How to buy fragrance online when you can’t actually smell it

Ready for a new summer scent? Perfume experts explain how to buy fragrance online when testing it in person isn't an option

A flatlay of a laptop and perfume bottle to depict how to buy fragrance online
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Learning how to buy fragrance online feels a little like riding a bike blindfolded. It could end in disaster. But when you need to accommodate a hectic schedule or just can't be bothered to hit the high street, ordering a new perfume to be delivered straight to your door is an appealing prospect. 

We admit, purchasing something as emotionally subjective and potentially expensive as a new perfume without testing it in person feels high-risk. Fragrance is an intensely personal journey. All the best perfumes for women work by triggering the bits of your brain that control memories and emotions. Reading a list of perfume notes is no substitute for spritzing, sniffing and seeing how a fragrance makes you feel, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo treating yourself to a new scent for summer.

In fact, many of us are already taking the plunge online. British fragrance house, Floral Street, has seen a 300% uplift in web sales over the last two years, which suggests that virtual fragrance shopping is not only doable but perhaps, for many of us, preferable. So sit back, swipe up and start clicking. We've quizzed industry experts on everything you need to know about how to buy fragrance online – from clever research tips and perfume-matching tools and the best discovery sets.

The experts reveal how to buy fragrance online

1. Blag a sample

When learning how to buy fragrance online, you'll also learn pretty quickly that there's no substitute for trying before you buy. "New fragrance launches come down to whether customers like the product and to know that, they have to try it," explains Cathy Newman, Marketing & Customer Experience Director at The Perfume Shop (opens in new tab)

In the US, beauty mecca Sephora offers free sampling with any purchase at checkout. The selection changes seasonally but often includes fragrances. Hermes offers the chance to sample fragrances by email request (follow the instructions here (opens in new tab)) Or pick up a discovery-sized vial from cool fragrance houses such as Le Labo, where .05 fl.oz. of their most popular scents costs $6 (compared with $198 for a standard 50ml)

In the UK, The Perfume Shop runs a nifty service, explains Newman. "To encourage online fragrance exploration, our Try More service gives customers the chance to choose three samples to test. The scents are free, customers just pay for delivery and they get a 10% discount voucher to redeem against a full-sized purchase."

2. Do your research

If you're coming in cold and aren't able to test any scents before you add to cart, an educated decision will help you find a perfume you adore. "A good start is to look up perfumes you already know and love," suggests The Perfume Society’s (opens in new tab) Suzy Nightingale. "Do they share any of the top, heart, and base notes listed? It could be you are particularly drawn to these and can use that as a guide to finding your next true love." 

It's also worth looking at who composed your current favorite, as most perfumers (AKA 'noses') work across brands. "Don’t only look at the list of ingredients, tempting though that is," agrees Nightingale. "It’s like describing a painting by naming the colors the artist used! Find out the name of the perfumer, if possible. Just as an artist has a signature style, perfumers often use similar characteristics across the scents they compose."

3.Try an algorithm

If there's one thing the internet is great at serving us, it's a quirky quiz. Take a break from finding out what power ranger you are and try an online fragrance-finding tool. As well as allowing you to focus your search, many use sophisticated algorithms to pinpoint your personal scent style and help you nail how to buy fragrances online. 

The Perfume Society is an excellent resource for perfume education and offers a handy find a fragrance (opens in new tab) tool whereby you input your favorite scent and it'll suggest six others there's a good chance you'll like from a database of thousands. If you wish to combine your quizzing and shopping, Cathy Newman suggests, "The Perfume Shop's online fragrance finder (opens in new tab) helps customers find new scents based on the notes and fragrance they already wear."

4. Buy a discovery set

If you know you love a particular perfume house or are curious to try a brand but have no idea where to start, many offer discovery sets. These cannily-priced collections contain several mini-vials of popular perfumes across the range, so you can test each on your skin – or even try a spot of fragrance layering.

"A discovery set is a great way to try before you buy," agrees Michelle Feeney (opens in new tab), founder of Floral Street. "Our set has eight mini sprays that allow you to play around and sample a whole collection of fragrances before spending money on a full-size perfume. It's an affordable way to find the ones that suit you and your mood."

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Floral Street Discovery Set  | RRP: $22.10/£16

A mini fragrance wardrobe of eight best-selling clean and vegan scents to sample at your leisure, including the iconic Wonderland Peony. 

8 new perfumes to try in 2022, chosen by our beauty editor

Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess

(Image credit: Estee Lauder)

1. Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess Eau Fraiche Skinscent

Best for holidays

Specifications

RRP: $58.77/£48 50ml
Fragrance type: Skinscent
Fragrance family: Solar floral
Top notes: Bergamot, Mandarin, Pulpy orange, Lemon
Middle notes: Tiare Flower, Lavender, Orange Blossom, Magnolia, Jasmine
Base notes: Coconut Milk, Vanilla, Myrrh, Amber, Sandalwood

Warm skin, suntan lotion, fruity cocktails - these are the smells we associate with summer holidays, and they are all perfectly alluded to in this sun-soaked blend. It's warm, sexy, and velvety with coconut, vanilla and amber notes that immediately transport you to a faraway idyll. Estée Lauder has expertly sidestepped the sickly connotations of coconut with an elegant blend that lasts surprisingly well on the skin. 

Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Italian Love Pour Femme

(Image credit: Dolce & Gabbana)

2. Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Italian Love Pour Femme

Best for daytime

Specifications

RRP: $86/£65 50ml
Fragrance type: Eau de Toilette
Fragrance family: Fruity floral
Top notes: Italian lemon, Granny Smith apple
Middle notes: Ambrette, White rose, Jasmine sambac
Base notes: Sandalwood, White musk, Virginia cedar, Amber

Pure Mediterranean escapism in a bottle, this limited edition fragrance will galvanize the senses with a sharp hit of Calabrian lemon and crisp Granny Smith apple. The lemon accord remains a constant force within the fragrance, but after a few minutes, the floral element comes through, mellowing those crisp top notes, trailed by sensual cedar wood and musk. 

Michael Kors Wonderlust Eau de Voyage

(Image credit: Michael Kors)

3. Michael Kors Wonderlust Eau de Voyage

Best for evening

Specifications

RRP: $74/£49 30ml
Fragrance type: Eau de Parfum
Fragrance family: Floral
Top notes: Sicilian mandarin, Pink pepper, Lavender, Cardamom
Middle notes: Orange blossom, Carnation, Jasmine sambac, Jasmine
Base notes: Salt, Musk, Sandalwood, Cashmere wood, Moss

Wonderlust opens with a bright burst of Sicilian mandarin and pink pepper, balanced by calming lavender. The jasmine is most apparent at the heart of this fragrance, with a blend of salt, musk, and cashmere wood to finish. It's definitely more of an evening scent, and I love the idea of spritzing this on for sundowners on the hotel balcony (or most likely, the back garden). 

Bvlgari Rose Goldea Blossom Delight

(Image credit: Bvlgari)

4. Bvlgari Rose Goldea Blossom Delight

Best for rose lovers

Specifications

RRP: $84/£56 30ml
Fragrance type: Eau de Toilette
Fragrance family: Floral
Top notes: Papaya, Violet leaf, Jasmine
Middle notes: Rose, Rose leaf, Lily-of-the-Valley
Base notes: Bulgarian rose, White musk, Amber

Soft florals risk veering into sickly-sweet pot-pourri territory, but the addition of musk and cedar give this a modern and elegant impression. As the name might suggest, it is unequivocally and unapologetically all about the rose. So if that's your usual jam then you will love this, and will probably spend the entire day sniffing your wrist. 

Jo Malone London Crystal Campion Cologne

(Image credit: Jo Malone London)

5. Jo Malone Crystal Campion Cologne

Best for fans of aquatic scents

Specifications

RRP: $64/£56 30ml
Fragrance type: Cologne
Fragrance family: Floral aquatic
Top notes: Blackcurrant
Middle notes: Campion flower accord
Base notes: ISO E

Inspired by the galvanising, cleansing and unfiltered experience of wild swimming, Crystal Campion is one of five limited-edition scents, each illustrating an aquatic experience. It's a pure and clean fragrance that freshens the mind and body. Delicate blackcurrant, subtle floral accords and ambery accents will make you think of sparkling blue waters, rippling on the shore. But don't let the watery notes fool you - this is a long-lasting perfume with impressive projection.

Molton Brown Delicious Rhubarb & Rose

(Image credit: Molton Brown)

6. Molton Brown Delicious Rhubarb & Rose Eau de Toilette

Best for fruity scent fans

Specifications

RRP: $104.05/£85 100ml
Fragrance type: Eau de Toilette
Fragrance family: Fruity-floral
Top notes: Grapefruit, Yuzu, Lemongrass
Middle notes: Rhubarb leaf, Rose, Spearmint
Base notes: Vanilla, Musk, Spun sugar

Bright and cheerful fruity accents provide an instant perfume pick-me-up. Fizzy rhubarb and grapefruit are grounded by rose and creamy vanilla. It's in no way sickly, only fizzy and effervescent. This sold out very quickly the first time it launched, so if it sounds like it could be a match made in fragrance heaven for you, be quick off the mark. 

Jo Loves A Fragrance Body Mist Fig

(Image credit: Jo Loves)

7. Jo Loves Fig A Fragrance Body Mist

Best ultra-light and refreshing spritz

Specifications

RRP: $75/£55 100ml
Fragrance type: Body mist
Fragrance family: Green
Top notes: Fig
Middle notes: Rose
Base notes: Amber

Body mists have come a long way since the days of Impulse. This light, quick-drying spritz is a super-chic way to scent your body and clothing. Expect a delicate, fresh aroma that will make you think of freshly-cut grass and the sound of lawnmowers on a warm summer's day. I happen to think this combination of fig, rose and amber is intoxicating but the body mists can also be layered to create your own bespoke blend. Or make like brand founder Jo Malone herself and keep your body mist in the fridge on hot days to deliver a cooling sensation and burst of fragrance in one. 

Byredo De Los Santos Eau de Parfum

(Image credit: Byredo)

8. Byredo De Los Santos Eau de Parfum

Best luxury pick

Specifications

RRP: $196/£178 100ml
Fragrance type: Eau de Parfum
Fragrance family: Floral
Top notes: Sage, Mirabelle
Middle notes: Orris root, Cistus incanus
Base notes: Musk, Ambroxan, Olibanum

Earthy, fresh, and aromatic, the latest Byredo incarnation is an intriguing blend of green, herby notes, musk, and heady incense. It has a soft smokiness to it, cut through by vibrant sage and Mirabelle, a juicy, plummy note. This is giving us all the effortless cool-girl vibes, and definitely suited to warm, balmy weather.

Fiona McKim
Fiona McKim

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.