How we buy perfume: The (illustrated) wisdom of Boots

Here are of adjacent shelves of perfumes / colognes at Boots. Hidden in plain sight: The key to how people buy them.

Can you spot it?

perfume pop - SMALL perfume regular - SMALL

Free hint:
On the left there is: “The Key” by Justin Bieber, “Justin Bieber’s girlfriend”,”Our Moment” by One Direction, “Nude” and “Reb’l Fleur” by Rhianna, “Eden”, and “Amor Amor: Forbidden Kiss” (all for about £20-30).

The one on the right launches alphabetically off with DKNY and Diesel (about £40-50).

So one section is aimed at teens and tweens, the other is aimed at grown ups. But what’s the big difference between how they are SOLD?

(answer below the spoiler break)


It’s here.

perfume regular - SMALL w. circles

The section aimed at grownups has little strips of card for you to spray scent samples onto, whereas the one for the teens does not.


If you only want to sample two bottles you just spray one on each wrist, and huff away until you hyperventilate or establish a preference. That works fine for kids who are looking to summon a favourite singer into vivid sensory presence (and/or dutiful parents who have been given their non-negotiable marching orders). The kids know they are a Bieber or a Rhianna fan, and so the dream lies in his or her scent.

But for adults the game is to slowly zero in on a scent with the right combination of brand name association, happy nostrils, and emotional overtones. The search is a drawn out treasure hunt, charting a course of self-exploration. It almost wouldn’t even be enjoyable if it was over too fast. And that means sampling more perfumes than they have wrists, hence the handy stacks of cardboard strips, to be sprayed, sniffed, shuffled, sniffed again, discarded, and re-sprayed.

Sometimes it’s all right in front of your eyes, you just have to look.


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