Beauty Without Fuss

Monday 18 October 2010


I buy a lot of cosmetics.  I buy a lot of cosmetics.  But a lot of things about buying cosmetics drive me crazy. Over-attentive shop assistants who hover over you, demanding to "help" whenever your eye wanders onto anything.  Under-attentive shop assistants who ignore anything resembling a buying signal, up to and including you saying "excuse me, can I get one of these please?"

But one thing that really, really, really drives me nuts at cosmetic counters is the refusal to give samples. I have pretty sensitive skin, and, it means that I can't really buy skincare without having tried a sample of it for a few days first, particularly with eye creams, so many of them sting me after a day or two. Likewise, there are certain ingredients in some perfumes that literally make me vomit, so I have to be careful - you will never find me agreeing to be sprayed with an unknown perfume in a department store, ever.  They tend to get upset after the first time you throw up on a shop floor, I find. 

Now, none of this would bother me that much if we had a decent returns policy in this country for unsuitable products.  But, if you've ever tried returning something you were allergic to, or made ill by (or even one that's damaged when you get through the packaging), then, on a cosmetic counter, you're made to feel like a scammer, or a criminal if you try to return it to the brand.

Far too often these days, I find that brands are very, very reluctant to hand out samples, even when I've notice that they often have drawers full of tiny tubes and sachets just ready, willing and aching to be handed to people.  In fact, especially when the brand has drawers of product ready willing and aching to be handed out to people, this appears to be the time that the dragon sales assistant has decided that no one - but mainly you - simply cannot have a sample of anything.

In fact, even when you've spent lots of money on products already, increasingly brands (and expensive brands are the worst, at times) some companies won't give you any samples, even when you ask. "it's not policy" you're told, or "we don't have any", both of which are doubly galling when it's a brand you've had samples of before.  I know, if I had a chance to try before I bought - and I'd even be happy to pay a token amount for certain samples - I'd BUY MORE COSMETICS.

So, what drives you mad about buying cosmetics?  And, whilst I'm about it, what's your biggest gripe about cosmetic sales assistants?


  1. I used to shop at this place (not in the UK) where samples were mainly given if you were a regular or bought lots of stuff, which strikes me as a ridiculous strategy. A sample isn't a "reward". There were a few sales assistants who understood the point of samples, I learnt to time my shopping with their shifts.

  2. Fantastic post!

    I remember trying to get a sample of a cream from a well known beauty counter about a year ago. I needed a sample because on of their other moisturisers broke me out so badly.

    The SA looked at me like I was some tramp basically, trying to just bag a freebie and told me they didn't have any.

    I then contacted the company through the website who then again told me they didn't have samples avaliable.

    Don't they realise that providing us with a simple 7ml sample or something, benefits them so much.

    Needless to say I didn't end up forking out and buying the moisturiser for fear of it breaking me out.

    I have also never asked for a sample of any products since, because well Im basically too scared. I really don't want some snotty looking SA looking down upon me, when all I want is to try a little before I buy. I will then happily fork out real £££ for the product.

  3. Hear! Hear!!

    I'd buy way more as well if I could get samples. I'm very difficult to match for foundation, but can I ever get a teeny foundation sample to see how it matches? Nope. If I'm foundation shopping then there may be several I'm looking at and I don't want my foundation to be taken off and reapplied several times. There's no way to see how it's going to wear during the day then.

    Don't get me started on perfume. I can't tolerate most perfumes, I get a lovely rash and a stinking headache very quickly. But they act mortally offended when you decline their spritz. I got surprised spritzed one day and went mad at them. Yet somehow I was in the wrong?

  4. My gosh! This is sooo true its untrue lol!!! It so utterly frustrating. I love being told what I'm not doing right without any sort of questioning as to what I actually am doing, all the while thinking, I have a level 3 in beauty therapy, what do you have? (slightly snobby I know, but I cant help it!).
    Even better is asking for a sample, being told they dont have any, then 2 minutes later being given one out of a drawer clearly busting with samples!! INFURITATING sometimes just does not describe how you feel after speaking to some staff on cosmetics counters.
    Saying that, I have had several good experiences with sampling, being offered little tubs filled with foundations, that I didnt even know where available (some from MAC and some from Clinique).
    Ok, now breathe, rant over! hehehe xxx

  5. oh, and I would like to add that, I have had bad and good experiences from the same brand, just different stores. One totally awful and rude, and one totally lovely!
    I also hated being told not to use my fingers to see what colour an eyeshadow was. If you dont want people to put their fingers on the stuff, then put it in a drawer where no one can touch your precious eyeshadow!
    ok, and breathe, again.

