Fragrances are of course readily available online. But discovery happens mostly in conventional retail spaces. And, customization is fairly boutique based. The subscription service Scentbird Perfume does touch on the discovery element, letting consumers sample a new designer fragrance every month.
But Scent Trunk is something new altogether. “Scent is very personal and a retail environment is just not personal. It is crowded and noisy,” says William Yin, the new company’s CEO and co-founder. He believes that direct-to-consumer fragrances, sold online, and custom designed by a perfumer with the benefit of machine learning is the solution of the future.
“I think this purchasing strategy is going to be strongly preferred by the masses,” Yin tells Cosmetics Design. “We found that the majority of people are very loyal to the fragrances they love. People are very loyal to our fragrances because it is literally a representation of them, you can't just go into any department store and pick it up. By removing the department store from the equation we can give consumers their perfect fragrance, when they need it. It's a better experience.”
It’s fair to say that Scent Trunk is building a business that can calculate the nuances of fragrance preferences and leverage data well, so that it serves both the brand and the consumer.
“We are always developing new formulations using the data that we collect from our customers,” explains Yin. “Machine learning improves our ability to predict what consumers will love, improving the customer experience and our ability to make the world's best formulas. We plan to use machine learning to also drive future product development.”
Machine learning helps create personalized formulation at scale: “It is learning from all the customer data we get. But the results of the learning are applied at an individual consumer basis because everyone is unique,” Yin tells this publication.
Good news for fragrance formulators: key to the Scent Trunk strategy is Sarah McCartney, the company’s in-house fragrance maker.
“Sarah takes our intelligence and uses it to drive formulation,” Yin tells Cosmetics Design. “Fragrance is still an art, and even though technology can make formulation a lot more efficient and easier, we still need an amazing nose. I think the marriage between this technology and artistry is where the magic happens!”
Curiously, not all the scents she’s blending are unique. “Something we're really excited about that we've been able to start seeing from our data is 'mass personalization'. We are finding that huge segments of consumers all love the same scents. This is really valuable information,” acknowledges Yen.
The future of fragrance
Yen has bigger plans for Scent Trunk. “Our vision here at Scent Trunk is to be more than a fragrance company,” he says. “We're building out our proprietary data of who people are and what they like to smell. Then, we are going to launch more products like soaps, bath and body etc. We know our customers best and we're excited to one day provide them with all their scented product needs!”
And he believes that big beauty could get in the game too if they’re willing to deal with the challenges of the new model. “It's very hard to sell fragrances online,” says Yen and he shares just of few of the reason why:
“You must be able to identify what people like to smell and deliver fragrances they love. When we first started we were just delivering random fragrances and customers did not have a good experience (especially because scent is so personal). It took us a long time, a lot of data collection, formulation, etc. to build a way of actually figuring out what people love - and being able to formulate and deliver that.”
“Building a brand and acquiring customers online is very different than offline. Driving people to a website and having them make a purchase is a whole different ball game. For successful direct to consumer brands, digital marketing is a core competency. I think a lot of times it is underestimated just how difficult this part of the equation is.”
“Shipping and logistics becomes very important. The very economics of the product change when you begin selling online. Companies that are built around sending large quantities to few retailers have to figure out how to economically ship unit quantities to a large number of customers, all over the place. Companies that can get this right have an opportunity for much stronger margins.”