Things to know when you’re shopping for cosmetics

Posted on December 04, 2014 under Thoughts

I worked in cosmetics before moving to Scotland. It was an amazing job which I loved 95% of the time; I was doing something I was passionate about, making people happy, and learning a lot. Here are some things I would like to pass on to you, the customer, to know when you’re shopping for cosmetics. In many ways, you get what you give to the experience of buying cosmetics, so keep these things in mind!

We are not judging you.

Seriously. You do not have to have a full face of beautifully-applied makeup to set foot in a cosmetics department. You do not have to be conventionally attractive or know anything about makeup. A lot of people come in without any makeup on because they want to try it on, or because they didn’t have time to put it on, or for a million other reasons! Honestly, most of the time I didn’t even notice if someone was wearing makeup or not, because my job was to help them find the product they wanted, not to scrutinize what was or wasn’t on their face! It’s okay if you’re not wearing makeup, it’s okay if you have a huge zit on your cheek, it’s okay if you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s okay if you’re a man wanting to buy mascara. (Seriously, it’s pretty common. We wouldn’t bat an eyelid when men came in.) Sales Associates are there to help you, not judge you.

And in my experience, that’s what we want to do. Most of us love cosmetics and have a lot of knowledge that we are eager to impart. We want to help you find a moisturizer that makes your skin glow, or your perfect red lipstick. I had several occasions where I spent nearly an hour swatching every lipstick in the store to help a customer match an old discontinued favourite or an image they found on Pinterest. That’s what we want to do! So please don’t walk in and apologize for your face, or for not knowing enough.

A lot of us are not formally trained in makeup application.

Personally I was always totally willing to apply makeup on customers, but I preferred when it was in a low-stress situation: just showing a customer how a foundation worked on their skin, testing out different shades of pink lipstick, or a trial for a big event. I did not like to do someone’s makeup for their prom, or for a wedding they were attending, because I am not formally trained and applying makeup on someone else is very different from applying it on yourself!

So if you go in for a makeover, please keep this in mind. If you have somewhere to be, you’re better off hiring a trained makeup artist, better yet if you can have a trial with them before your event. Where I worked, no makeup application qualifications were necessary, and most of us were not formally trained. The majority of my job was sales, but I did have to apply makeup sometimes. Please know that the person doing your makeup may not have formal training! It’s best to come in beforehand and set up and appointment for a makeover – and ask if the person doing it has any training. It’s for your own good!

You get a makeover, you buy.

I feel very strongly about this. It’s simply a matter of common courtesy. Most cosmetics SAs are on minimum wage and make commission. A makeover takes at least half an hour, which is time that could be spent with other customers, cleaning, doing the tasks besides selling that people forget need to be done, etc. This is a simple exchange of goods and services: do not insult your SA’s time and skill by walking away without purchasing anything. This is a transaction. Uphold your end of the bargain.

Low sales can put an SA’s job in jeopardy and damage their entire team. Don’t hurt the person who just spent half an hour doing your makeup, okay?

Be as specific as possible.

If you come in looking for, say, a good sunscreen or your perfect nude lipstick, it helps if you know what you’re looking for. Tell me everything you can think of that applies: your skin type, the finish you prefer, any ingredients you’re allergic to, any specific concerns you’d like the product to address, etc. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Basically, any way you can make your needs, desires, and limitations clear, the better for you!

On the same note, don’t just take the first product the SA recommends.

I always liked to give my customer a few options, and explain the differences between them. This way, they wouldn’t feel pressured to take the first thing I gave them because they didn’t know how to say “No, this isn’t what I’m looking for.” That said, if you feel like your SA is overwhelming you with choice, you can totally ask them to narrow it down to the best two or three options and then go from there. SAs want to make sales, but they also want to build up a satisfied customer base. That doesn’t happen by pushing the first product they think of onto the customer. It happens by asking questions, answering the customer’s questions, and working together to find the perfect product. So don’t be afraid to be a part of this process: it’s so much better for everyone involved if you take the time to talk it through and find the right product!

Not everything works for everyone.

Again, most SAs are not just trying to sell the most expensive product or the first thing we think of. We want to make customers happy. So our recommendations are based on our own experiences, feedback we’ve received from other customers (because we can’t try every product!), and product knowledge that we receive in training. Even if you go through the whole Q&A process and spend a long time selecting something, it simply may not work for you. Obviously some SAs suck and just thrust products on their customers, but please try to realize that what most likely happened is that you got unlucky and were recommended a product that just doesn’t work for you specifically. Look into the return policy of the store you bought it from, because usually stores want their customers to be satisfied, not stuck with a product they hate!

Ask when something will be back in stock.

Thursdays at my store were crazy because that’s when we got all the new stuff in. Sometimes I’d be working up until midnight (when we closed) putting all the new stuff on the shelves where it belonged! Most stores have a set day (or days) when the distribution comes in, so if a product you want is out of stock ask when the store gets new items in and come back the day after. (So – you wouldn’t come to my store on Thursday, because that’s when we were unloading everything. But on Friday, the shelves would be full!) The SA can also check in drawers or in the back for you, just in case something is there. It’s rare, but worth a peek, and they should be happy to check.

Ask for samples.

Depending on the store or counter, you may not be able to request specific samples of items – but it’s worth a try. So, if you really want to try a specific foundation, see if you can get a sample size of it! My store couldn’t make samples from testers, but we did have a big stockpile of fragrance and skincare samples and I was totally willing to give it away like candy to customers who engaged with me and were making a purchase. (Obviously, if you’re not buying something it’s a bit of a dick move to ask for samples.) Normally I would remember to give samples to people who were spending a decent amount anyway, but if your SA forgets and even if you’re not dropping a tonne of cash, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Also, if you wanted a sample of a foundation but the store can’t make samples up for you, you can ask them to apply it to your face so you can wear it around for the day and test it out that way.

And that is all I have for now, which is good since this post is already pretty long!

Basically, what this comes to down to is that SAs usually really like their jobs and want to help. If you come in prepared, open-minded, and willing to ask questions, you are way more likely to walk out of the store feeling happy and in possession of a product that you will love!

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