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Don’t fear the eBay

PortVilaMarketEvery so often – not just in the perfume world – I hear or see someone say “Oh, I don’t use eBay.” In the perfume world, it often goes along with “But how can I find this vintage perfume?”

There are probably many reasons not to use eBay, but please excuse the Unseen Censer if she greets these comments with an eyeroll (albeit discretely hidden behind the screen). Hey, if you want to find that vintage perfume? You’re going to have to troll through eBay like the rest of us.

But I do also occasionally hear about someone who has had a real problem on eBay, and I know how easily that can happen. I know there are reasons people might fear the eBay. So here’s the Unseen Censer’s unsolicited, free advice, totally worth what you paid for it.

This is a wonderful time of year to use eBay. People are not jacking up the prices for Christmas, Hannukah, or Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day is sufficiently far away, and people are spring cleaning. You can get some real finds on the Bay, especially from people who don’t normally work in perfume and price the stuff any old how to get it out of their house or shop.

If you’ve ever gone thrifting in thrift stores or flea markets, you know some of the things to look for. You’re not getting a fresh retail product; you’re getting something re-sold. If there’s damage, you should be able to see it in the photos. The person probably can’t report if the juice has been stored in a warm place, but if it comes with its box, it probably has at least been protected from light and slightly insulated from heat.

Stay away from blurry photographs; people who care about selling to you can take a clear photo, whether or not it’s artfully staged.

Stay away from things that are too good to be true. If all the other bottles of Chanel No. 5 parfum are $90 and this one is $20, something is possibly wrong. Yes, you could be missing out on a bargain; but get used to reading all the signs before you pounce on it. I’ve seen perfume listings where the words and the picture didn’t agree; contact the seller and try to clarify before you buy. (Some seller may have put “parfum” to sound fancy but the bottle is, and is clearly marked, eau de toilette. That’s partly why clear pictures are so important.)

There’s at least one bottle on eBay that I want that I purposefully haven’t bought because it’s been on there for weeks at less than half the price it should be. There’s another that is a deep discount on a very expensive house, also on there for weeks. If other perfumistas know something you don’t – like that that user tends to refill vintage bottles and sell them – they’ll stay away from the juice and you should too. With practice you’ll get to know who these are. Practice window shopping.

That said, I don’t expect 100% ratings from perfume resellers on eBay the way I do for all other types of eBay sellers, and I’ll tell you why. Because perfume buyers unaware of reformulations or the way perfume can degrade over time are always dinging their sellers because the perfume doesn’t smell like they expected it to. Well, lady, you smelled it 20 years ago, and this bottle has been opened and is at least 15 years old (or is brand new but in totally different packaging and the company has been sold since then) – do not act surprised that it doesn’t smell the same. But they do, and they punish the sellers for it.

Don’t spend more on eBay than you can afford to lose. Hey, especially if it’s vintage, you really can’t guarantee what you’re getting – and you couldn’t from any online ordering option. You couldn’t unless you had it in front of you to smell it. And then you’d have to open it, which lots of sellers wouldn’t let you do anyway (downsizes the value). Like playing at a casino, it should be fun to gamble, not super-stressful. I don’t gamble at casinos, and I think with some practice the odds are very low that you’re going to “lose” with an eBay purchase, but just realize that it is a slight gamble and don’t freak out about it. Most perfume sellers can’t take your product back if you decide you don’t like it – and it’s just as likely that it’ll actually be fine, but you personally don’t happen to like it, as anything else.

Use a strong password and perhaps a separate email address for eBay. I know people who say their eBay accounts have been hacked, and it is worth being concerned about; eBay is a large enough company to be a target. But your passwords all contain letters AND numbers, some of the letters are capitalized, and at least one punctuation mark already, right? you$Bettheyd0. Because that’s how you make a strong password for anything. By the way, phrases like that are many times harder to crack than a single word.

If you have a separate email account just for eBay (why not, they’re free, and you can set them to forward to another account), then if your account DOES get hacked, all they’ve got is your eBay information, nothing else. UnseenCenserEbay is a perfectly good account ID you won’t forget. (Or at least I wouldn’t.)

Use the image feature of Google to compare bottles and packaging. If they claim it’s vintage but you feel iffy about it, Google image search “vintage” and the juice you’re looking at. You can quickly learn about what the bottle should look like, at the very least what’s old and what’s new packaging roughly. Looking at Amazon will also most likely show you the new retail packaging.

Sealed bottles are worth more because oxygen hasn’t gotten to the juice (especially if it’s a splash bottle). Full bottles are worth more for the same reason, by the way. If it’s one of the factory sealed, machine-crimped spray bottles of the last few decades, I personally don’t think it matters as much that its box was sealed or that it’s a partial, but that’s just my opinion. Certainly some oxygen has gotten in because then unless it’s pressurized the juice wouldn’t come out when you spray it.

VintageChanelAdIf it HAS gone off, odds are it will still smell pretty good after the first few minutes.

