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Anybody with functional olfactory senses who has been to a department store knows that nearly every one places the perfume counter right at the front of the store, where every patron is forced to walk through the stench to get to the rest of the store.

This may be pleasant for some, but if you aren't partial to the odor of hundreds of different perfumes mixed together randomly, it seems downright abusive. So if you are like me, you may have wondered why the heck they all do this.

My wife watched the show Mr. Selfridge on TV, which ascribed this practice to Harry Selfridge, as a way to drown out the stench of "horse pollution" from the streets in the days before automobiles. However, I can't find anything about that on any web page.

So how much basis in fact is there for this story? Before I start cursing him by name every time I enter a store, I'd like to be sure I'm calling down heavenly wrath on the responsible party.

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"Forced to walk through the stench." +1 –  Russell Apr 16 '13 at 12:31
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Harry Gordon Selfridge does appear to be the man responsible.

From Wikipedia's page on Selfridges:

Selfridge's innovative marketing led to his success. He tried to make shopping a fun adventure instead of a chore. He put merchandise on display so customers could examine it, put the highly profitable perfume counter front-and-centre on the ground floor, and established policies that made it safe and easy for customers to shop – techniques that have been adopted by modern department stores the world over.

From Shopping, Seduction and Mr Selfridge by Linda Woodhead:

Even though an unstoppable trend was underway, Selfridge's sold very little red lipstick, and then only discreetly. The initial purpose of the relocated department was to sell perfume. Selfridge, who adored scent, could identify most of those on the market, and one of his undoubted attractions to women was that he enjoyed talking about such things. He knew if a woman was wearing Houbigant. He loved Guerlain. Firmly believing that perfume heightened the senses, Selfridge wanted to offer the experience to everyday shoppers. Placing perfume inside the front doors of the store was a master-stroke, having the added advantage of disguising less pleasant odours: not everybody made personal hygiene a priority, and the smell of horse manure and exhaust fumes from the street could be overwhelming.

This "master-stroke" was dealt circa 1910.

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