Forget Perfume Counters: Phlur’s A.I. Is E-Commerce’s Scent Sherpa

Forget Perfume Counters: Phlur’s A.I. Is E-Commerce’s Scent Sherpa

Austin—It stands to reason that if any industry could resist the tidal wave of e-commerce, it would be the fragrance business. After all, how can you smell a perfume or cologne online to decide if you like the scent?

But Eric Korman, founder and CEO of Phlur, says the startup can make it easier for shoppers to find scents they like while also offering up a more bespoke selection of products. “Department stores have been their primary distribution channel for the last 100 years,” he says. “People really dislike the fragrance counter; the store employees spritzing you. It’s a terribly designed UX, if you will.”

Retailers typically display many dozens of perfumes as part of their overall cosmetics offerings. Phlur (a take on the French word for flower, “fleur”) strips down the merchandise on offer to six unisex fragrances designed to either evoke places (New York’s Central Park, rural New England, or the desert Southwest) or a style (minimalistic zen, hipster, night out on the town.) Since shoppers obviously can’t smell the perfumes, Phlur suggests that customers try them out by purchasing a set of three that comes in 2 milliliter bottles—about a month’s worth of perfume—for $18. Phlur then credits that amount to a purchase of a full bottle of the chosen scent at $88.

Korman was employed at Ralph Lauren’s e-commerce division when he became interested in the fragrance business—though he says he hadn’t likely worn a scent since Drakkar Noir in junior high school. “But I couldn’t find a brand that was about fragrance, not about a designer or a celebrity,” he says. “Also, you can’t find out what’s in them. I wanted a purveyor that was thoughtful about the ingredients that went into them.”

Korman says he looked into artisan, small batch-style brands but found a price tag of around $200 for a small bottle prohibitive. “I thought that was outrageous and overpriced,” he says. “I thought, I can’t be the only one who wants honest prices.”

Fragrance sales totaled $4 billion in 2017, according to NPD Group. And niche areas of the market such as sales of natural and artisanal fragrances are growing especially fast—by 32 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Koman says he saw a market opportunity and moved from New York to Austin to found Phlur three years ago, with industry experts David Apel and Nathalie Benareau, senior perfumers at Symrise AG; as well as Chandler Burr, a former New York Times scent critic and author; acting as advisors.

Phlur has raised $6 million in funding from investors such as Austin venture firm Next Coast Ventures; Joey Levin, CEO of media firm IAC; RetailMeNot CEO Cotter Cunningham; and Roger Farah , former co-CEO of Tory … Next Page »

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