Dan Thompson: Beauty Busted


Cosmetics Department Sales

Navigate The Shopping Floor

Nothing is accidental in the world of cosmetics sales.  From the advertising to the displays to the hype to the “studies” to gifts to the free makeovers, everything is designed to encourage consumers to shop.  This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing but it is important to understand there is a real science used to encourage consumers to part with their money.  If you have ever felt you are running the gauntlet to get through a department store cosmetics department then this article is for you.

First, let me state – I don’t like the hypothesis that companies are trying to “trick” the consumer into buying products.  I happen to think consumers are much more savvy than that. However, the system is often organized to apply great pressure to buy products and it often doesn’t feel like pressure.  More like a slow boil where the consumer doesn’t even realize they are being brought to the cash register in a very specific manner.

Second, I never blame the sales people – the job is very high stress and high pressure. Often a cosmetic’s sales person who cannot meet their monthly goal will be let go and replaced even if they miss said goal by even a few dollars.

Third – most consumers are ok to buy one or two over priced cosmetics, because, well let’s face it, it’s fun to do.  What is important is to note how that fun can turn into something akin to thumbscrews being applied.

Here are a few of the very subtle techniques employed to help consumers keep shopping:

1.  Pseudoscience: White lab coats worn by sales people, the word dermatologist printed everywhere, cited clinical studies, stories of decades of research, the famous “our experts” phrase...these are all marketing ploys to imply a level of scientific authority that does not really exist.  Notice this technique next time by how many times you see a “prescription” pad in a cosmetics department, the term “Rx” used or even how many times you see the word “doctor” associated with a product. To be clear, over the counter products have little to no research done aside from some basic irritation testing or stability testing.

2. Disparage and praise: The key is to get consumers to buy the products being pushed. One of the simplest ways to do this is to show how the products they are currently using are inadequate for their needs while gently reminding them that they made the best choice they could with their limited knowledge.  This does two things–creates doubt and increases credibility.  Notice this technique the next time you are shopping–the sales person lays out all the products you “need” and then pulls one two out of the pile saying “the product you have at home right now will work just fine so don’t worry about these.”  These are usually the products they don’t need to push anyway and the ones you end up “needing” are on their push list.

3. Expensive means better: If you think this is nota techniques consider this–the average price point for a day cream in now over $100.  The cosmetics companies have done a great job of convincing the consumer that only high priced items are of the best quality.  This completely untrue, yet exotic ingredients in exquisite packages are constantly sold with high price tags.  Notice this technique by seeing how many over $100 products contain some type of “rare” extract, or ingredient that “influences” cell behavior, or even associated with something “precious” (gold and diamonds are the new ones used in cosmetics).  There is no evidence showing a higher priced cosmetics can work better than a less expensive one.  And don’t think inexpensive is just as good.  There are good and bad products at every price point, made by every brand and sold in every retail channel.