Monday, July 26, 2010

Where Do You Like to Shop for Beauty Products?

I have so many sources for beauty products, and I'm always adding more to my list. I'll try any store or Web site where I can get a good price on something I want, although I am leery of eBay for beauty products (more on that below). I have discovered great new Web sites with fabulous discounts and special offers, and I continue to purchase at department stores and boutiques, even though the experience isn't always satisfying. Department stores often offer the latest and greatest first - sometimes before a company's own Web site. If a store, store counter, or Web site treats me well, I'll be back.

What makes a source a favorite for me? There are three key factors: price, samples, and service. I don't mind paying full price for my items if I get some nice samples to try at the same time. To me, that's the equivalent of a discount. Otherwise, when I have a choice, price becomes the differentiator. When I'm looking for my MEG 21 skin care, for example, I'll go with the lowest price, which has been at a Web store called I've always purchased my Prevage MD at Amazon from an affiliate. I often purchase from They have many 20% store-wide discount specials, and I love their products and service. My purchases always arrive quickly and well-packed. They are one of my favorites.

Department stores are a case study of what's right in retail - and what's wrong. Many department store staff members are fabulous. They know their lines, and they are responsive and helpful. Many are clueless. I know more than they do. When I have to tell a sales associate about the products she will receive the following week, something's wrong. I'm reminded of a spring trip to a Lancôme counter. I asked about the spring Ô My Rose Collection. The SA insisted that her Lancôme display was the one I was seeking. I politely explained that there was a new Ô My Rose Collection and asked when she might have it in the store. She has absolutely no idea what I was talking about, and she is a Lancôme counter regular. Pitiful!

Then there are the dedicated professionals in department stores, men and women who know their lines and have taught me so much. I am grateful to them; they keep me going back. Once you find one of these fabulous folks, make sure to go when they will be there. Not only are they helpful and fun, they can always teach you something new. Here is a VERY short list of some of my favorites. I know I will leave someone off, and I'll apologize now. I just want to give you some examples of beauty professionals who are at the top of their game.
  • Loyd Cassler, Armani Manager at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland, along with his team
  • Diron Carr, Bobbi Brown Manager at Nordstrom Tysons Corner
  • Chris Coles, currently Assistant Beauty Department Manager at Nordstrom Montgomery Mall
  • Donna Muzio, Estee Lauder counter at Bergdorf Goodman
  • All of my Sisley friends (Simone Noorestani, Loula Ayoub, and Janette Glynn at Neiman Marcus Tysons and Gail Sezer at Saks Chevy Chase)
  • Kathy Shoreman, formerly CVS Beauty Manager and headed for Neiman Marcus Tysons
  • Susan Babakhanovaat the Edward Bess counter at Bergdorf Goodman
Just in case you were wondering, retail stores - from drugstores to department stores - do receive samples from the beauty companies. The employees are often given new products to try so that they are knowledgeable about what they sell. The samples are provided for customers. Unfortunately, many of these samples never make it to customers. They go home with employees - or their friends - leaving the store with no samples for those who actually request them. I am always pleased when a store employee offers me samples or asks if I would like samples and specifically what I'd like to try. That tells me a couple of things: 1) the employee and colleagues have saved the samples for customers, and 2) they want you to try before you buy. Products can sell themselves - even very expensive ones - when you have a chance to see how nice they are. Sisley's Supremÿa at Night is a great example. Samples are more important than ever with the unsanitary nature of testers. You should hear the stories store employees have told me!

Web sites are, in general, great sources for beauty products. You can armchair shop any time of day (nice for those of us who are often pressed for time), the products show up at your door, and the price is often right. The beauty companies offer great samples on their own Web sites. One very important factor for me is free shipping. Now that most Web sites are charging sales tax, a purchase can add up if the site wants me to pay for shipping too. I don't mind minimum purchases to get free shipping. What I hate are sites like QVC that charge shipping for each and every item you order. Take a look at the total. If you are paying 10% (or more) of the purchase price for your order, no matter how small and light, you are probably paying too much. I've had a UPS account for years, and I ship your giveaway prizes via USPS. I know what shipping costs. The "handling" charges are bunk. The site is charging you their cost of being in business. They just need to raise their prices rather than change handling fees.

Here are just a few of my all-time favorite Web sites. I'd be rich if I didn't shop at these sites so often.
  • Yes, even
I don't love Sephora's stores. They are often messy and crowded, and I don't like waiting in line to spend a lot of money. Sephora's online site has an advantage over the stores for a couple of reasons. The products come from a warehouse, so they haven't been pawed over, they arrive quickly, and I don't have to leave home to get them. What bugs me about are the often-boring free and 100-point samples. I was also sad to lose the drawstring bags, but I understand that the economic stress on companies has been severe for the last few years.

About eBay...the seller has to have a sparkling reputation for me to bid. Having sold for years on eBay (antique silver), I know how to bid and win, so I want to ensure I'm winning what's represented. I bought way too much misrepresented silver over the years, and beauty products are no different. "Buyer beware" cannot be overemphasized on eBay. Also, don't pay handling charges - same reason as other Web sources. Find out how shipping will be priced before you bid. I never charged my winning bidders a handling charge. I charged them exactly what it cost me to send their parcel. Handling, the cost of the seller's time and materials, should be wrapped into the price.

This is a long blog post. If you got this far, thanks for reading! Where do you like to shop for beauty products? Want to recommend someone or a great source? No commercial comments, please.

Photos courtesy of and


Lynn said...

I'm lazy and do all my beauty shopping at Sephora. I like that I can usually get samples of products to take home with me. I also appreciate their easy return policy.
I agree that the store is usually crowded and there is almost always a long line. Buuut...Sephora is great for lazy people like me who like one-stop shopping. =)

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Lynn!

If only Sephora had everything I need/want. I might have a different attitude. :)

I totally agree on Sephora's return policy. While I have returned very very little over the years, I appreciate the no-hassle and pre-paid returns. They are a standout in that respect.

The Beauty Bug said...

I used to think had the best deals - they always have a free product with any purchase, but recently has really stepped up their promotions and it is currently my favorite place to shop, and they have extremely quick shipping. I love that site! I aslo agree with charlestongirl, when you order online you know no one has been pawing your purchase because it comes from the warehouse!

Charlestongirl said...

Oooh, Beauty Bug, thank you! I'm headed to your favorite site to check it out.

On the Glam said...

I'm a fan of and plain old for basics. When i'm in the mood for something fancy though, i go to (or in-person if i'm in the neighborhood). Nothing really does beat the svc at those mom & pop beauty shops.

Unknown said...

I go to Sally Beauty Supplies for some products. I know it is cheap but it also has some nice brands. It even has their own version of Moroccan Oil for 10 bucks.
I like to go to Ulta for fragrance purchases- they make nice gift sets I present to my friends. But most of my own fragrance purchases have been on Ebay. I was lucky enough to win some authentic fragrances like Petite Cherie and Un Jardin Sur Le Nile for a little over $10.
A great website for discounted makeup is Cherry Culture. I bought some NYX pigments (comparable to MAC) for a $1 each!

Charlestongirl said...

Wow on your fragrance finds, Anna!

I'll have to check out Cherry Culture. Thanks for the tip!

Hi OTG! I wish I had a New London near me. I would be there a lot. And I also love I should have mentioned the site in my list.

Anonymous said...

New London has a website and they are offering a discount on all products.

Anonymous said...

New London has a website and they are offering a discount on all products.