The influence (or lack thereof) of the blogosphere, “part deux.”

I didn’t intend to write a second part to my last post, but it seems that Mr. Ross has decided to respond to it in an indirect way, perhaps because he pledged not to pay any attention to this blog not long ago (for the second time). In his new post, which is supposedly a “part two” to his earlier post about Vermeil (titled, “Vermeil For Men (Vermeil Paris) Part Two”), this passages is included:

After the stragglers are sold off, the prices become artificially inflated by idiots on Ebay who think they can get $350 for something that only cost $35 three years ago. But just because these prices are attached to the products doesn’t mean they sell, nor does it mean there is a market for them. Usually there is no market for them, and many of them don’t sell. Ebay is not a site that any experienced fragrance connoisseur would use to gauge the current, discontinued, or vintage fragrance market anyway, because it’s pretty common knowledge that it is nothing more than an every-man-for-himself auction of anything and everything. You know how your Ebay home page can look. That guy selling an ancient bottle of Shalimar has his ad stuck next to another guy selling a piece of toast with Jesus’ face on it. Sotheby’s this is not.

There are plenty of greedy people who want to exploit the scarcity of something that may or may not be in demand. I remember when Red for Men was being listed for $200 a bottle (or more) on Ebay, just five years ago. Then the positive reviews on internet forums revived the scent, and back it came – for $16 a bottle…

I’ll leave aside what he has to say about Vermeil, other than this:

I believe they’re still in business because their fragrances are still in production. I know their fragrances are still in production because there’s no contrived black market for them.

Mr. Ross’ conception of “knowledge” seems entirely at odds with mine, but why would one call a market for a scarce item “contrived?” Isn’t this very common, if not the basis, for many markets in “capitalist” type economies? Would Mr. Ross like to own a house in a “good area” of Manhattan for the same prices similar houses sell for in “good areas” of Toledo, Ohio? If so, what is the reason that is highly unlikely to happen in our lifetimes? Is that a “contrived” situation? The problem for Mr. Ross’ notion in the scent context is that ebay has a “Completed Auction” search function, so that you can see what various scents actually sell for, not just what a seller is asking. Let’s take some examples of scents that have gotten hardly any attention from the sites that are supposedly so influential AND didn’t get any buzz from a Luca Turin or Chandler Burr book. The first one is Davidoff’s first scent. Since there are many Davidoff scents, the best way to search without spending a lot of time is to use the phrase Davidoff Classic. Doing that returns the following results (December 5, 2013 at just after 11 PM EST) :

$92.95 for 50 ml new.
$179.95 for 125 ml new.
$84.95 for 50 ml new.
$124.99 for 125 ml new.
$169.95 for 125 ml new.
$169.95 for 125 ml new.
$19.95 for 25 ml splash, NEW (buy it now).

Three items with similar asking prices did not sell. The interesting thing here is that this scent is quite similar to original Vermeil, and not too far from reformulated Vermeil, which sells for under $20 per 100 ml, suggesting that there is a “fan base” for this exact scent. And if you think those prices are high, do a search for Ho Hang (by Balenciaga). I see four new 100 ml bottles that sold for $90.00 to $274.99! Only one new 100 ml bottle didn’t sell, at an asking buy it now price above $200 total. It appears that if the people who listed it at the low end had asked for a lot more, they would have had little problem getting $150.00 if not more! And by contrast, Ho Hang Club, which I think is more unique and basically superior in every way, is selling for next to nothing now, apparently because a large amount of “new old stock” was recently found, so I suggest snapping one up while you can, if you like the idea of a complex “masculine floral.”

Now let’s take a look at Stetson Country. Stetson doesn’t exactly have a great aficionado reputation, and there has been almost no talk about this flanker on any fragrance site (I don’t think Turin or Burr has mentioned it in any context). The ebay prices on this one seem to be a good example of my claim that with such scents there can be wide price variation. Two new 2.5 ounce bottle sold for $54.99 and $55.00, respectively. Three new one ounce bottles in a lot sold for $105.00. However, a new half ounce bottle sold for just $5.95 total (buy it now), and of course there were some that didn’t sell, though I was surprised by how many that did. And there are more than a few Bath and Body Works “men’s” scents that have sold for around $50.00 or more recently (100 ml bottles), even though probably nearly everyone knows how little they sold for originally (especially when on sale).

