What Is a Tester Perfume?

  • By: Nathan Cherry
  • Time to read: 8 min.

If you’ve ever bought a perfume online, you’ve more than likely seen the term “tester” floating around here and there. 

But what is a tester perfume? What difference is there, if any, between a tester and your average, everyday retail perfume? 

A “tester” perfume refers to a bottle of perfume that customers can use to “test” their perfumes before purchase at a fragrance counter. They are identical to official retail bottles of perfume. The only difference is that when they are purchased, they usually come without a cap and official packaging. 

Want to know more? Let’s take a closer look at tester perfumes. 

What Is a Tester Perfume? 

If you’ve ever been to a perfume counter in a department store or shopping mall, then you’ve seen a tester before. 

Simply put, a tester perfume is a bottle of perfume that you can spray on in-store before you decide to buy it. Sometimes you have to ask an SA (sales associate) to spray it for you on a test strip or your skin, but in most cases (at least in the US) you can just go up to the counter and put on a few spritzes yourself. 

Testers are a great way to try a fragrance before you buy. If you purchase a fragrance online, you might have to order a sample or decant beforehand, or, in the worst case, buy it without trying it out first. And though you might encounter some pushy SAs trying to meet their quotas in your fragrance department, it’s worth the effort. 

There’s nothing worse than buying a fragrance without trying it and ending up disliking it. Tester perfumes are an effective means of preventing that. 

What’s the Difference Between a Tester and a Retail Bottle? 

The simple answer is: there isn’t any difference between a tester and a retail bottle! 

Testers are bottles of the real deal fragrance. When you see testers on the perfume counter, they’re the same as what you get if you make an official bottle purchase. 

That isn’t to say that there won’t be some differences between testers and official bottles when it comes to the actual juice inside. That’s because testers are left out under bright, usually fluorescent lights. 

Too much light over time can cause damage to a perfume, degrading the molecules that make it up and altering the scent and performance. That can be mitigated by packaging perfumes in dark, opaque or semi-opaque bottles, decreasing the rate of degradation. 

However, sometimes it is what it is. SAs are trained on making sure that testers are fresh in order to give you the best representation of the fragrance inside the bottle, but from time to time you might come across an older bottle which has had more time to develop and/or change. 

If you want to ensure that you’re getting the best experience of the fragrance you want to purchase before pulling the trigger, you can always ask the SA to open up a fresh bottle for you to test, though they might not be happy about it. 

For the most part, though, a tester is going to give you the exact same experience as a normal retail bottle with official packaging. 

Can I Buy Testers? 

In most cases, you can’t buy testers, at least not from a brick and mortar store. 

Testers are made pretty much exclusively for use in retail, and most say “NOT FOR SALE” in big fat letters on the bottle or the box. 

Sometimes, if a customer really wants a fragrance, an SA will sell them a tester, and indeed I have bought a tester in that way before (the last bottle of Dior Homme Parfum they had in stock). Usually, though, it’s not possible to purchase testers in-person at a department store. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t buy them online! It’s very easy to purchase tester perfumes on online perfume discount websites. 

Buying Tester Bottles Online

When you buy a tester bottle of perfume online, you’ll immediately notice two major differences between a tester and a full retail bottle. 

Presentation

Some of my testers.

One is the presentation. In most cases, tester bottles come without official packaging. That means that you’ll be getting your perfume bottle in a simple, white cardboard box, usually labeled “TESTER”. No fancy boxes-within-boxes, pamphlets, or other accoutrements here. 

You can barely make out “TESTER” etched into the glass.

Testers also usually come without a cap. Companies keep the caps when they ship the fragrances out to stores so that they can’t be sold as new items by retailers. So when you buy a tester, it’ll either come without a cap (which has been my experience 99.9% of the time) or with a simple placeholder cap, just something to keep the atomizer covered. 

An average tester with no cap.

If you buy a tester that comes without a cap, in the long term I recommend finding something to cover the sprayer. Although your fragrance will be okay in the short term, if you intend on keeping your fragrances fresh for years and years at a time, keeping oxygen out of the bottle, and hence slowing down the process of oxidation is crucial.

