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30 October 2020
Whether for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's or anniversaries, fragrances can be an easy gift. Provided it's legit, Dior's still Dior whether bought in Harrods or Asda - it's only the price that changes - so here's our guide to ensuring the best deal.
We've 15 quick tips 'n' tricks to help you bag smellies for less, but ALWAYS double-check prices before buying, as they change frequently and new sales come up all the time.
To help you cut costs, we've blagged three separate codes for three major online retailers that each stock a wide range of fragrances and gift sets. As there are very few exclusions, codes like these are 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.
The Fragrance Shop - 15% off
Until 11.59pm on Sat 21 Dec, you can get 20% off at The Fragrance Shop* online when you enter the MSE Blagged code MSE15 at the checkout. There are a few excluded brands - such as Creed, GHD and Babyliss - but it's valid on almost everything else site-wide - from Ted Baker to Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Paco Rabanne and Gucci - including some top designer fragrances that are rarely discounted.
You can collect in store for £1.99 or standard delivery's £2.99. The cut-off for standard delivery in time for Christmas is 8pm on Fri 20 Dec. Next-day delivery's £3.99. See full T&Cs* on The Fragrance Shop's site.
Perfume Direct - 10% off
You can get 10% off all orders at Perfume Direct* online when you enter the MSE Blagged code MONEY10 at the checkout - this is an ongoing offer with no specific end date, and there's no minimum spend. Delivery's £2.99 or free if you're spending £50 or more. Order by 3pm on Thu 19 Dec to get delivery before Christmas Day.
The Perfume Shop - 10% off
You can get 10% off at The Perfume Shop* online and in stores until 12pm midday on Tue 24 Dec. When shopping online, enter the MSE Blagged code MSEOFFER19 at the checkout. In store, show the bar code (below) at the till when paying. The discount's not valid on top of other offers, and it excludes gift cards, gift bags/boxes and charity products - but can be used on all other full-price items.
Standard delivery's free, but you must order by 8pm on Thu 19 Dec for delivery by Christmas Day, or you can collect in store for free until Mon 23 Dec. Next-day delivery's £3.99
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.
Of course, some may sniff at receiving smell-alikes as a gift - often the posh brand is part of the present - so this could be more suitable if you’re buying for yourself, where the 'snob' value is less of an issue. It's also worth noting, some say the smell-alikes are weaker than posh smellies, so you may need to squirt more often.
Though considering how much cheaper they are, we reckon they're worth a try.
In December 2018, for a bit of fun we carried out a (non-scientific) blind smell test with 20 members of the MSE team. We pitted 12 expensive perfumes against each of 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, 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. Prices were correct on Tue 17 Dec 2019.
While a year 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. Though a few that we tested, including last year's top pick from Primark, were not currently available when we last checked.
Primark 'Pomegranate & Black Tea' EDP, 100ml, £8 at Primark stores - if you can find it
Jo Malone 'Pomegranate Noir' cologne, 100ml, £98 at John Lewis, Selfridges
Our blind smell test found that 16 out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Only four preferred Jo Malone.
M&S 'New York' EDT, 100ml, £18 (or 25ml, £8.50) at M&S
Chanel 'Allure' EDP, 100ml, £112.50 at The Fragrance Shop
Our blind smell test found that 15 out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Only five preferred Chanel.
Zara 'Black Amber' EDT, 100ml, £9.99 at Zara online & in stores
D&G 'The One' EDP, 100ml, £56.15 at allbeauty.com
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.
M&S 'Azure Breeze' EDT, 100ml, £16 (or 25ml, £8.50) at M&S
D&G 'Light Blue' EDT, 100ml, £49.35 at allbeauty.com
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' EDP, 100ml, £14 (or 10ml, £4) at Next
Ralph Lauren 'Romance' EDP, 100ml, £59.95 at Beauty Base
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' EDP, 100ml, £16 (10ml, £4) at Next
Marc Jacobs 'Daisy' EDT, 100ml, £47.95 at Perfume Price
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' body mist, 100ml, £2.66 at Superdrug
YSL 'Black Opium' EDP, 90ml, £70.95 at Parfumdreams
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 'Black Peony' EDT, 100ml £9.99, (or 10ml, £3.99), at Zara online
Viktor & Rolf 'Flowerbomb' EDP, 100ml, £88.75 at Feel Unique
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 Viktor & Rolf.
Zara 'Rose' EDT, 90ml, £9.99 (or 12ml, £3.99) at Zara online & in stores
Dior 'J'adore' EDP, 100ml, £102 at Boots
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.
Zara 'Gold' EDP, 100ml, £12.99 at Zara in stores only
Paco Rabanne 'Lady Million' EDP, 80ml, £56.95 at Perfume Click
Our blind smell test found that nine out of 20 people either couldn't tell a difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. Interestingly in this case, 11 of our testers actually did prefer the smell of the more expensive Paco Rabanne.
Primark 'Mandarin & Basil' EDP, 100ml, £8 (or 20ml, £3) in stores only - if you can find it
Jo Malone 'Lime Basil & Mandarin' cologne, 100ml, £98 at John Lewis, Selfridges
Our blind smell test found that nine out of 20 people either couldn't tell a difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume.So again, in this case 11 of our testers actually did prefer the smell of the much more expensive Jo Malone.
Lidl 'Suddenly Madame Glamour' EDP, 50ml, £3.99 in stores only
Chanel 'Coco Mademoiselle' EDP, 50ml, £79 at Boots, John Lewis, Debenhams
Our blind smell test found that only seven out of 20 people either couldn't tell any difference or preferred the CHEAPER perfume. So in this case, 13 preferred the smell of the far more expensive Chanel perfume.
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.
If you go to Boots* in store and online, there's currently up to 50% off a limited selection of fragrances. If you order online, you can collect in store for free or delivery's £3.50 (free if you're spending £45 or more).
However, you should always do a price comparison online before you buy as, even at the reduced prices, some are still cheaper elsewhere.
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*. Of course, don't assume Amazon will be cheapest - you should still do your own checks to make sure it's the cheapest price around.
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.
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
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...
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!)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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 something over £100 and Section 75 laws supercharge your consumer rights.
Unlike debit cards, cheques or cash, pay in full orpart (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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