The New Internet Market and the Old Avon One.


This post began as an “update” to my last one. However, I thought it deserved it’s own “place in the sun” because it contains some new ideas. Here it is:

Mr. Ross has quickly written up an apparent reply to this post, in a new post on his FromPyrgos blog entitled, “Fumbling Through Darkness: A Quick Tutorial On Economics, And How It Applies To The Vintage Fragrance Market.” In that post, he writes:

…In reality, very few of these extremely expensive vintages are selling to real buyers. If they were, there would still be sizable quantities of “vintage” Red for Men by Giorgio on Ebay today. There would also be far fewer vintage bottles of Fendi Donna on Ebay – demand would have snapped them all up years ago. There is no real market for these fragrances, at least not at their asking prices. A fan base for these fragrances does exist, but they’re watching wistfully, waiting for prices to become realistic. Because the Ebay market is contrived, they wind up waiting forever.

Apparently, Mr. Ross still thinks he can make such claims, without evidence to support them, and get his readers to believe them! As I pointed in a previous post, Red for Men bottles are nearly identical, the main difference being the label on the bottom of the bottle (most of the vintage Reds I’ve purchased were without boxes but all had caps). What seems to be the case is that most sellers on ebay are not very savvy about vintage scents; some do a little searching to see if they have something of “major value” while a minority does not. When there were very few Red bottles, it seems that more savvy (and one might say more capitalist-minded or just greedier) sellers thought they could cash in on the scarcity. Most of the less savvy sellers thought they had “struck gold” when they did their basic searching, and prices were set at high levels for the most part.

But as I’ve said in this and other posts, Mr. Ross is “cherry picking” examples, and even then his arguments are not very convincing! For example, is there a “contrived market” for Patou Pour Homme, PPH Prive, Egosiste Cologne Concentree, Derby, Macassar, Vintage Tabarome, etc.? He even admits that his notion of a contrived vintage market does not fit into major categories for “economic markets,” yet he goes on to say: “No economics major worth his salt would find any fault with this article, but then again there are suckers in all walks of life!” Fine, go ahead and get an economics professor to weigh in here, but in the meantime, your claims have been refuted with actual sales on ebay (many more than a few in his recent example, KL Homme). However one wants to classify what is occurring on ebay, there is a reality her that can be described, as I have done (in terms of experience and actual sales). And how many basenotes.net threads have there been lamenting the sharp rise in a scent that used to sell for very little?

Here’s an example I just came across, Valentino’s V for Men. What we see are very high prices being asked, just under $100 for 50 ml, and up from there. When we do a completed auction search (as of about 3 AM EST on January 2, 2014) we see for bottles are a a few “reasonable” prices, apparently because the sellers did not realize they could get more (these were buy it now listings), as well as quite a few sales at much higher prices, from around $150 for 50 ml bottles to over $250 for 100 ml ones). A 100 ml new tester sold for $106.95 total with 14 bids, while another such tester sold for $105 total. Two new 50 ml bottles sold for $96.98 and $94.99. A one ounce bottle sold for $75! And there were many items, 77 in total, some were samples or tubes of aftershave balm but about 60 were bottles (a small number of aftershaves, but they sold for high prices too). How can this be a “contrived market?” Isn’t it obviously a market sorting itself out, so to speak, on the “high side,” price-wise?

But this is not even the “high end” these days. If we look at the sold items for older, scarcer bottles, such as for Macassar, we find three EdT bottles that sold for well over $200 (a 100 ml one sold for $339!). Three Vintage Tabarome bottles (by Creed) sold for $650, $950, and $950 (the latter two were described as “7-8” ounces). The prices for Egoiste Cologne Concentree aren’t too far behind, and a lot more bottles sold than was the case for VT or Macassar! Even Jules by Dior, which I never thought much of (and had the chance to buy at fairly low prices) is selling for “big money” now. For example, a set of EdT, A/S, and bar of soap sold for $69.95, and the two bottles were only .3 ounce each! The three 100 ml bottles of EdT all sold for well over $150 each. And keep in mind that I haven’t done nearly as much research into scents marketed to women. Isn’t it obvious that while there certainly may be a “few dummies” out there, the items sold on ebay alone make it clear that this cannot be called a “contrived market?”