Oxidation can cause fragrances to spoil over time; the more oxygen in the bottle, the more likely it’ll be for your perfume to go bad. 

This is the only tester bottle I have with its own custom cap.

But if you don’t have a big fragrance collection like me and just have one or two, you’ll be a-ok. 

Price

The other major difference between tester bottles and full retail bottles is that testers are usually a lot cheaper, generally by at least $20, if not more. 

As I talked about in this article, a large portion of the price of a perfume is reflected in its packaging. This is especially the case for luxury brands like By Kilian or Xerjoff, whose elaborate presentations cause the sticker price to skyrocket. 

Testers eliminate (at least to some degree) the presentation factor from the equation. 

Take, for instance, this bottle of Versace Eros EDT. The 3.4 oz (100ml) full presentation bottle costs $73.53, while the 3.4 oz tester bottle costs $57.11. That’s $16.42 less than the full presentation! 

Or take a look at this bottle of Prada Infusion d’Iris. The 3.4 oz bottle goes for $93.53, while the tester of the same size is $67.99. That’s $25.54 less! 

And this is just scratching the surface. I’ve often seen a tester go for $40 or $50 less than the full bottle presentation of certain fragrances. If you know how to hunt for a bargain and keep an eye out on the discount websites, you can find some serious deals. 

Which brings us to…

Where Can I Buy Testers? 

…where you can actually purchase testers. 

There are a number of legitimate online discount fragrance websites where you can purchase testers. These are 100% the real deal, taken from retail stock or from the companies themselves. So long as you purchase a fragrance from a reputable discounter, you’ll be getting the genuine article. 

If you’re located in the US, the three most reputable options for you to choose from would be FragranceNet, FragranceX, and MaxAroma. There are other discount sites out there, but in the US, these are gonna be your best bet. They have the largest selection, the best reputation, and the lowest shipping costs. When I was in the US, I used these three sites 99.9% of the time for my fragrance purchases. 

In Canada, you can either use FragranceNet, FragranceX, or Fragrancebuy.ca, a Canada exclusive online retailer. 

In Europe, Notino is the largest and most popular online discounter, but there are a number of other sites for you to choose from. 

I’m not as familiar with other parts of the world, but almost every region will have its own discount site. The best thing to do if you’re unsure of what discounters service your region is to simply search “perfume discount online (insert country here)”, and the first few search results will give you exactly what you need. 

How Do I Know If I’m Buying a Tester?

Finally, how do you even know if you’re buying a tester? 

On most discount websites, the name of the item will have something like “(Tester)” appended to it, letting you know that the item you’re purchasing is a tester. That is the case for FragranceNet, FragranceX, and MaxAroma, at least, and it’s likely the same situation for other online discounters. 

You can also tell by the item’s image, which will usually feature the perfume bottle without a cap or alongside a simple, unbranded white box. 

Should I Buy Testers? 

In my opinion? Absolutely! 

Testers are a fantastic option. They’re cheaper, which is always great, and they come without the sometimes bulky or superfluous packaging that perfumes often have. For most designer perfumes, I simply don’t care about the box – usually it just ends up in the garbage, creating more of a mess for myself and more waste for the environment. 

Of course, for niche fragrances with more elaborate presentations, I sometimes opt for the official retail bottle. But in most cases, if there is a tester available, I buy the tester. For someone with a large collection like myself, I care more about the juice inside the bottle than the bottle and the box. 

However, if you value the presentation of your perfume, then testers might not be the best option for you. For a lot of people, the bottle and the box are just as important as the fragrance itself, which is completely valid. 

If you care more about the scent than the bottle, though, testers are the way to go. 

The Final Word

Testers are a great option for those who are more into the fragrance hobby, or even for people who want a fragrance but might not have a lot of disposable income to waste on a fancy bottle and box. 

So what have we learned?

Testers are simply bottles that are displayed for customers to test before buying a full bottle. The perfume inside is the exact same as an official bottle. The only difference between a tester and an official bottle is that, when purchased, testers usually come without a cap and official packaging.