Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Truth about "Independent Advice" on the Web - An Old Feature Revisited

A repeat from my series of first-hand horror stories...

There are myriad advertising links on Google and other search engines that purport to provide objective advice on skin care products. They are named with site titles that make you think they are independent advisers. "The Truth about..." and "Does Your [insert product name - they are all available] Product Work?" Many of them are a sham.  There is nothing objective about them. Think about it...they are paid advertisements (on the right side in Google) intended to promote the sponsor's products. You read the lead, something like, "Does Sisley Work?" or "Does Creme de la Mer Work?" and think hmmm...I need to check this out before I buy.

These sites often give you their take on the pros and cons of particular products or product lines, with a link to their own "recommendations." I have to admit, I once fell for one of these when I first purchased Dermapril-SP, and now I feel like a sucker.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the Dermapril product - in fact it contains an excellent ingredient, and it works OK. What's wrong is the way the company markets it. That free trial isn't free. They get your credit card number to charge for shipping, and they charge your credit card if you don't return the free trial product fairly quickly. Then they continue to charge you each time they send another automated shipment, even if you aren't finished with the last. I will admit the fine print explains it all, vaguely, but if you are a harried woman in a hurry - and who isn't? - you won't read the fine print. Not only that, there are very few ways to navigate their site or get to what you really want. If you think I've gone off the deep end, read the Web reviews of Dermapril and their marketing practices. Some of the rants are way worse than this one. Just Google "Dermapril-SP complaints."

If you still want to try Dermapril-SP or any other product recommended at one of these sites, here are some tips. After your get your not-so-free sample, or even before, go on the site to cancel. The site will instantly offer you a discount, so take it if you like the product. Here's another drill: You click to leave the Web page, and a window pops up asking if you are sure you want to navigate away from the page. They offer you a discount. That's all it takes. Then, make sure to select a frequency of shipment that meets your needs. You can make it work for you.

When I saw the charge for the free trial on my credit card, I called the company and spoke with one of the rudest customer service reps of all time. He basically told me I can't read. Sorry, I may be rushed, but I feel that my Ph.D. is written proof that I can read. The whole experience was dreadful, and I had to tell him firmly three times, while he continued to insist that I was stupid, to cancel my "subscription." It was frustrating, which is really too bad because the product isn't half-bad. I have since learned that there are better products containing the active ingredient of Dermapril-SP, so I don't miss it.

As I research various products, I find more and more of these sites popping up. Who can you trust? Always read the company's own site; they will be positive, of course, but you can get good information about ingredients and any research they conducted. Often, they include reviews from their customers. Then, head for beauty blogs - real women, real opinions (and the best bloggers are never paid to write their reviews). Check Makeupalley, a site devoted to reviews from real testers: us, - and, of course, beauty blogs.  While the Makeupalley audience can be a bit "young," there are often a few great reviews to be found.

To quote Sergeant Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there!"

Photo courtesy of Michael Dawson, author of a very interesting book on psychology and shopping.


Laura said...

Hi CG,

Thank you for shedding light on this. I've been lured to some of those websites too (try looking up "Best ___" and they're everywhere). I've also been suckered into a subscription service that required 45 minutes on a call to customer service to cancel.

There are certain companies that I avoid based on how they market and distribute their products. Many people may disagree with me, but I don't like to purchase from companies that have multi-level marketing strategies. It's not that Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, etc. don't have good products; it's just that for me it's not a comfortable way to shop. I often find myself purchasing things out of a sense of obligation rather than genuine interest.

At this point I've curated a feed of the bloggers and vloggers that I feel I can trust. I found your blog because I was looking into investing in higher end makeup, some of which is not available to me locally. Bloggers like you have helped me find some truly great products that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to. So for that I say “Thanks!”

Eileen said...

I was pleased to see this post expanding upon reader Mary's brief comment (Lessons Learned) about the perils of trial offers because far too many people get pulled into these devious marketing ploys. It's not just cosmetics that are marketed this way, either; so this is an excellent cautionary tale for anyone who is ever tempted by a free trial of anything. Television, radio, magazines, newspapers, the web--we see these too-good-to-be-true offers all over the place. Caveat emptor!

Kate said...

Proactiv is just as bad, and again, it's really a shame because their products work for me. But the recurring shipments always came before I needed them, no matter how stretched out -- or I ran out of one thing but still had plenty of the other two pieces. I ended up canceling, then duplicating the system with a Clinique facial scrub, oil-free benzoyl peroxide moisturizer and their mild clarifying toner.

Don't laugh, but there's a Proactiv vending machine in a mall here, and I've been known to go buy the clay mask there, because there's no way to obtain individual products easily through the website (or the staffed kiosks in some malls -- both want you to sign up for the auto-delivery service of the full kit). A good product line that more or less drives away its customers at every step.

Sujaan said...

Great reminder, thank you. It can be hard to navigate through the internet's fake sites. Thank goodness we have bloggers like you to help us steer clear of most of the pitfalls. I work in holistic healthcare and it's a similar issue with sites preying on beauty claims as on health claims. I don't know how these people sleep at night?