An obvious question here is, how can the KL Homme “market” on ebay be contrived in light of these “high end” ones? Doesn’t that happen in “capitalist” economies all the time, especially recently with internet markets? Mr. Ross mentioned a pawn shop TV show, and isn’t it interesting how on these shows the owners sometimes use the internet to try and determine a price to offer a person who wants to sell an item? It’s true that I’ve never heard one of these people tell the owner, “why don’t you do an ebay sold item search,” but again, there are probably still plenty of non-savvy people in the world when it comes to these kinds of things. If you are a bit savvy in these matters, you’re probably saying to yourself, “those shows are not what they appear to be.” And indeed from my research it appears that all the “negotiating” is done before the show is aired, so it may be that the customers who want to sell an item are told not to mention ebay or other sites. In short, using what happens on a show like this as evidence is very odd, and suggests either naivete or an attempt to mislead, IMO.

Here’s a statement of Mr. Ross’ that suggests to me this is the case:

Anyone who watches Pawn Stars sees this happen regularly. Inevitably the seller gets his item appraised by an expert in whatever he’s trying to push, be it a gun, a piece of artwork, a Civil War relic, or whatever it is, and then Rick comes in a few hundred dollars under whatever value the expert cites, so he can make a profit in resale. The fragrance merchants on the internet are operating like the clueless people who wander into Rick’s pawn shop. They peruse Ebay and try to cull asking prices, sometimes attempting an average, sometimes just hoping they can stick the highest number on their lot and get lucky. They’re all operating “in the dark.”

I watch this show and I doubt that even half of these people have had a previous appraisal done, but putting that aside, Mr. Ross doesn’t seem to understand the difference between retail and wholesale! Rick makes it clear that he needs to buy at wholesale whereas some ebay sellers are trying to get top retail. Why is that a problem? Getting high retail is usually a lot more difficult, but much easier if the market for that item is rising quickly, as seems to be the case for many vintage or discontinued scents. And for all we know the people on that show are paid some amount of money to appear, or just want to be on television. If any market is “contrived,” it is what we see on a show like that one! Again, Mr. Ross, you need to address the reality that is undeniable, such as all these sales on ebay. If you want to argue that all these sold listing are somehow phoney, go ahead and make that claim (with evidence that demonstrates this is true rather than a story about a local perfume store owner), but please stop citing such poor “sources” as pawn shop TV shows!

In a recent post, I talked about the strange case of Avon. I asked some older, female relatives about what Avon was like several decades ago, when I was too young to know about it (the “menfolk” didn’t use any of their products). Though almost all of my older relatives are “working class,” none apparently bought much from Avon, and they didn’t live in areas that weren’t exposed to the “Avon lady” either. My mother said she used some Avon lipsticks but couldn’t remember anything else, though she does use some of their products now (that’s been the case for about a decade). None of them apparently had any interest in Avon scents. However, one thing that is clear is that they had a “door to door” approach that was not common (relative to how most scents were sold in the 60s through 80s) and that there was a period of time that they tried to market their bottles as collectibles (I think that was from the late 60s to early 80s).

Unlike Mr. Ross, I am not going to claim that I am the ultimate source of knowledge on this or any subject. My guess is that because they produced so many bottles, garnered a reputation for “cheap” products, and also produced so many different scents, not much of a “fan base” ever developed for these old scents. So, for a popular one like Wild Country, they just kept producing more, meaning that there would be no scarcity issue, real or “contrived.” It’s also possible that people who bought the old Avon ones that have been discontinued for a long time are the same kinds of people who want to buy at garage sales or from locals through Craigslist. They don’t want to pay $8 for shipping on a bottle that has a starting price of $4 on ebay. Whatever the reality here is, the prices for these scents on ebay are still low, though if it were easy to create a “contrived market” this would be the one company that could make someone a “small fortune” (because of the number of bottles they produced and how easy they are to obtain from yard sales, thrift shops, etc.).

