One Friday, I was on my way to dinner in an Uber when my driver asked: "Is that Dior?" I knew he was referring to my perfume, which was most definitely not Dior. So I said no. Then I paused - I wasn't sure if I wanted to add that it was Angel by Victoria's Secret, which I absolutely loved, but which one of my colleagues once joked made a girl smell like a streetwalker.
I did eventually tell him it was Angel. And to my amusement, he said he would get it as a gift for his wife because it smelled great. The next thing I knew, we had launched into a conversation about scents, during which we agreed that they made people feel happy, attractive and confident.
So when I was introduced to Waft last week, I was excited. A Singapore-based startup, Waft lets you customise your own perfume online, and delivers it to you in under a week! It was founded by Valerie Boffy, a French-born entrepreneur who had worked at the Estée Lauder Companies and believes that "the ultimate fragrance is that which is truly yours".
I like the idea of a unique scent. Plus, creating my perfume on Waft's website turned out to be extremely fun and seamless. The process took less than five minutes, and I even got to name my creation and have that printed on the bottle! To me, that was the ultimate personalisation.
Here are questions asked by Waft in the creation process:
1. Are you a man or woman?
2. Do you prefer your scent to be masculine, unisex or feminine?
3. What moment is this scent for? (Day or night)
4. What will you be doing while wearing your new creation? (Sport, social, work or dating)
5. Which mood should your fragrance convey? (Fresh, sexy, elegant or relaxed)
6. Which best describes your personal style aesthetic? (Classic or trendy)
7. Which ingredients appeal to you the most? (Choose up to three from 40 ingredients including vetiver, fig, leather, incense and vanilla)
8. Which fragrance do you like? (Choose from a drop-down list of perfumes)
9. Give your creation a name. Add a message.
My perfume came up to S$109, which is Waft's price for a 50-millilitre bottle. It was a good price to pay for my own perfume, and for a gift too. Best, if you aren't satisfied with it, Waft offers a full, no-questions-asked refund, including free shipping. Even so, return rates have been "minuscule" since Waft shipped its first perfume in October 2016, Ms Boffy said.
"We are so confident that our consumers will love it that we offer to pay for return shipping. Our no-questions-asked money-back guarantee removes the single biggest risk around buying a new fragrance online: What happens if I simply don't like it?" Ms Boffy said that quality is what drives Waft's entire business model. To ensure that, Waft has partnered International Flavours and Fragrances, a New York-headquartered fine fragrances company, from which it gets all its ingredients and fragrances.
Waft is "re-imagining" the US$40 billion perfume industry, said Ms Boffy. Its founding was inspired by three things: the power of the Internet, the ripeness of the high fragrance industry for reinvention, and her familiarity with the perfume industry and Internet startups.
She added that Waft's scent-designing process is the result of extensive testing informed by deep expertise in both the perfume industry and online marketing. "We think that every step is important, including making the perfume your own by naming it. We also understand that you should be able to skip any stage and still end up with something that you love."
Photo: The Business Times
To be honest, I wasn't overly thrilled with my made-to-order perfume. There was one scent in there that I'm not a fan of, and which I cannot distinguish. Also, my perfume had little resemblance to Angel by Victoria's Secret, which I had indicated as a fragrance I like.
In response, Ms Boffy said: "The art of perfume making is a very sophisticated one. We ask our customers to indicate which perfume they like to understand which 'olfactive world' they have in mind when making their Waft perfume. We then use that as one of the signals to help craft a perfume through a process which has proven to be very accurate."
She added: "Each ingredient reacts differently when combined with others, so we ask customers to share only a few of the ingredients that they like the most. This only serves as a directional indicator and not a mandate to the perfumer and ultimately not all of the ingredients chosen may be selected for their fragrances."
But I love the concept, right down to the writing on my perfume bottle. That it arrived in a chic black wrapper lined with bubble wrap and sealed with a label that said "Jac, welcome to the new you" added to the love.
The future of tech is personalisation. With technologies such as machine learning and data analytics, tech can now be used to personalise and humanise all sorts of services. This improves customer experience and ultimately revenues. It's simple for brands: the more customers engage with you or feel that you understand them, the more likely they will spend with you, and the more likely they will spend more with you.
This article first appeared in The Business Times on 11 November 2017.