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Let's makeup

Beth Cooney Greenwich Time
Don't get swindled at the makeup counter. (iStockPhoto.com photo)

Don't get swindled at the makeup counter. (iStockPhoto.com photo)


Tips for negotiating cosmetic counter sales pitches



It has happened to any woman who has ever been beckoned to a counter by a salesperson offering a swipe of blush or bronzer to warm up a pale winter complexion.

Soon enough, the primers, blushes, brushes, lipsticks and miracle creams stacked up for purchase are in a heap approaching the bridge of your freshly powdered nose.

These are the moments when a visit to the cosmetics counter can seem above and beyond the call of beauty.

"I find it presumptuous when I book a makeover and see fifteen products piled high when I'm done," says Beth Magall-Traglia, editor-in-chief of TotalBeauty.com, an online-based product library that offers independent reviews of thousands of cosmetics.

In the course of researching articles for the Web site, which bills itself as the "smart girl's secret weapon" to navigating the hyped and confusing world of makeup, Magall-Traglia says her staff became convinced there was a need for cosmetics counter etiquette.

"We found it goes both ways," she says. "Sometimes it's the people behind the counter who are too pushy. Sometimes there are customers who totally take advantage of the free services and walk off empty-handed deliberately."

Since most makeup artists work on commission, the pressure to sell products is an issue, says Magall-Tragila. "And the need for consumers to understand they really should not take advantage of these people is equally real."

"The key to making this work is communication," says Gwen Wilson of Stamford, who represents the Clarins line of cosmetics at Saks in the Stamford Town Center. Wilson, who has been selling beauty products for more than a decade, says she is not a fan of the "hard sell" because she is trying to develop relationships with clients. She also does not work on commission, something she says can inspire trust in her clients. "I want you to come back. I want you to be happy. I want to try things on you that you are going to love. And if it doesn't work for you, in the long run, it really doesn't work for me."

So what's the best way to make that happen?

"Tell me exactly what you are looking for," says Elizabeth Genel, owner of Jd's Cosmetic Essentials in Darien, Westport and Ridgefield. "I really don't want my staff spending an hour doing a makeup application if all you need, or plan on buying, is a blush or a lip gloss."

Magall-Traglia says it is not uncommon for makeup artists to complain about customers who come, "looking for a full face of makeup because they are going to a special event like a wedding, but who leave looking great and buy nothing."

TotalBeauty.com recommends clients plan to spend at least one dollar a minute for any service that lasts more than a few minutes. "So if you spent 40 minutes with an artist, I recommend you spend at least $40."

Genel took issue with TotalBeauty.com's spending recommendations, saying they are not realistic in Fairfield County or in New York City, where many of her customers also shop. "I would be out of business in a day if my customers spent a dollar a minute when they sat down for a makeover," she says. "I don't think it's reasonable to take that much of anyone's time and walk away for the price of a lip gloss and mascara. It might fly in other parts of the country, but not here. And since my staff works on commission, it really isn't considerate of their time."

Still, Genel says she doesn't mind having her staff apply cosmetics liberally if a client is completely upfront about her needs. "Say you come in asking for blush, we may put other things on you so leave the store looking finished." That is not a problem, "If we do it voluntarily. Things can go awry when customers come to the counter with a secret agenda: a free coat of chin-toforehead color to wear to a date or a wedding that day. If I know that and I'm not busy, I might be happy to do that if we have a relationship. Or if you say upfront, I only plan on spending this much. That is helpful, but please don't try to put one over on the makeup lady," says Genel.Magall-Traglia agrees budget setting is key.

So, too, is knowing what to buy and what to leave behind. "Be realistic about how you use cosmetics. Know your routine. Know how much you're willing to expand or change your repertoire," says the editor.

"I'm a big believer in free will. You can walk away," says Genel. "If you hate foundation, never wear it, don't buy it and blame it on the people behind the counter when you do, that's not fair. Don't buy it if you have it already or are not going to use it."

Items such as lip gloss and mascara are good things to pick up from big box retailers or drugstores. "We've found in those categories there is a lot of stuff in the mid-range that is excellent," says Magall-Traglia. Hundreds of independent beauty reviews can be found at TotalBeauty.com.

The best things to try at the counter? "Foundation and concealers," says Magall-Traglia. "Everyone needs to have a professional work with them on getting their base right."

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Shopping tips

* Be upfront. "If you just want a new blush, tell me," says Elizabeth Genel, owner and chief makeup artist at Jd's Cosmetic Essentials in Darien, Westport and Ridgefield. "I may put on some shadow and liner to balance you out, but if I do, I do it knowing your intentions so I won't feel put out if you don't buy the extras."

* Want to try out a new look for a wedding or special occasion, but don't want to spend big? "Tell the artist. If they have time and it's a slow day, they may help you out. You will establish a relationship and it can be good for everyone," says Beth Magall-Traglia, editor-in-chief of the Internet venue TotalBeauty.com, Still, she urges: "Please, at least buy a lip gloss. It is unfair to leave empty-handed."

* If you book a full makeover, be prepared to spend something. "I liken it to going to a hairdresser. You wouldn't book a blowout and not pay for it because you are 'just trying it out,' " says Magall-Traglia.

* If you don't like something and decide not to buy, try to explain why. For example, "These lips are really too dark for me," or "I just don't see myself wearing teal eyeliner." "It helps an artist to know how they can serve you better next time," says Gwen Wilson, who represents the Clarins line at Saks in the Stamford Town Center.

* Be explicit about your limits. Telling an artist your budget is helpful. So, too, is stating your do's and don'ts. If you never wear foundation and an artist tries some on, there should be no hard feelings if you don't buy.

* When in doubt or just curious, ask for samples. "We are happy to provide them if we have them. Samples of some things, like blush or eyeshadow, are not usually available, but we love to offer them for things such as foundation and moisturizer," says Genel.

* Need an out when you're feeling pushed. "I have sensitive skin," "I would like to wear this for a while to test it," and "I have this already" are good ways to back out of a purchase.

* Scan the counter to see who else is shopping. "If you are not buying and an artist is working with you, make sure you call other customers to her attention," says Magall-Traglia. "It is not fair to keep her from a potential sale if you are just 'having fun.' "

* Speaking of "having fun," Genel says it's not unusual for women to come into her store, start playing with makeup and wave off a salesperson with that pronouncement. That is OK, but, keep your fingers out of the makeup; use "testing" implements provided at the counter.

* Ask about return policies. Some retailers will take back any cosmetic (even used ones) if a customer regrets the purchase. Locally, Sephora and Saks have such policies. Some stores only provide store credit. Knowing the policy can help you decide how much to buy, especially if you are hesitant, says Magall-Traglia.


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