There is something wonderful about buying perfume in a store. That is, until you find out that the store does not have the perfume you want. If you are a perfume devotee, that happens pretty quickly. There is no store that has all of the perfumes in the world. In fact, even large department stores offer only a small slice of the total fragrance universe.
Fortunately, Internet shopping has made it possible for ordinary people to buy obscure perfumes, retro-scents, sample the wares of new boutique perfumeries, and even try scents from foreign countries.
There are some pitfalls to Internet shopping. First and uppermost in my mind is the fact that there are many fragrance sites online that are selling knock-offs and counterfeits. Sometimes, the site will disclose this but more often than not it is only evident in the price. If you want to buy one ounce of Chanel No. 5 perfume (the real thing), the price tag is $260. Granted, sometimes you'll find some warehouse type sites that knock a bit off of the price. But if you ever find Chanel No. 5 perfume at $50 an ounce, you've got a knock-off.
A knock-off is another company that manufactures a similar scent and packages it as "just like" something else. A counterfeit is a company that manufactures a similar scent and lies about it and represents it as the original scent. One is more unethical than the other, but neither one are good perfume.
Here's why. Quality perfume, like a gourmet dessert, is made of the best and purest ingredients. It's also made to excruciating standards. Most copycats are made of cheaper ingredients and tend to be more homemade products by a no-name company. Think of it this way: if those guys could really make perfume, wouldn't they be better off making a truly new fragrance than just ripping off an existing product?
To avoid knockoffs, go to reputable sites. If you know the company that makes the perfume, see if they sell the product from that website. For instance, you can buy Chanel No. 5 directly from http://www.chanel.com.
And there are sites that are even bigger, such as http://www.sephora.com and others that offer a wide range of original products.
For boutique perfumes, you almost assuredly have to find the site of the perfumery. Perfume people tend to be extroverts who like each other, so it may not be long before you're a friend as much as a client.
When buying online, you do not have the opportunity to test the perfume first. If you somehow get a chance to sample a scent, for instance, from a friend, you can make your own purchase with some confidence.
But what if you want to try a new perfume? How can you do that online? There are some sites that sell samples or small amounts of their product. If you are a regular customer of a large site like Sephora, you may find that they give samples with orders. (Don't expect samples as freebies; they are perks to people who are likely to order them.)
If you know a lot about perfume and are very bold by nature, you can buy perfume unsmelled. The best way to do this is to read a bit about the perfume. Most sites will describe scents, so you should know generally if you're getting a fruity-floral or an Oriental or a light boy-or-girl kind of scent. You cannot fairly describe a perfume just by that, but I have found that if you favor a particular fragrance family, you are usually safe when buying within that family, even if you don't have the opportunity to try a perfume in advance.
Another good way to shop for perfumes you can't smell first is to read reviews. A lot of websites and blogs review perfumes. Sometimes the reviews tell you more about the personality of the writer than the perfume. The best reviews are ones that describe the scent and its attributes rather than offer subjective opinions like, "I like this" or "I hated that." I'm sure there are perfectly reasonable people who hate Chanel No. 5 but that does not make it a bad perfume.
If you are very fond of all kinds of perfumes, it's pretty easy to buy perfume online. Service and reliability are great, prices are not exorbitant (including the ubiquitous shipping and handling) and you have a wider breadth of fragrance at your fingertips. Besides knowing what you like, you should know what types of fragrances to stay away from (maybe you hate anything too flowery or you dislike fragrances that go heavy on sandalwood). Just knowing these two groups of products will let you do pretty well for yourself.
And sometimes I find that perfumes that do not wow me with the first whiff from the bottle eventually become lifelong favorites. That's why I like taking the risk of buying untested perfumes. Sometimes the scents you would have never picked out for yourself turn out to be the very best ones for you.