in many high street stores and supermarkets. While not direct copies, they do tend to smell similar to the big designer brands – often they a similar name and even similar packaging too – but, crucially, they normally cost a fraction of the price.

    It's also worth noting, some say the smell-alikes are weaker than posh scents, so you may need to re-apply more often. Though considering how much cheaper they are, we reckon they're worth a try.

    The MSE Perfume Smell-alike Test

    In December 2018, for a bit of fun we carried out a (non-scientific) blind smell test with 20 members of the MSE team. Originally we tested 12 expensive perfumes against their much cheaper alternatives, and amazingly, in nine cases, our testers actually preferred the smell of the lower-cost option.

    You can find the results from each comparison below for the perfumes that are still available to buy, ranked in order starting with the most convincing smell-alike and ending with the least. Our percentage score's based on how many testers either couldn't tell a difference or said they preferred the cheap one. 

    While a few years old now, we think the results are still worth sharing – as the principle still applies that a cheap imitation sometimes smells just as good as a much pricier designer scent. Prices were correct on Wednesday 1 February 2023.

    Zara 'Black Amber' vs D&G 'The One'. SCORE: 65%


    Zara 'Black Amber' EDT, 100ml, £12.99 and D&G 'The One' EDP, 100ml, £65

    Our blind smell test found that 13 out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Only seven preferred Dolce & Gabbana.

    Next 'Just Pink' vs Ralph Lauren 'Romance'. SCORE: 60% 


    Next 'Just Pink' EDP, 100ml, £18 and Ralph Lauren 'Romance' EDP, 100ml, £95

    Our blind smell test found that 12 out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Only eight preferred Ralph Lauren.

    Next 'Flowers' vs Marc Jacobs 'Daisy'. SCORE: 60%


    Next 'Flowers' EDP, 100ml, £18 and Marc Jacobs 'Daisy' EDT, 100ml, £69.60

    Our blind smell test found that 12 out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Only eight preferred Marc Jacobs.

    Superdrug 'Exotic' vs YSL 'Black Opium'. SCORE: 60%



    Superdrug 'Exotic' EDT, 30ml, £5 and YSL 'Black Opium' EDP, 30ml, £48.64

    Our blind smell test found that 12 out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Only eight preferred Yves Saint Laurent.

    Zara 'Rose' vs Dior 'J'adore'. SCORE: 55%


    Zara 'Rose' EDT, 50ml, £9.99 and Dior 'J'adore' EDP, 50ml, £89

    Our blind smell test found that 11 out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Only nine preferred Dior.

    We must say a quick thank you to The Perfume Shop for sending us some samples, which meant we didn't have to go out and buy all these for our test!

    More smell-alikes

    We've not put these to the test yet, but we've seen reports online and heard about MoneySavers' favourite fragrance dupes, including:

    Many of Zara's fragrances have been reported as dupes for higher end brands, and some have even been created with popular parfumier Jo Malone. If you're a fan of Jo Malone scents, maybe give Zara perfumes a sniff and see whether you could downshift.

    See the Smell-alikes and high-end make-up alternatives forum discussions for even more.

    There are some perfume retailers dedicated to creating similar scents

    Even though the perfumes above certainly smell like designer brands, there are some online stores that actually specialise in creating perfumes that are 'inspired' by upmarket scents, such as The Essence Vault and Perfume Parlour.

    A lot of the lingo they use involves the phrases "inspired by" and "notes similar to", and while it's possible that some will miss the mark, some are likely to be hits. Here a few examples we've spotted below:

    Mugler Angel vs The Essence Vault Inspired by Angel and Perfume Parlour Sinless for Women

    Boots: Mugler Angel, £59 for 25ml:

    The Essence Vault: Inspired by Angel - 140, £15.95 for 30ml: 

    4.5 stars on Trustpilot (7,503 reviews)

    Perfume Parlour: Sinless For Women 0069, £18 for 30ml:

    4.6 stars on Trustpilot (174 reviews)

    If you don't fancy taking the plunge for a full bottle, you can get miniature versions of these dupe scents to see if they live up to expectations. Make sure you read the reviews before you buy to see what other people think of them.

  4. Don't forget your local discount shop

    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.

    MSE Rhiannon has also picked up some, err, bargains at Home Bargains. Turns out, she's got a nose for scents as well as good deals. They often sell out quickly, and may not re-stock, but they're only £1.25-£1.99. See MSE Rhiannon's Perfume dupes at Home Bargains blog to see how they did in an MSE Towers smell-alike test.

  5. Know your nose - telling the difference between eau de toilette and 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.

  6. Uncover up to 70% off hidden Amazon bargains and check if it's really a bargain

    Amazon often has a selection of top-brand perfumes with up to 70% off, yet they tend to be buried among the many thousands of products in its wider beauty and fragrances department. Here's a link you can use to go straight to what's currently available in its regularly updated page of up to 70% off fragrances*

    Amazon's prices fluctuate constantly though, so even if something looks like a good deal, it may not always be the best price compared to what it's been previously.

    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.

    1. 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.

    Here's an example of price tracking using CamelCamelCamel with Joop! Wow! – it looks like the price has the potential to drop lower. Hopefully you didn't buy it in December 2022!

    2. 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.

  7. Unboxed perfumes are even cheaper

    Some internet retailers, including eBay*, sell testers and unboxed perfume or aftershave at an even cheaper price. You could also find unwanted perfume that may only have been sprayed a few times. 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!)

  8. Take advantage of points promos running at Boots

    If you're an avid collector of Boots points, waiting for your signature scent to appear in a promo could help bag you a good deal. Boots* has a hefty fragrance department and often runs points promotions, which can sometimes help undercut online retailers, especially for newer or more costly perfumes. 

    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.

  9. Sample before you buy

    If you fancy switching up your perfume, but don't want to commit to buying a full bottle, try and get your hands on a mini sample bottle. These are normally around 1ml, but can go up to 3ml.

    You can often go to a concession stand in a department store for a free one, or spend a few ££s online. Although you could simply spritz the perfume in store, sometimes it's better to see how it performs over a few days to work out whether it's worth taking the plunge and buying a full bottle.

    We found these examples below on eBay:

  10. Get creative with where you look – consider second-hand sites.

    Though you may pop to the high-street or browse online for sales, sometimes being creative with with where you look can save you some cash. Discount stores like B&M and Home Bargains are often great to find reduced Celebrity Perfumes, as are Argos, Savers and Bodycare, but they often won't stock posh brands. 

    Second-hand sites and apps like Depop, Vinted and Ebay can often have unopened and unwanted scents for sale on the cheap. Here are a few we spotted in January 2023:

    Depop: £75 Chanel No5, 100ml (normally £126)

    Vinted: £45 Paco Rabanne Lady Million, 80ml (normally £90)

    eBay: £41.99 Dior Sauvage, 100ml  (normally £90)

    For some tips and tricks, read our guides about buying on eBay and Vinted.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    extra gifts

    Plus it may also be cheaper to buy a gift set rather than the fragrance on its own, so factor this in.

    Some stores like Superdrug even offer search tools to help you sniff out 'free' gift offers* and gift sets* within your budget.

  13. 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

      credit card

      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.

    • 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.

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