By contrast, there is clearly a thriving, “real” vintage market, which one can see on the Baseontes.net forum and Amazon.com, for example, not just ebay (I’ve sold quite a few vintage bottles through Basenotes). I could do sold item searches all day for a month, list the results here, and I doubt Mr. Ross would change his mind – for whatever reason, he has the mindset of the “right fighter,” as “Dr. Phil” would say, apparently. However, isn’t it obvious to perhaps everyone else that the internet has “changed the rules of the game?” Sure, sometimes a person who doesn’t want to do any research lists an item as a buy it now auction for a very low price and it gets “snapped up,” but that only supports my argument, not Mr. Ross’, though it’s not clear that he even understands this much!

One major “game changer,” it seems to me, is that people can list on ebay at no cost, other than the couple of minutes it takes to list the item. This may be what appears “contrived” to some people, and is unlike just about all attempts to sell in the past, but what I think I’m seeing on ebay (at least for vintage/discontinued scents) is a “sorting out” process for prices, and that “is as old as the sun.” As I said in the last post, this seems to be best described as an idiosyncratic market, meaning that some view a bottle as “old expired cologne” whereas others view the same item as a rare “work of art” that may never exist again. However, after seeing large numbers of bottles “snapped up” within a few days, even at prices of $300+ per 90 ml (in the case of Patou Pour Homme), it’s clear that at some point “a few oddball collectors” became an economic force, though likely a very minor one, at least by fragrance industry standards (and there’s no reason to believe they are spending “big money” because of what a blogger or two had to say).

Interestingly, none of my older relatives “collected” anything, and in fact many liked to throw things away as soon as they could! And when I was collecting a few works on paper (“fine art”) back in the early 90s, some of them thought I was crazy (even though I wasn’t paying all that much, relative to what that market became). They simply couldn’t image that what was regarded as a kind of “glorified poster” up to that point could rise so much in value so quickly! These days I know a bunch of people who have “collections” of more than one kind of item, and they get most of it from online sources. And some follow markets , such as for “collectible cars,” even though they can’t presently afford to buy. What Mr. Ross views as “contrived” is probably similar to how many people viewed coal power, railroads, electricity, radio, television, etc., and the money being made by entrepreneurs who were able to “read the handwriting on the walls.”

NOTE: I have a lot of respect for Avon’s scents, both old and new, though I’m not suggesting they are as “good” as vintage designer. I recently acquired a bottle of Imari for $2 total and at that price it “blows the doors” off just about everything else. However, this may be a vintage formulation for all I know. If you like Cinnabar you might want to try this one!

UPDATE: I just noticed something on Amazon.com that reminded me of what I saw years ago when looking for books on that site. A scent called Tawanna (a company named Regency Cosmetics sells it) is priced at $7 plus $9.95 shipping (2 ounce bottle); Regency itself appears to have listed it. However, there is another listing for the same item, but that is at $500! The person asking $500 may deserve a “worst capitalist of the year award,” but is that relevant to actual sales on ebay for scents that seem to have a relatively large fan base? And were the markets for the many books I saw with such divergent prices “contrived?” My guess is that there are still more than a few listings for books just like this one for Tawanna, but again, what’s the point of presenting evidence to a person who ignores it and instead mentions anecdotal incidents that are at best exceptions to the rule?

UPDATE #2: I haven’t done much price research since posting the above, but even so, I have come across two scents that surprised me, more in terms of items sold (at what I consider to be at least somewhat high prices) than how much was paid. One is Bobby Jones Cologne, which has received very little attention from anyone, it seems – just do an ebay sold item search for this and see what you think. In the other case, 25 out of 31 new 100 ml Ferre EdT bottles sold for $135.99 each (with $13.99 shipping added on). The ebay item number for that one is 350763761750.

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