  6. This is one of my major peeves - it's the same here in Australia. I don't understand why they're so stingy - I would happily fork out dollars for a product that I'd been given an opportunity to try out first, but I'm not going to whack $150 on the counter for a moisturiser I haven't been within sniffing distance of.

    I just about die of envy when I hear about US people getting given samples of this and that, or chatting about a bunch of products and saying, "I decided I don't really like this - I'm going to return it." Though it does make me wonder what happens to all those returned products, I wonder if they just clean them up and resell them, because... ew...

  7. I completely agree, great post! I have really sensitive skin and won't try anything that I haven't had the opportunity to road test first, if they won't give me a sample they won't get the sale! My other biggest gripe is that sales assistants seem to have a morbid fascination with making me more tan and when they say tan, they mean orange. They don't seem to understand that I'm perfectly happy looking like Casper lol!

    Kelly x

  8. Totally agree - I have sensitive skin and can get very painful reactions to products so useful samples (ideally a week's worth) would have saved me many unfortunate experiences over the years.
    On a positive note however I must applaud Bobbi Brown sales assistants - I once took back 3 gel liners which I'd bought a week earlier, as they caused my eyes to swell up like something from a Resident Evil game, and they gave me a full refund without even eyes were still a bit puffy but definitely not at full defcon2 level by then so it wasn't just to move on the scary mutant-eyed lady before she made the other customers vomit... :-P
    Lush are good at giving samples, and I've found out from gift-with-purchase samples that Boots No7 is my very own personal kryptonite!
    I just won't buy expensive skincare stuff anymore if they won't give me a sample - their loss is better than my pain.
    Love your blog btw, Jo :-)

  9. I agree!! anything can break you out at the drop of a hat and I would rather know what the culprit was before I forked out a load of cash for it! I work beside the likes of Clinique and Estee Lauder and they are both very stingy with their samples... as in... never give them out. But thats mainly because I work in a small department store that cant afford to buy products in, so samples are reserved for customers that have ran out and they have no stock left!
    But I love getting samples :)

  10. I'm too scared to ask for samples for these reasons D: I hate going to high end counters as it is because I feel like a dick, so I don't want to make things worse haha

  11. I so agree, I asked for a sample at Clarins once and was made to feel so small, not a good feeling. I was pretty chuffed the other week at a Chanel counter though- I "bought" a lipstick with Boots points and the SA gave me a mascara sample and a men's aftershave sample without me asking which I thought was quite generous seeing as though I'd not spent any real money with them. Samples work though- I'm buying my boyfriend the aftershave for Christmas because it's lovely!

  12. The same type of thing occurs here in the states but we do generally have a -much- better return policy on cosmetics. Even so, it seems SAs would rather you buy a lot and return than hand out a couple samples. I can't imagine that helps their numbers but what do I know?! I'm just a mere cosmetic mortal.

  13. I very rarely will buy an expensive brand product before trying a sample - no sample no sale in my opinion.

    I totally agree - their drawers are full of them, and they are picky who they give them too and yes they reel out the - sorry we haven't got any ...

  14. Great article and I absolutely agree - it's such an arcane principle! I always ask for skincare and fragrance samples and mostly, the SAs are more than willing, but occasionally you arrive at the counter where they 'don't have any' or 'it's not their policy'. How do they expect to sell their products when they can't even let people see how things will work in their existing routines or whether they will react to them? Like you, I am very particular about fragrance, and like to have a sample so that I can where it over a few days so I can really see if I like it.

    I have to say though, some brands absolutely excel in the sample department, notably Giorgio Armani and Estee Lauder. Any company that has empty pots ready to be filled to avoid the dreaded 'oh, we've run out of that product' has my seal of approval!