You can set up eBay searches when you save them to email you whenever an object is found. Be aware that every other perfumista in the world does this too and unless you get up early and check your email someone else will have pounced on that awesome near-perfect Caron 60s coffret. (GRRRRR!) But most juices that are affordable enough to buy will come on fairly often, so these searches are good to do. If you’re looking for something specific that isn’t super well known and super rare, your odds are good, because the ravening perfumistas might not leap on it immediately, as they won’t know how good it is – but you do!

If you don’t want to take a chance unsniffed – and you shouldn’t – then invest in a sample first from The Perfumed Court or Surrender to Chance. Consider it an investment in your knowledge before you spring for a bottle you might not wear anyway! Sometimes people sell samples on eBay too, but I never bother with these because they’re almost always sold in lots, and unless you are brand new to perfume, it’s a waste to buy so many samples you probably already have to get the ones you don’t. Go for a “real” sample of just the juice you want if you want to save money.

Yes, those samples are expensive. Are you not getting how much time and effort it takes to locate good vintage juice? Plus, these are businesses, not charity affairs. Please remember the Unseen Censer gets tired of whining very quickly. Yes, it is worth it to spend $10 on a quarter ml of perfume to avoid spending $80-$130 or way more on an unsniffed bottle. Even for cheaper bottles, unless you’ve sniffed it, you should. You really want to spend even $40 on something you hate? Of course not.

Please do not be one of those people who magically wants a $100 bottle of perfume to come to them for $20. Yes, I know you only have $20 to spend. That creates absolutely no obligation for the seller to lose their inventory value by selling to you at that price. Don’t be silly. If you really want a bottle you can’t afford, paying the markup on a larger size sample from the sampling businesses above may be your best option; or see if you can arrange to get the bottle and split it with your friends. Many of the perfume blogs on the left have advice on decanting; I like this article from Now Smell This.

People seem to think sellers are out to cheat them on eBay, and the thing is, 99% of them or more simply are not. When I’ve gotten something that wasn’t what it should be, I email the seller first and ask if they realize that they misrepresented the item. Selling oxidized, old juice is not against eBay policy, nor is selling fakes; but misrepresenting the item is. Every time – on eBay – the person has written back and asked what was up and how to make it right. I explain how what I got is not what they said – sometimes with links or pictures – and they’ve refunded all or part of my money. Done. It’s not worth sending back a smallish purchase for either side, and they really weren’t trying to cheat me – it’s just that perfume is complex and there’s a lot to know. In at least one case, the person was just a fellow perfumista like me who was trying to pass along parts of her collection she wasn’t using and didn’t know the atomizer could be opened to show that it was in fact only half full. Since in fact what she’d sold me was a fair price for the amount that I got, even though it was about 5 ml instead of 10, I told her to keep the money – no big. I couldn’t have gotten that juice anywhere else at any price. If you’re fair with other people, they’re going to be fair with you.

There ARE other places to buy vintage perfume besides eBay. has a surprising number of vintage perfumes in its upcycled inventory. is a competitor to eBay; I think it’s smaller with less feedback so it’s harder to rate sellers’ reliability. The only time I’ve ever been flat-out taken was on Ecrater, so I kind of avoid it now, but it’s only that one seller I wouldn’t reuse. (She marked a mini incorrectly, and because it was so cheap I bought it without waiting to confirm with her what it was. Sure enough, it wasn’t what she said it was, and she did not respond to any queries about whether or not she’d known that. Money lost, except that it WAS a mini – of another perfume.) seems to have fair prices; if you don’t have time or inclination to hunt down a better bargain on eBay, trust a person who knows perfume and is finding vintage for you. I haven’t used this site yet but the seller seems nice and is on Twitter to talk to. The Candy Perfume Boy has used and mentioned this Miniature Perfume Shoppe in his blog, and regular readers of this one know that I also have a local thrift store where vintage florals, at least, can sometimes be found (the owner doesn’t stock other things because she doesn’t think people will like them. !!!) You can also search for estate sales in your area and stalk them. This is all in addition to the swapping boards such as Makeup Alley; but I think bottles people get hold of in those venues are unlikely to be swapped or split.

Hope that helps you find the juice you’re looking for. And don’t fear the eBay. It’s more scared of you than you are of it.

First image is “Market” by GregWattTraveller, via Flickr. Second image is Chanel – 1965 by rchappo2002, also via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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4 comments to Don’t fear the eBay

  • Excellent advice. Thanks so much for your informative article.

  • I agree with most of the points (do not know those other sites so have no opinion). After trying one more vintage perfume (from a sample sent bya friend) I realized that for me they all smell alike. I’m not sure what it is – either an ingredient that was common for those perfumes or just the way they all age, but I recognize that “vintage” smell. I’ll stick to modern perfumes.

    • Judith

      I completely agree with you, that a lot of those perfumes do have an amazing similarity and I find them much harder to differentiate among than most modern perfumes. There are certain ones, though, that I have gotten to like, and I find after the first blast of “VINTAGE PERFUME SMELL!” they tend to differentiate more. It must have been a lot of common ingredients – or women just didn’t want something that didn’t smell like Perfume at first sniff!

What do you think?