Do It! Or Ditch It: Lessons Learned From the World's Most Expensive Perfume

Not so long ago I noticed an advert in a magazine for 'the most expensive perfume in the world'. I was struck by the fact that this exclusive brand was using price as its unique selling point.

Created by a long established firm with a reputation for quality, Clive Christian has always been marketed to the discerning end of the luxury market. I was curious to know what the product looked like, who would buy such an exclusive perfume and how such sales are made.

I found my way to Harrods' Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie, and spoke to the assistant manager, Marcel Van der Merwe.

He showed me the most expensive bottle of Clive Christian perfume available. It cost £115,000 and had a five carat diamond set into the top of the bottle.

Now, no-one can possibly need a bottle of perfume costing that amount of money – but a select range of customers from around the world do want it enough to spend that amount of money. As a business person, I was fascinated.

Marcel had a fascinating story to tell about every perfume on the shelf. He made the brands come alive to the point where he was almost taking me on a journey with him. He has the gift of making every customer he speaks to feel as if they want and need to become a part of the perfume story.

He also has great customer intelligence. He understands that the more luxurious the item, the greater the sales experience has to be.

His customers aren't just buying perfume, they are buying the whole sensual adventure of visiting the perfumery. He arranged for me to meet Roja Dove, the founder and creator of this unique perfume emporium, to learn more.

Perfume is a highly competitive, international, billion dollar industry; and within it, Roja is world renowned as the 'maestro of fragrance'. But he does not try to compete with others by lowering his prices. He takes pride in stocking the world's most expensive perfumes. You won't hear any of his sales assistants using phrases such as, 'This is the most popular...' 'This is our best seller ...' because that kind of language won't make the product or service sound special. He knows that no-one needs to spend from £100 to £115,000 on perfume, instead he focuses on offering a unique customer experience to every single customer.

His experience shows that if you produce what people want, and sell it in an environment and in a style that customers appreciate and identify with, then price ceases to become the most important factor.

Other quality brands know this too. Think Apple products, think Rolex; think M&S or Waitrose. The perceived value-for-money lies in the quality of product, service and delivery – which are of far greater importance to the customer. Of course, investment in staff training also becomes important in order to be able to fulfil customer expectations. Roja Dove invests heavily in training his team so they have the benefit of thorough industry and product knowledge. His overall aim is to ensure that every customer is well advised and buys a product they want, as well as something that suits them. He has trained his sales team to never make assumptions about customers' needs.

Taking a highly personal approach transforms each transaction from a sale of a commercial commodity into a unique exchange for something precious and desirable. This is a business lesson that is relevant to all entrepreneurs.

Whatever you feel your product or service is worth, you need to create an environment where the perceived value is consistent with your customer service and your pricing. As everyone in the hospitality industry knows, delivering an exceptional customer experience pays dividends. Whether you are selling products or services that are high-priced or low-priced, your customers' perspective of what is expensive will be influenced by other factors: your location, the price range of your products and services, and the quality and style of your premises or website, the quality of your customer care. Make sure that every aspect of your business is consistent with your branding and appealing to the market sector you wish to attract.

UNDERSTAND YOUR CUSTOMERS Being aware of what your customers want and staying in touch with the market for your product or service is essential.

Asking your customers questions is even better - because it will stop you making assumptions about what they like and what they expect from you and your products or service.

Ask yourself and others: Who buys your product or service? At what price do they buy it? How do they buy it? (Online, in-store, mail order etc)? How often do they buy it? Who else can they buy it from? Where can they get it cheaper? What else will they buy? What are their likes and dislikes? Where else will they buy? How else can you make sure that buying from you will meet their needs and wants?

When selling pizza by the slice at a road-side stall you will charge by the slice; when you sell pizza in a bistro you will charge for the whole pizza. The pizza could be exactly the same, but the 'want' for customers at the street stall will be speed of service and a cheap price. The 'want' for the diners in the restaurant will be quality of food and service with no sense of being rushed.

In a department store like Harrods, which is synonymous with luxury, tourists are known to buy any item they can afford in order to receive a carrier bag featuring the Harrods logo. If you price for the top end of the market, the quality of your product and the quality of your customer service need to be correspondingly high.

DON'T THINK PRICE, THINK VALUE When under pressure, many businesses forget about the customer experience and try to compete solely by lowering prices; but that won't necessarily encourage more people through your door, it just compromises your value and makes your job of selling more difficult. It is worth remembering that it can cost 6 times more to find a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Major price reductions mean you will need more customers to make the same amount of profit.

Nor is the customer who buys by price alone likely to be a more loyal customer; they will always buy where the price is cheapest. Lowering prices without lowering overheads also threatens your profit margin and could invite a cash-flow disaster.

But the most dangerous situation of all is a compromise: to charge more than the cheapest without offering additional value; and to offer less than the best without being good enough value. Your uniqueness is always your best selling point.

6 WAYS TO SWEETEN THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE - WITHOUT REDUCING PRICES The biggest lesson from the Roja Dove experience is the critical importance of the customer experience and its role in pricing your product. However, there are other valuable insights too:

  • Be true to your values – Be a leader not a follower. Identify your customer profile and create a clear identity for your brand.
  • Listen to your customers – Sell them what they want, not what you think they should have - or you may never get a repeat sale.
  • Don't be a social media ostrich – No-one will buy for you unless they know you exist. Spread the word. Make use of social media and other marketing networks.
  • Inspire your team - Give them clear direction and appreciate and support them as individuals. A company is only as good as the people who are representing it.
  • Keep raising the bar - Never be complacent - there is always more that you can do for your customers, to keep them surprised and pleased and coming back for more.
  • Remain customer-focused - Set prices that reflect your customer profile and the complete customer experience on offer, rather than just pricing the value of your goods and your time at the cheapest point you can afford.
  • Finally, never 'make do' with something you know is not right for your business.

In the words of Roja Dove, "My driving mantra is always, 'It will do, will never do.' The minute you 'make do' ... in the way you approach your service or how a counter looks, you deliver mediocrity." I couldn't have put it better myself.

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