  15. I have to say I've always been quite lucky and never had a problem with samples... I tend to get given them rather than having to ask. I think it depends on the SA though, if theyre good and understand customer service then they'll offer a sample, but if they're generally a bit rubbish then you've got no chance. I've always had fab experiences at Dior, Chanel & L'Occitane but the others don't even approach!

  16. Oh you're so right!!! It's the same here in Greece! Actually the sales assistants usually keep the samples for themselves (b*tches!!!!) ! If you visit their bathroom, it's full with samples!!

    I also hate them, because they're either too pushy or they ignore you! You enter the store, they ask you if you want any help, you say "no" and yet they keep following you!! ARGH!! What are they afraid off? That you're gonna steal something? Geesh!

    Of course you can't return anything here as well ! In the USA you can return a foundation at some stores just because you didn't like the texture! I wish they would change their policies in Europe!

  17. I wish more sample where available, I would buy so much more! It's frustrating when I go to say YSL and I have a size zero dragon looking at me as if I'm a piece of dirt because I'm not like her and she won't give me a sample, grrrr!

  18. I have to say, I'm so happy right now about living in the US and the return policy here. You can return just about anything in any condition provided that you have a receipt. However, I don't like how they are no testers in the drugstores to swatch a lipstick or eyeshadow, I don't like returning stuff just after one swatch at home realizing the shade doesn't work for me. It's such a waste! xxx

  19. I work for a very popular company and we don't get as many in as people think we do, even in a flagship store. Samples are very expensive to us and when we do get them in, they go VERY fast. :( I do love samples though... ♥

  20. At my work I'd love to be able to give out samples but we truly don't get any, not even the little perfume ones! Hell, I'm not even allowed to put any makeup on a customers face!

    Back home I used to be able to order little sample pots through Revlon and each month I ordered bags and bags of them so I could give out little samples of face creams or foundations, I don't think I've come across anywhere that does that here in the UK.

    Lastly, my boyfriend is rather good at sucking up to counter assistants and last time I took him shopping with me to the Decelor counter I ended up with handfuls of samples! I also got an awesome Illamasqua bag that was only meant to be given out with some sort of set in Selfridges. I definitely take him makeup shopping with me all the time now :P

  21. Having been on the other side of the counter, it can be tricky sometimes. I've wanted to give someone samples but not had stock of anything they would like. And eye cream samples are practically non-existent. The assistants are put under a lot of pressure to give out as little as possible as well and when they are seen giving people samples without a large purchase being made, it's made clear they're not to do it again or they'll lose their job. It's a tricky balance.

  22. It's such a pain when they hover over you and then they try to push products on you which clearly don't look so great (unless you put a base and a primer and 5 other things!). I also hate when they cake on enough product on your face for 10 people (and turn my pale self into an orange pumpkin) and think it looks great! Um, no I do not like the foundation, I am not this shade of pumpkin naturally thank you. I'm a prime example of why you should give samples. I got a few at the Chanel counter with a lipstick purchase or two and loved the cleanser so much I went back and bought it plus the toner. I'm working on getting the moisturizer that they'd given me a sample of too. :)

  23. I once got savaged on a forum for complaining about UK cosmetic returns policies vs. US ones. If brands in the US don't lose money with a more lenient returns policy, why do the SAME brands here kick up such a fuss? Especially when they're so marked up?

    I wish we could have more samples AND a better returns policy. Especially for foundations. I'm sick of running in and out of shops to check products in proper lighting, or having shades languishing unused because outside the shop they just don't work on me.

    Thanks for raising the issue!

  24. Ok, I have been in retail cosmetics for many years. With this economy, this much IS true. There aren't as many samples as there used to be. Companies used to send HUGE boxes full and now they send next to nothing. The recession has caused every company to become more conservative and cut corners.

    I know that with the line I work for currently, we get some small jars/packets but we are actually told that with every sample you give out you MUST get the person's phone number and you HAVE to follow up with them. That means calling them multiple times, sending letters, etc. The account executives actually come in and check the lists. If you have given all of your samples out and only have 3 names and numbers on there, you WILL be questioned.

