What, exactly, do ebay prices represent ?

I’ve spoken about this subject before, but a recent thread at Basenotes.net has prompted me to revisit it, and one of the major reasons why is that one person who posted on this thread pointed out that prices for Tommy Bahama’s first “men’s” scent is now selling for a lot of money. By “a lot,” I’ll point out that not that long ago (I think less than two years) there was a listing of five, three of which were of this scent, if I remember correctly, while two others were different TB scents. I think they sold for less than $30 total. Here is the thread I’m referencing:


This thread is entitled, “Gucci Pour Homme .. price gouging ? envy.. rush..,” and the author was registering his surprise at prices for this scent (and other Gucci ones) on ebay. Others pointed out that he could try the TB scent or Dirty English as reasonable substitutes. Because I don’t like this kind of scent I have never studied them in much detail, but I have tried all of these more than once. As a member pointed out on that thread, it’s best to do a sold items search on ebay to get an idea about what you can likely buy a scent for if you have some patience. Also, there are sites like StuffAlert.com, which supposedly will send you an email when an item is listed that may be what you are seeking. I haven’t tried any of these kinds of sites so I can’t speak to how well they function.

However, even though sold prices are often lower than most of the asking prices, on average, for a scent like TB, I am curious about why TB’s prices are as high as they are on ebay. And note that on amazon.com, there is a 100 ml bottle listed for $80 (the claim, apparently, is that only the original bottle is worth pursuing, at least in the context of a Gucci Pour Homme 1 type of scent). Prices for Dirty English (and Visit by Azzaro, which is also in this genre, IMO) have not risen in the same way, and for those who are thinking about buying a bottle of DE, I”ll mention that some have claimed there was a poor reformulation of that one, but that the bottle looks the same (one suggestion is to avoid the bottles with EA Fragrances on the label, for example).

For GPH 1, Fragrantica.com provides this list of notes:

Top notes are Artemisia, basil, bergamot, lavender, lemon, petitgrain, ginger and papyrus wood. Its heart is composed of the notes of geranium, cedar, jasmine, patchouli, pink pepper, pimento and sandalwood. The base is warm thanks to amber, incense, musk, Tonka bean, vanilla, vetiver and sage.

From what I recall, this is more of a base notes scent, meaning that the top notes don’t play much of a role beyond a period of several minutes. One quickly experiences a peppery, woody (cedar dominant), ambery incense, which lasts several hours. I found it boring, and then on my last wearing (I think I wore it four or five times), I believe the synthetics used started to bother me. Whatever the case may be, I’m curious about how easy or difficult it would be to recreate this scent (meaning the drydown) on one’s own, even if one had little or no perfumery experience. One can buy the ingredients on a site like the Perfumer’s Apprentice, for example. Obviously, some people would rather just buy what they know for sure will be what they are seeking, have plenty of money to spend, and don’t want to “waste time.”

However, it’s also reasonable to assume that there will always be scents like this on the market, because none of the major notes, beyond top notes, seem to be an issue for IFRA. I’ve got a few others that I view as at least somewhat similar, but again I don’t like this idea and may wear one of them once or twice a year, at most, so I really don’t want to offer suggestions on this point. The question that screams out to be asked is, what are people who are buying GPH 1 or TB at high or fairly high prices thinking? Have they tried the much cheaper Dirty English or Visit? Are they buying TB because they read on Basenotes or Fragrantica that it is similar to GPH 1? Are these mostly young guys with some extra money but very little patience?

Whatever the case may be, this is something I find to be unreasonable, because there is no indication that these kinds of scents will “disappear” any time soon! In fact, I think I prefer Visit to GPH 1, and that one is selling for very little on ebay now. I have yet to smell a decent, non-niche sandalwood note in a designer scent released in the last decade, for example, but perhaps what’s even more important (to me, if to no one else) is that there is a lack of complexity in the recent releases, and that extends to niche offerings as well. And of course we have the latest round of IFRA guidelines, which means certain kinds of scents may not be released by any company in a very long time, if ever again, though there are some perfumers who will create one for you if you sign a “holds harmless” type of agreement, apparently.

And this leads me to the graphic for this post, which is a work by Andy Warhol. The idea here is that it’s not just the company making these bottles that “sees dollar signs,” but also the person buying it. That is, even if the person isn’t buying with the idea that there will likely be a further rise in price, I think they do feel that they are obtaining something special, and to them worth more than what they paid. When Warhol’s soup can paintings were first exhibited, a rival gallery owner created a sign that said, “Get the real thing for only 29 cents a can.” When I first read that these concoctions cost very little, perhaps a dollar or two for a 100 ml bottle (or less), I thought of this episode in “fine art.”

So, to conclude by addressing the question that is the tittle of this post, I think it’s clear that ebay prices represent different things to different people. Because listing is free to at least many sellers, there may be a thought that there is no harm in trying to extract “maximum value.” I also think it would be much better for all concerned if ebay allowed people to list prices at which they would be willing to buy specific items, but perhaps this would cause them problems that they prefer to avoid. No matter, when you see plenty of the items selling at “high” prices, the only logical conclusion seems to be a “fan base” has coalesced. Why that occurred can only be answered with reasonable speculation. It does seem that at some point “word gets out” that a scent may be both desirable and scarce, regardless of whether this is accurate or not, and then some sellers start to list at much higher prices than had been the case in the past.

NOTE: After writing the above but before hitting the Publish button, I noticed an ebay seller who listed a vintage scent I consider to be excellent for next to nothing, while also listing another old scent for about $130. The only conclusion that makes sense to me here is that the person does not know that the one he or she listed for a very low price is considered vintage and can be listed at a much higher price (as others have done). Also, this person has listed this scent for quite a while, so it’s not likely to be a temporary oversight or a mistake made by an employee (if there are any). This is consistent with the notion that many sellers (and this one has been listing large numbers of new scents for a long time on ebay) probably are working with “incomplete knowledge” and may also possess a “herd mentality,” at least to some degree.

I also noticed that statement in a review of GPH 1 at Fragrantica; this one seems to represent the other side of the coin, so to speak:

After doing some searching for this one I decided I would just buy Tommy Bahama because it was close enough. DistinguishedGent1 reminded me that EVERYWHERE that sells frags may have something to offer. Found a brand new 50ml bottle for $50 at a random no name mall stand.

What’s interesting about this statement is that the author seems to accept the “sky high” prices for GPH 1 as a “given,” and not likely to ever fall. He may think that $50 for 50 ml is just fine, which is consistent with department store prices, and he admits to being influenced by comments he read online, though he doesn’t explain why he is so trusting of them. More than a few people who act in this way may be what is driving the TB (and scents in a similar “position”) prices up! So, to refine what I said in the concluding paragraph above, I think the rise in TB prices represents the establishment of a fan base on top of a fan base (meaning that GPH 1 fans got herded over to TB, leading to new fans for that scent, only these are willing to pay “big money,” if the most of the original fans of TB are not).

UPDATE: I wonder how much of an influence this thread, which began a bit more than a month ago, had on the ebay TB market. The problem here is that it might be more of an effect rather than a cause!


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