Duty Free Fragrance

Sensible about scents ….
Duty free fragrances and perfumes

Shopping for perfume is one of the main reasons women – and increasingly men – go into the duty free shop.


It seems that the wafting scents from the back walls and gondolas of the beauty section of the airport duty free shop are a hypnotic siren call to women, luring them in to spend impulsively and with wild abandon.

That sounds like good news for the retailer, but in actual fact, these days both women and men often come well prepared to shop for fragrances. And the key to that preparation is research.

If you know which scents you want, perhaps something exclusive from Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection or a spray of plant extracts from Clarins to lift your senses, do the price comparisons online before you get to the airport. Doing it there and then on your smart phone will waste time and will distract you from your main task of browsing and buying!

But be realistic when you check online. Web-only fragrance sellers may offer big discounts, but you may not be willing to trust a retailer you don’t know, or you may not have the time to wait for a delivery. It is also the case that web-based beauty products are not always the latest available so you should also look at High Street retailers like Boots, Marionnaud or Sasa, depending on which part of the world you are in, or going to, to see if they have the newer products and if they can be as price competitive as the airport.

Armed with this information you can be much more decisive about what, and what not, to buy. However, it is a well known fact that even the most pragmatic shoppers come unstuck when they pass the threshold of the beauty department. As fragrances are a core category in duty free, retailers go out of their way to make you buy – and in very wily ways.


Take the promotion, or contentainment as some like to call it. Today airports run them all the time, both big and small, and they have taken on the guise of full blown entertainment specials with themes related to the new launches. Whether it’s a green meadow transplanted to the shop floor where you can sample an organic drink and be doused with the latest natural-ingredients-only scent, or an Earl Grey and cake scenario that allows you to sample a tea-based fragrance, the brands are out to secure your custom, and competing imaginatively to do so.

Make the most of this competition: check out whether free gifts with purchase are part of the deal, try and test to your heart’s content, but don’t get too carried away with your emotional reaction to in-store events. Then buy based on what you thought you liked before you came into the shop (if you still can), rather than on an impulse which you may later regret. On the other hand such events may expose you to brands and types of scents you had never considered before and open your eyes to a whole new side of perfume, in which case go with your strongest feeling.

Limited editions and exclusives

In this respect, many airports, especially hubs like London Heathrow, Singapore Changi and Frankfurt, are excellent. They have not just a wide selection of brands, but they often also stock genuine limited editions and one-off scents, or lighter summer versions of their bestsellers – great if you want to give a present that is a bit different. Sometimes you can even find scents that are just for the duty free channel; Lancôme and Estée Lauder for example have periodically created such juices and these would really be unique as a gift.

In addition, bigger airports now regularly launch scents before they are available in the local market or even in the region – another good angle for a gift to impress someone special. For example at Hong Kong International, Aura by Swarovski was pre-launched at the airport before any other in Asia in Spring 2012, while Chanel has done a few very exclusive presentations of its expensive and in-demand Les Exclusifs line of 12 scents in airports. The collection is usually only sold in its own boutiques and a few of the best department stores worldwide.

Types of scents

In terms of choosing scents that are for someone else, it is best to try and find out the types of fragrances they like. A sweet floral like Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb is unlikely to go down well with anyone who likes to stick to woody orientals such as Hermès Eau de Merveilles. UK airport retailer World Duty Free’s Fragrance Search page (http://www.worlddutyfree.com/fragrance-search.html) has a handy guide to take you through the complexities. In the store, don’t be shy to ask the advice of the beauty advisers – they are usually trained to a good standard with respect to scent types and may even be able to point you in the direction of a more modern take on an old favourite.

When choosing, also consider the strength of the scent. They run in this order (strongest to weakest): parfum extreme, parfum, edp (eau de parfum), edt (eau de toilette) and eau de cologne. As a rule of thumb, strong scents are for special evening occasions and an edt for general daywear.

And if all this sounds just a little too complicated for a gift, an easy opt-out is to pick up a pre-chosen set of miniatures – called a coffret – a timesaver if you are late for your flight!

Check out our guides to ….