On Sept 1., the company, which distributes a slew of niche European fragrance lines in the U.S. — including Starck Paris, Lalique Parfums and Parfums de Marly — will launch So Avant Garde, its own e-commerce site meant to guide the consumer through the process of buying a fragrance.
The web site will lean heavily on educational content, and will feature a fragrance-finder tool designed to help consumers understand the differences between various notes, a personalized recommendation system and a video series featuring product reviews from vloggers. The site will also send free samples to consumers on request, so they can try out fragrances.
It is not exactly common for a distribution company to operate its own consumer-facing e-commerce site, but as consumers increasingly turn to buying beauty online, Alex Shalbaf, president and chief executive officer of The Fragrance Group, saw a gap in the market for a shoppable site that would offer the same informational benefits that a visit to a bricks-and-mortar retailer would.
You May Also Like
“We went to our retailers and felt like they had no infrastructure for the fastest-growing part of their business,” said Shalbaf. “Other than Sephora, all the other retailers are probably 20 years behind…their online teams are limited, and they have zero suggestions or innovative solutions.”
Shalbaf stressed the importance of education in the niche fragrance category, which he said is complex and expensive and requires a certain understanding of a product before a consumer purchases it — and like designer fragrances, he said, there aren’t expensive marketing campaigns to back them up. That education around niche fragrances used to happen in-store, but not so much anymore, according to Shalbaf.
“We’re targeting Millennials who are online and don’t like shopping in stores, they like to experience something and buy it online,” said Shalbaf. “30 years ago the consumer used to go in the store and you could educate them — now, those guys don’t go in stores.”
Industry sources estimate So Avant Garde could bring in up to $1.2 million in retail sales in its first year in business, but Shalbaf stressed that the new web site is not being introduced as a sales-driver for The Fragrance Group — rather, the point is to boost brand awareness and help its retail partners bolster online fragrance sales.
“We designed [the web site] to sell things, but if a customer wants to buy something at Neiman Marcus because they’re a Neiman’s customer, we just did the job for [Neiman Marcus]. We don’t think it will cannibalize sales — it will improve upon them,” said Shalbaf. “The process actually helps our retail partners like Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys [New York], because we think as such large retailers their online presence is not up to date — I don’t think anyone wants to buy a $400 fragrance on saks.com if they haven’t experienced it before.”