Beauty BargainsLearn to spot the difference between a steal and a scam when scouring the web for your next beauty buy.
Keeping up with the latest beauty products and trends can be expensive, especially if you're loyal to higher-end brands. It's no wonder more shoppers have turned to the internet to find, compare, and purchase their get-gorgeous essentials. But is that terrific bargain really a bargain at all? Could the product be fake, expired or (gulp) gently used? Here's the smart - and safe - way to buy the beauty products you love.
Recognize the problem
If you're an online shopper, you may be among the 60 percent who purchase beauty and personal care products online. Yet a growing number of products available online come from countries outside the U.S., which have looser regulations about the way products are manufactured, regulated, and distributed. That puts buyers at risk of being scammed, or even harmed, by counterfeit or expired products.
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"In places like China, manufacturers are good at producing and flooding the market with a high volume of lower cost goods," says Alina Halloran, vice president of online brand protection for Opsec Security, a Boston-based, anti-counterfeiting firm. "They aren't paying for any of the marketing used to distribute and sell a MAC product, for example. And in some cases, they omit costly ingredients and substitute with dangerous substitutes like urine in fragrances, or antifreeze in toothpaste. You might buy sunscreen without the active ingredients, or eyeliner with 46 times the acceptable limit of copper."
Check out third-party sellers
When it comes to shopping online, the standard is "buyer beware," so do your homework, especially when purchasing from third-party vendors unfamiliar to you. "In my opinion, it's safer to shop on Amazon and eBay than most places on the web, because online shopping is their business. They have policies in place to ensure that their 'relationship of trust' with the customers will be maintained," says Kathryn Finney, founder of The Budget Fashionista blog.
Nevertheless, Finney recommends reading the buyer feedback of any third-party sellers, and looking for sellers with "PowerSeller status" on eBay, because "these sellers are automatically determined by eBay to have sold a lot of stuff and received 98 percent positive feedback for the last 12 months."
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Halloran warns against purchasing anything being shipped from outside the U.S., particularly Asia. She also suggests looking carefully at photographs and descriptions provided by the seller, and making sure the products look legitimate. "Know a bit about the brand and product. Do they make this color of lipstick? Does the packaging look right?" she says. "If a seller has 5,000 tubes of mascara, that's a definite red flag."
When in doubt, locate the vendor's customer service line and call to ask a few questions. If you can't get a real person on the line or the employee can't answer your questions, that's a bad sign.
Finally, if the price is crazy-low, skip it. Deals that seem too good to be true usually are.
Read beauty forums and Facebook sites
When determining whether a vendor can be trusted, start by Googling the name along with the word "complaint" or "scam," says Shannon Nelson, who tests beauty products and blogs on her site agirlsgottaspa.com. Next, go to the vendor's Facebook site, if one exists, and scan the "Posts by Others" to find negative comments.
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Beauty blogs that offer a forum to promote discussion are another helpful resource. Nelson recommends two reputable options, makeupalley.com and thebeautybrains.com. Or, try knoji.com, a consumer information site that aggregates customer feedback, helping you compare online vendors. And don't forget the old standard, the Better Business Bureau, which grades companies A through F depending on company's complaint history with BBB, along with other factors.
Inspect the fine print
Make sure the seller lets you return a product if you don't like it - whether or not it turns out to be suspicious. A reputable vendor should allow you a certain amount of time to receive, inspect, and try out the product.
Also, if you're testing a new vendor, consider paying through the secure payment site PayPal, which protects your financial information from the seller, who won't have access to it. Also, if something goes amiss with the order, PayPal has a Purchase Protection plan that guarantees a refund to its members.
-- By Esther Chapman
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