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What Happens At The Cosmetic Counter- Your Questions Answered

I am a cosmetic chemist and a beauty consultant who have worked in retail at the counter- note, I no longer said “behind the counter” as you are supposed to be IN FRONT of the counter recruiting clients by showing them what’s new at all times. I love being at the counter as you get the first hand knowledge of what consumers want and the best market intelligence in addition to generous gratis and discounts.

Below is a summary of the frequently asked questions from consumers as well as my tips in working with the beauty consultants at the counter. Hope it’s enlightening for you :-).

  • How much do you charge for a make-over?  Make-overs are a form of service hoping you will like the artistry of the make-up artist and selection of  beauty products. There is no fee but in compensation of the time the makeup artist spent on you, it is appreciated that you purchase at least three items for his/her service.  No, you do not have to tip but three  items purchase is highly appreciated since all sales people have a goal to make for the day. What I recommend is get a foundation (as you want to look perfectly matched), a mascara (as you may not want to use the mascara at the counter) and a lipstick (women always short of one lipstick).
  • Can I return the product? In general, with a receipt or proof of purchase, you can return products in 6 months even used. However, it’s not encouraged as it affects your credibility (believe me, if you are a frequent returner, they KNOW) and you may not receive the best service. What I recommend is return products ONLY if you have a reaction to the product and do not abuse the system.
  • Do you have samples? The samples are allotted by the cosmetic companies. Depending the time you go, typically samples are gone after holidays. However, if you are nice to the beauty consultants and do make some purchase, they will contact you when there are new product launches and samples for you to try. A blunt asking of give me some samples will almost always get a “No, we are out”. How you make the beauty consultant FEEL is as important as how she/he makes you feel. If you are nice, you may get extra samples!!
  • Are the products chemical-free? There is no such thing as chemical-free. Everything is a chemical. Nature does not equate safe. What you want to know is are the products allergy-tested? are they clinically-tested?  I worked for a prestige cosmetic brand. Not a single customer has ever asked me- is it paraben-free? Is it talc-free? What I have seen is – “Oh, it smells so good, it must be good!!”  Sure, the price tag also suggests it should be good.  I often wonder if we take the exiting name-brand products and relaunch as a small business, how the beauty editors will react to it? Most of the top brands are still full of petrolatum, mineral oil, talc, alcohol and parabens. It apparently DID NOT affect the sales once you are a KNOWN brand. However, if you are a young brand using the same products to break the market, good luck, as beauty editors and bloggers will tear you apart. That’s the power of branding- once you have the brand image, especially if you are an inspirational brand, you practically have the license to market whatever you want. Loyal customers do not read ingredient list if they love the brand.
  • Who are the ones selling you cosmetics? Do not assume the girls and guys at the counters are trained. Most of the brands do not start training until they are 3-6 months into the job due to the brand’s educational calendar. It is not possible to train all new hires immediately. In a less busy department stores, there are many on-call sales associate. They can help to make the transaction and have some knowledge of the products but may not be trained. Use your judgement for the experience of the beauty consultant you are dealing with. No, they are not required to have a cosmetologist or esthetician  license to work at the counter if you wonder.
  • Pre-Sell: Major cosmetic companies now like to Pre-Sell for the Gift With Purchase (GWP). This is good for the corporation as they can have better inventory control. To consumers, it is more of a hassle as you can not pick up the goods right away when you buy today if you want your gift. You must wait until the actual GWP day to pick up unless you request for shipping (some shipping fee may be necessary). You have to make another trip to the store and potentially shop some more! This is the most consumer un-friendly approach but it actually prolongs the promotion period from a typical of 2 weeks to a month when you calculating in the pre-sell. I guess the strategy works.
  • What sells at the cosmetic counter? Fragrance!  Despite how slow a business day maybe, the fragrance counter is always surrounding with people who want to smell good, including men & women. You can make a purchase decision on skin care or color cosmetics on the website based on product description but you have to experience how the fragrance wear on you personally. Fragrance counters are always full of different value sets and gift with purchase. During holidays, it is typical for a fragrance counter to make at least $60,000 A DAY. This is also why there are so many fragrance models eager to spritz at you when you get close to the counter. People may not pay for $90 face cream but for  $90 fragrance, they whip out their credit card pretty fast.

Working in beauty is a lot of fun. Being a beauty consultant is the front line of communication for the beauty companies. I had the honor and fun working for several name brands at many different levels. I live and breath in beauty. If you have more questions about beauty, feel free to comment and reach out.

Until next time, Ginger