    Also, since you are sent so few, you are encouraged to give them to your customers who are already making a purchase from your brand to try new products from the brand.

    I say it all depends on the approach, like every relationship. If someone comes up, is polite and genuinely seems interested in a particular product from the line, I would happily give them samples rather than have returns. If I can hear/see that a person is going counter to counter randomly asking for free samples and when I ask what they're interested in trying, they respond "Oh I don't care, anything you have samples of" then I do become a bit bleh about it.

    Does it come out of my pocket? No. Do I ONLY give them to people that are buying? No. Ultimately though, let's be honest. If I don't sell, I don't have a job. Those few samples I do have are supposed to generate future sales so I am put in the very difficult position of having to decide how to dole out the 50 or so I might have.

    Contrary to some people's beliefs, I am not judging people based on age, weight, race, country of origin, accent, how much makeup they have on, the way they're dressed, what handbag or shoes they're wearing or any of that. I'm only judging you on the same thing you should be judging me on, how nice, respectful, and polite you are.

  25. Ugh I hate asking for samples especially when SA's look at you like you're a freeloader.

    If I could actually try the product I'd be more likely to buy it!

    Great post.

  26. Hi,
    In Belgium you don't have to ask for a sample if you purchase. They will give you some. I have never asked for a sample, but I'd like to have some for foundation, for example, as Sirvinya said.
    I have to say that some of the SA give you loads, even trying to coordinate to your skin type or the brand you bought, but some disguising it as "care" they ask if you want samples of perfume or creams. I'm sorry, but what's wrong with both? Nothing, you cheap people.
    They often don't care if you are standing in the middle of the store waiting, not even if you stand in front of them. Amazing.

    Great post, thank you.

  27. I'm an archive reader, so forgive the hashing up of old posts..but I feel I have to say something, as a trained beauty therapist and an ex No7 consultant. I worked in a large high street branch of a well known chemist. I was lucky enough to have a manager who 'got' my passion for makeup and making people feel amazing just by making little changes, so I was given free reign when it came to ordering testers and samples. The store had been there 4 years, but noone was really cosmetic obsessed before, and within a few months of me working there, I had built up some regular high spending customers. I was new to retail, so didn't understand about 'the way it had always been done', just really customer focussed. I was also exempt from targets, meaning out of the 12 makeup stands I was responsible for, I had no obligation to push one brand over another, or indeed, any sale. My wages were the same regardless. I really would go above and beyond, tailoring advice to the individual, depotting testers for my ladies so they had a couple of days worth to test at home, I would take stuff off shelves and claim it as shop use if there was no tester available. However, every store has certain policies and limits. Store mainframe computers will bounce back orders of testers and samples that your store isn't entitled to, or tell you your allocation of samples is run out in the June and you can't order more til next April. The tester brands send are not the property of the store you see, they are the property of the brand, and if the SA doesn't think a sale will ensue, they're not supposed to invest the time. Some customers would come in and ask for a sample, on their lunch break because they were going to go to the large City Centre store after work and make their purchase! Guaranteed to not get a sample, unless I had loads to give away, which was often not the case. I am a good saleswoman, and spotting buying signals is my strong point. I can tell when someone needs help and advice, for help and advices sake, or when someone needs help and advice because they want to make a purchase. Both would get what they want, but at the end of the day, the customer with money to spend will always get the preferential treatment. Its a shop, not a drop in centre. I find that there are a lot of myths surrounding beauty sales, I was suspicious of SA before I started working as one too. I thought the SA could do anything she wanted with the stuff she was selling, that everyday would be a free for all with amazing goodies and anyone who told me off for trying out things was an old orange faced boot.Turns out, the only way you can get samples and testers to take home is by winning competitions or when a brand specifically address a sample to you, rules regarding disposal of testers, health and safety (shudder) policies particular to store size, it can take 3 months to get new testers, shoplifters coming in 3 times a day, and never looking how you would expect them to look,writing off hundreds of pounds of stock a week, because women cannot resist taking lids off mascaras and nail polishes they're not going to buy, and putting on full faces of makeup from the testers (so gross) but I would still recommend the smaller branches, as the lack of targets mean you will get the best advice and impartial attention


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