Byline: Faye Brookman / With contributions from Chantal Tode

NEW YORK — Customers can’t sample the offerings. But apparently that’s not stopping them from ordering fragrances on line from the Fragrance Counter.
After two years of selling designer scents on America Online, the Fragrance Counter has expanded by opening a site on the World Wide Web, giving an estimated 35 million on-line accounts access to its address. America Online has a base of 12 million subscribers.
According to sources, the Fragrance Counter had more than 3 million hits last year from shoppers who ended up spending more than $1 million.
To mark the Web debut, Eli Katz, the company’s vice president of marketing, said the Fragrance Counter will broaden its assortment from 700 fragrance choices to more than 1,000. The selection will include makeup and hair care items from such brands as Elizabeth Arden, Lancome and Estee Lauder.
Katz would not divulge what lines are purchased on a direct basis, and industry sources said some of the products are obtained on the gray market.
Graphics are being enhanced at the new site, said Katz, and there is a special area where consumers can receive recommendations about fragrances.
“Say you like Chloe,” said Katz. “You can click on that to show more fragrances that smell like Chloe. This will especially be popular with people who can’t find their favorite scent in [traditional] distribution.”
Katz said the Fragrance Counter also has a sizable stock of many hard-to-find or discontinued products.
The new graphics will give users more choices in the way they make selections. For example, in the banner at the top of the opening page is an area where browsers can click for suggestions based on gender or season. Shoppers also can search for fragrances alphabetically.
The Fragrance Counter is building a data base and will electronically remind customers six months after a purchase that it might be time to reorder.
Katz said busy consumers like the convenience of purchasing fragrances in their homes, “without the dousing of aggressive department store clerks.” The average transaction takes less than five minutes, he noted.
He said it is convenience, not price, that is driving people to shop on the Web. “Discounting is not our mantra. Convenience because of our selection, free shipping within 24 hours and gifts-with-purchase all are reasons people shop the Fragrance Counter,” he said.
However, the site always has an on-sale area where selected fragrances are available at discounted prices.
Katz admitted peddling perfume in cyberspace can be a challenge: Most consumers like to smell before they buy. “But there is so much sampling today that most people [already] know what a scent smells like,” he claimed. “And, we have a money-back guarantee if they don’t like it.”
To spread the word of its existence, the Fragrance Counter is spending $2.5 million through the end of next year in on-line and print advertising. The campaign begins next month.
To date, the company’s AOL address has attracted more men than traditional fragrance outlets usually get. Katz said about 54 percent of his customers are males, who purchase scents for themselves and as gifts, he said.
“For men who need to purchase a gift, using this is a no-brainer,” explained Katz.
He added that the site often introduces new fragrances at about the same time they are launched in department stores. He said Gucci Envy was introduced simultaneously on the AOL address, complete with a gift-with-purchase promotion.
The Fragrance Counter isn’t the only game in cyberspace. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s are offering fragrances via the Internet, and many vendors have expressed interest in the medium. A site called 7Parfum recently opened, as well.
A report from Morgan Stanley estimates the number of Internet users will grow at a yearly rate of 45 percent to 150 million by 2000.

The Chain Drug Marketers’ Association’s fall meeting kicked off today in Chicago. Although the Cosmetics Buyers Forum segment of the show was postponed until the spring, the meeting attracted many top beauty firms, among them AM Cosmetics, Del Laboratories, French Fragrances and Maybelline.
The fall exhibition is the first for Bonnie Lafferty, formerly a buyer for Kmart, in her new role as head of beauty care for CDMA, based in Novi, Mich.
Her goal at the show is to determine how the Buyers Forum can be improved.
“I’ll be very involved in coordinating, determining the topics and working with the co-chair people on the forum,” said Lafferty.
The Cosmetics Buyers Forum has evolved into what many participants say is one of the best events for buyers to get together — with and without manufacturers — to tackle the most vexing issues in the industry.
Lafferty said her role at CDMA also will be to help the organization provide services and promotional information to its constituency of small and medium-sized drug chains. She hopes her experience with major power Kmart will prove beneficial.
“It is important to be very cognizant of how everything is trending. [Members] need to know what the latest and greatest is, and if they don’t, they are at a disadvantage,” she said. If smaller chains have the same information as larger players, she said, they can be more nimble reacting to market trends.
“I also want to figure out how I can make and consolidate our individual members’ buying power so that we are a significant buying power with the manufacturers,” she added, alluding to maakers who don’t always realize how much CDMA members affect the beauty business.
Suppliers at the fall show said they were there to preview items for next spring and Easter. Several said moving the Buyers Forum to the spring will be good because retailers already will be forming Christmas plans.
“Fall is too late for Christmas. The spring will be perfect because it will give us a chance to show things before Marketplace,” said one manufacturer, referring to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ meeting in June.

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