Mr. Ross cited a “red herring” example (one that is actually red in this case!), in my opinion, when he mentioned one scent in this context, Red for Men by Giorgio of Beverly Hills. Unfortunately for him, I am very familiar with this one, and have bought some bottles on ebay over the years. It is difficult to tell if a bottle is vintage or the EA reformulation because there is little if any difference. I won’t speculate here because I don’t want someone to buy one thinking that it is vintage but then it turns out not to be. The best thing is to send a message to the seller and ask what the label on the bottom of the bottle says. If it is by EA Fragrances it is the reformulated one. If we do a completed auction search, what we find is that only one seller listed a very high price for a vintage bottle, and it sold for $109.99 for 100 ml new (nowhere near Mr. Ross’ $16 figure).

Most old Avon’s “men’s” scents, by contrast, seem to be a good example of either too much “new old stock” or no fan base ever developing (perhaps due to a lack of designer hype), despite the old ones usually being quite good, if not especially original in most cases. Whatever the explanation is, and it might vary somewhat from one scent to another, the idea that there is a price peak followed by a sharp drop, due to what is said on blogs or certain sites, is simply not tenable if one does these kinds of searches. My guess is that Mr. Ross is not familiar enough with these “lesser” name scents and only searched for a few that he thought had been “hyped.” This is clearly not an acceptable way to do what is essentially social science research. Moreover, whereas I have posited a hypothesis to be tested, if anyone wants to spend the time, he has presented his views as conclusion, which can be refuted rather easily, as I have demonstrated above.

I don’t know how many auctions I have lost on ebay over the years, but I’d guess well over two hundred, conservatively. I really wish Mr. Ross were correct, so that I could just wait for the hype to subside. Instead, in more cases that I’d like to think about, I refrained from bidding just a little bit more, only to regret it after seeing prices rise substantially not long thereafter! In my experience “vintage hunting” on ebay, which I think should be characterized as quite extensive, it seems that sellers are more likely to be the “naive” ones rather than the buyers, but the “exception” seems to get much more attention than the “rule.” If you do the research, however, I think you’ll agree with my contention that it appears there are markets for a large number of discontinued scents (or vintage versions of ones that are viewed as “cheapos” today) that appear to be totally unrelated to any kind of “hype.” Why Mr. Ross thinks it’s appropriate to “cherry pick” examples that may mislead his readers is a question only he can answer !

NOTE: As of December 7 2013 at approximately 2:45 PM EST, there were three different sellers on ebay who had listings for 50 ml bottles of Ho Hang Club EdT (between about $12.68 and $16.10 total per bottle each, in one case a lot of two), and who had sold more than one:

9 available, 4 sold.
10 available, 2 sold.
more than 10 available, 12 sold.

Another seller had a lot of four 50 ml bottles listed for just under $50.00 (“or best offer”), plus $4.99 shipping, while yet another had five bottles at $17.85 each. Most of the 100 ml bottles were listed at much higher prices, and doing a completed auction search, we can see that a couple of sales of 50 ml bottles were made at $67.99 (November 22 or earlier). This is an excellent example of what happens sometimes when a “hoard” is discovered (in this case 50 ml bottles) and prices drop significantly for a while. However, while it’s possible some buyers are “speculating,” nobody (or hardly anyone) seems interested in that kind of speculation with vintage Avon’s “men’s” scents. Thus, if “hype” is involved here, it seems that the hype of two or three decades ago (meaning that a “fan base” developed back then) is at least as good an explanation of the phenomena in question, compared to what a couple of people said about a scent like Ho Hang Club on a site like Basenotes or on a fragrance blog !

UPDATE: I thought it might be worthwhile mentioning a basic business concept that Mr. Ross does not seem to have taken into account. I will present it this way: suppose you own a mass consumer item that is no longer being produced and is at least somewhat “hard to find?” You can list it on ebay for a low starting price, with there being a very good chance it will sell for very little. Or you can list it at a considerably higher price and just wait for a person who wants it badly to pay that price. At ebay now, many sellers are granted a certain amount of free listings, so let’s assume it won’t cost you any thing to list the item. And let’s also assume that storage is not a problem for you either. What would you do?


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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

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