Most would agree that online beauty shopping is pretty great. It’s convenient, time-saving, brimming with reviews and information, and, best of all, a smart way to get a deal on your favorite beauty items. But if you’re still uneasy about hitting the Internet instead of the mall, we’re here to help. Go from cautious skeptic to savvy online shopper with these go-to tips.
Probably the biggest incentive to purchasing beauty items online, aside from the thrill of shopping in your pajama pants, is the opportunity to score major savings. From flash sales to specialty insider discounts, beauty sites offer a bevy of ways to save. The key to finding the best deals is to purchase products you already trust and spend a little extra time sourcing the most optimal price.
“The best thing about online shopping is being able to compare, compare, and compare some more!” Claudia Materdomini, beauty blogger for My Beauty Bunny and creator of the beauty blog I Like To Talk A Lot, shares. “If you look around enough, you can find great deals on shipping, first-time customer and email signup discounts, flash sales and free gifts with purchase.”
According to Karie L. Frost, beauty director for leading nail magazine Nail It!, many online beauty vendors offer loyalty points and reward programs that can yield ongoing discounts. “Depending on the loyalty/reward program, you can build up your cache of points toward a future purchase,” Frost explains. “You get a lot of added value by purchasing online.”
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Lower prices and loyalty points are great but finding the right product online can seem daunting when you can’t see, smell, feel or test the product in person. While some sites may offer free samples prior to purchase, these helpful tips can help you navigate the selection.
When it comes to purchasing makeup online, Los Angeles-based professional makeup artist Samantha Bates suggests that you go for what you know. “I wouldn’t really use it as a time to experiment,” she warns. “Shop items you already know you trust.” If you’re unsure on a particular shade or texture of a product, Bates advises testing the product in a store first if possible and then sourcing the best deal online.
If you’re unable to test a shade in person, try to find a color swatch online. Often beauty bloggers will showcase a makeup item on their site or social media pages to give a more realistic view of how the product will look and perform. “I’ll definitely research color swatches from beauty blogs, and I think Google image search is your friend in this instance as well,” Materdomini shares. “Swatches that show a product in two different types of lighting, or with/without primers, are great for helping decide if that eye shadow or lipstick is going to work.”
Since you typically can’t sample hair products in brick and mortar stores anyway, styling products, shampoos and conditioners are ideal items to purchase online. Cherry Petenbrink, a Beverly Hills-based freelance independent hairdresser and educator, notes that “the coveted products found in salons or boutiques are really designed to be ordered online for convenience.” Love the anti-frizz spray your stylist used at your last appointment? Chances are you’ll find a great deal for the product on a beauty supply website.
If you need a little direction on what product is best for your hair, read up. “Pay attention to reviews and whether the product is suited for your hair type,” notes Petenbrink. “If the hair in a picture isn’t like your own, the product may not perform the same. Fine, frizzy hair is very different than coarse, frizzy hair.”
Shopping for skin care products online is a great solution as long as you do it safely. “Chronic skin problems may require problem-specific skin care. In these cases, I would recommend checking with your dermatologist,” Dr. Jeannette Graf, a New York-based certified, clinical and research dermatologist, advises. “Once you know that a product agrees with your skin, then it can be safe to order from a reputable online store.”
Graf recommends opting for known online retailers that cater to specific customer needs and preferences. “It’s helpful to look for sites that offer multiple ways to shop, whether by skin care concern, product category, best sellers, award winners, etc.,” she says. “And check and see if there’s an option for automatic replenishment. This way, once you find a product you love you can ensure delivery to your door before you run out.”
Nail care is another category that lends itself well to online shopping. Like makeup, polish colors can be selected with the help of color swatch imagery and nail art trends are often easier to accomplish with the help of online vendors. “When it comes to niche nail trends, some of these items are more easily found online than in person. Think loose pigments, nail charms, rhinestones, nail art foils, etc.,” Frost says. “You’re more likely to shop around at several stores to get all of your needs. So, in this way, online is vastly better.”
Whether looking for makeup, hair, skin or nail products, probably the most helpful resource for online shoppers is user reviews. Says Frost, “Reading reviews can make up for the fact that you don’t get the benefit of sampling the product in person.” After all, in-store shopping doesn’t include unbiased customer feedback so be sure to take advantage of this insider information before making a purchase.
Pro Tip: Pay attention to the ounces listed for products as many sites offer multiple sizes not available in stores.
Just like any shopping experience, online beauty shopping isn’t without a few pitfalls. Remember to always shop through reputable retail sites to avoid scams or purchasing counterfeited or expired products. “I strongly recommend avoiding all third-party sellers such as eBay since these are products that are not guaranteed and there is no information on how old they are,” Graf says. “In addition, even sites such as Amazon may have individual sellers where there is no guarantee of the quality or the age of the product.”
And while online shopping is certainly convenient, returns can be less so. “If this is an item you haven’t tried before, you take the chance that you may not like the product,” Frost says. Instead, consider this: “Does the online store allow for easy returns? Do they offer you money back or simply store credit? Do they have a brick-and-mortar you can make returns to as well?” If the answer is no, look for a site that offers a comprehensive return policy and dedicated customer service to ensure you’re covered.
Finally, always look for sites that include product reviews. Says Frost, “If you come to a site that lacks customer reviews, find another site!”
Pro Tip: Try to avoid purchasing natural and organic products from unauthorized third-party sites. These items are more likely to expire earlier than others so it’s best to purchase them directly from the manufacturer or from a well-known affiliate.