Saturday, January 15, 2011

What I've learned about buying makeup online

I love makeup and I often buy things online, so why not makeup? For me, the primary goal with every makeup purchase is to get the right product at the best price. The right product being subjective to my needs or wants at the moment. The best price is simply the lowest cash out with the most return. Sometimes, I buy makeup online because I can't find it in the store. Sometimes, I do it to save money. So if you're buying makeup online, here's what you need to do:

1) RESEARCH: I research, a lot, before I buy anything over $3. By research, I mean going online and reading about it. I try to go to the manufacturer's website to read about the product intentions and the recommended method of using it. I read online reviews from blogs and merchant sites, to see what experiences other people have had with it. If I can find it in a store, I'll go and swatch it or try it on, if I can.

While online swatches and pictures or videos of looks are certainly useful, I think nothing beats seeing and handling the product for real. If there is an associate, you can ask questions. If there is an artist, even better. However, if you're getting a certain level of service and they've already given you the makeover and you love the item, it might be a good idea to just buy it in the store and let the associate have the commision s/he deserves. S/he might even throw in a few samples or a gift.

2) GET CASHBACK: I use the Lucky Rewards cashback site a lot because they usually give the most cashback. But this is tied to a subscription to Lucky magazine. Allure magazine also has a cashback site. Ebates offers you cashback options without a subscription to anything so you can look into that too. Click here if you would like to try that. If the merchant you're buying from isn't on there, you can also try Coupon Cactus by clicking here. I always end up using them when I'm buying from NARS online because they're the only cashback site I've tried that gives anything back from that merchant.

Some cashback options are tied to your credit card. Discover does that thru ShopDiscover. You can also take advantage of points promotions from a department store card. Wait for double or triple points and you're getting more money back.

A note about cashback: Sometimes these sites will offer coupons you can use with your purchase but in come cases, coupons they don't endorse may disqualify your purchase from cashback so you have to be careful with your source. There will also be days where they offer more cashback from certain merchants so try to take advantage of those. Cashback ranges from 1% to 20%. It's typical to get anywhere from 2-8% so don't fret if this doesn't give you too much back. I often think of it as a tax respite, if I can even get 6%.

3) TRY TO BUY FROM A MERCHANT WITH A BRICK AND MORTAR STORE IN YOUR AREA: I know this isn't always possible but it's comforting to me. No matter how much research you do, some products just won't turn out the way you expected. Or with shipping, they may arrive damaged. So being able to return or exchange an item quickly, easily and for free counts.

While it makes sense that people buy makeup online because they can't find it in the store, there's no reason you can't try to buy it from the same store's website so that if it doesn't suit you or you get an allergic reaction, you can easily return it to the store, rather than having to ship it back. Some merchants charge return shipping even if they don't charge you extra for the return. Which brings me to...

4) NEVER PAY FOR SHIPPING: Shipping fees are where you totally lose out. If you end up returning the product, you're not getting the shipping fee back. All merchants I've ever bought anything from online have a period where they offer free shipping. Sometimes it requires that you meet a minimum purchase. Use that opportunity to try something new. Again, keeping in mind that if it doesn't work out, you have to be able to return it.

5) READ THE RETURN POLICY: I keep talking about being able to return a product so naturally, I encourage you to read the merchant's return policy before you buy. Try to get your items from an online merchant that has a generous return policy (ie. one that will take back a used product and accept returns at the store). Nordstrom and Sephora have never failed me. The knowledge that if it doesn't work for me, the store will honor the return (with a receipt and all), is what keeps me coming back.

6) GO WITH MERCHANTS THAT RATE HIGH IN CUSTOMER SATISFACTION: Online ordering means you are at the mercy of your internet connection, security issues, computer glitches, shipping errors and inevitably, dealing with an actual associate (whether by chat, by phone or in person). If something goes wrong, you need to have that confidence that you can reach someone who can assist you, whether it's to place your order, correct an issue with the order, resolve a shipping issue or process a return. I pay close attention to people's experiences when something goes wrong. How a company resolves that issue or at least responds to it, makes all the difference in making the customer feel confident about repeated orders. If you know that customer support is difficult to get, you might want to go with a different merchant. Some sites give you the opportunity to check up on a retailer. ResellerRatings.com and the Better Business Bureau are some organizations that can help you research. These are also places where you can file a complaint if you have a particularly bad experience with a merchant. Sometimes, the complaint doesn't do much but if it makes you feel better...

7) WAIT FOR A COUPON, SALE OR GWP: Where to find coupon codes? Google it. Subscribe to an email newsletter. Or join a coupon code site. Same goes for the sale sked. Then, the gift with purchase. Sometimes it lures us to buy so much more than we normally would. Buy try to find out what the free gift is first. Sometimes, it's a bunch of useless samples or a free bag. Do you really need another free bag? I have a closet-full of them that I never use. If the samples are things you know you don't use, skip it. It's probably better to wait for a sale.

While department store makeup almost never goes on sale, some brands do promotions at the end of a season. If you're really out for the discount, you might actually be better off looking for a Cosmetics Company Outlet for Estee Lauder brands (Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Estee Lauder, MAC etc) or a Lancome outlet.

Some manufacturers that run their own website also do one-off promotions where they sell kits as online exclusives. These are sometimes kits that they used to sell at departments stores from a few seasons ago and they will let them go at a further reduction. But be aware that when you buy from a manufacturer's site, it is often the case that if they accept returns at all, it is only for unused product and you may have to shell out for the return shipping. Some of them also take a very long time to process returns. So, sale or no sale, only purchase items that you are sure you want when buying directly from the brand's site.

Some stores also do Friends & Family promotions where the discount applies to cosmetics as well. I've seen Saks (April) and Lord & Taylor (June) do it. You get 10% off. Sephora's done as much as 20% off and they do it every year (Oct or Nov) but I don't think I've seen a coupon discount larger than that for makeup anywhere else.

8) JOIN A REWARDS PROGRAM: With stores like Sephora and Ulta, the rewards program is completely free and your points sit there even when you don't make a purchase for a lengthy period. Sephora's Beauty Insider is a very good program. You earn points with every purchase and you can exchange those points for deluxe samples. You also get access to certain coupons that only members get. This could be for free shipping, a bunch of samples or even full-sized product. While it may not save you much money sometimes, you get stuff for free. I'm down with that.

If you're buying drugstore makeup, I highly discourage online purchasing. Drugstore makeup goes on sale a lot at your favorite pharmacy or mass merchandise stores like Target and you can get coupons from several places. See my article on getting the best price for drugstore makeup for tips and tricks.

Once you've done the 8 things I've written about, you'll find yourself saving anywhere from 1-40% off the sticker price of pricey makeup. The research is to keep you from impulse buys. Free shipping prevents you from spending more than the actual price of the product. Cashback and coupons save you a few bucks. Rewards programs get you free stuff. Being mindful of when and where you buy from is good advice no matter what you are buying, as is looking up a company's customer service rating and reviewing the website's return policy. Once you've mastered the tricky maneuverings of online makeup buying, you may find yourself buying more makeup online than in the store.

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