Can a pure-play online fragrance brand succeed?

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If Phlur, a new fragrance company, has its way, men and women trying to smell good won’t have to leave their homes, or even open their noses to get a whiff of what they’re buying before they order it.

The startup, which was founded by Ralph Lauren’s former ecommerce chief, Eric Korman, launches this week and is aiming to make its mark on what is a highly lucrative and even more competitive market.

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To start, Phlur will offer a line of six fragrances, and believes it can make life easier for customers by helping them identify the perfect scent and offering tip sheets that offer instructions on how to wear it.

While that might seem incredibly simple, Korman believes that despite the fact fragrance makers have proven skillful at creating luxurious branding and seductive ads, consumers are still often confused about the products themselves.

“One of the things that seem to be missing from the category is how a scent objectively wears,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

Testing just how far online retail has come

While the notion that large numbers of consumers will be willing to purchase a fragrance scent unsmelt might seem questionable to some, it wasn’t that long ago when skeptics questioned just how willing consumers would be to purchase apparel online before they had the opportunity to try it on.

But today, online apparel sales are thriving and Amazon has even launched its own apparel brands.

There are numerous reasons for booming online apparel sales. Thanks to the widespread availability of free return shipping, for instance, consumers have little to lose if they order clothing that they don’t like or doesn’t fit right.

They can even order multiple sizes or product variations with the intention of returning those that don’t meet their needs. And thanks to services like Amazon Prime and ShopRunner, consumers don’t have to wait long for their orders to arrive, so driving to the store isn’t significantly more convenient in most circumstances.

Obviously, fragrances differ from apparel and Phlur will test just how far consumers are willing to go. But the company’s strategy has some things going for it.

First, Phlur is offering customers a two fragrance sample kit for $10. That probably isn’t a lot of money for members of the company’s target audience, and if and when they make a purchase, sample kit buyers receive a $10 discount that makes them whole. In other words, customers don’t risk much by giving Phlur a try.

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Second, by creating content that aims to help its customers select the right fragrance and properly use it, the company is attempting to improve the fragrance buying experience. If the content does what it’s supposed to, customers will purchase a product that they’re happy with and be more likely to make a repeat purchase since they’re maximizing its use.

Finally, by exclusively selling its own brand and limiting choice, Phlur could very well take advantage of less being more by appealing to fragrance buyers who are overwhelmed by the choices they have when they go to a department store or browse the selection of other online retailers.

Of course, none of this guarantees Phlur’s success, but if Phlur doesn’t succeed, it won’t necessarily be because consumers are unwilling to purchase products they can’t see, touch or smell online.

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