Online bargain beauty shopping: Never pay full price again

“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.”

– Dolly Parton

I told my husband I’m blogging about how to save money when shopping for beauty products. His advice? “Don’t buy beauty products.” Tee hee. So droll.

Obviously “don’t buy beauty products” is terrible advice. (Sorry, honey.) But at the same time, there’s no reason to ever pay full price for high-end beauty products – at least, not when you’re shopping online. In my younger, carefree days, I used to place full-price orders to Sephora on a regular basis without any regard for the cost, but now that I’m older and more mature and married and saving for things like a bigger house and retirement, I have to be more responsible. While there are some drugstore products I love (more all the time, in fact, as mass market cosmetics companies step up their respective games), I generally prefer higher-end products (I haven’t walked out of the house without a dusting of Benefit Dandelion since 2005, and I don’t intend to start now), so I’ve found some ways to save money while still buying the products I love.

Here, now, for your benefit, I present my tricks of the trade.

How to buy the designer makeup you want without breaking the bank

Ebates

I’ll be the first to admit I was wary about joining Ebates. Quite honestly, it sounds too good to be true, which to me meant it sounded shady. Basically, you shop and then Ebates gives you money.

No, really. That is how it works.

Turns out, it’s actually legit. Basically, Ebates gets a commission when you make a purchase through their website. (You have to sign up for an account first, obviously, and you have to visit the online store you’re shopping through the Ebates website.) Instead of keeping all the money, Ebates pays a portion of each commission to the shopper.

Ebates offers cash back from something like 1,500 stores, including:

Avon • bareMinerals • Barneys New York • Bath & Body Works • Bliss • The Body Shop • Carol’s Daughter • Clinique • Elizabeth Arden • L’Occitane • Macy’s  • Philosophy • Sally Beauty • Sephora • Ulta

In addition to the regular cash back, Ebates has a “daily double” every day, featuring double cash back from one merchant. For example, normally you get 4 percent cash back on a Sephora purchase, but when Sephora.com is featured as the daily double, you get 8 percent back. Pay attention to the different cash back percentages and shop wisely. If you’re going to order, say, a Murad face wash, you might want to order it through Murad.com (11 percent cash back) instead of Ulta (4 percent cash back).

I’ve been an Ebates member for just about a year, and I’ve already gotten four checks totaling $110.38. Seriously. There’s no reason to not use this service. Unless you hate getting free money back for buying things you were going to buy anyway, in which case, why are you even reading this post?

Retail Me Not

I never, ever, ever, ever, ever click “submit” on an online order form until I’ve checked RetailMeNot.com. Retail Me Not aggregates coupon codes from around the Web (including e-mail newsletters, member deals, etc.) and makes them available for public use. Each code is displayed with a graphic showing what percentage of shoppers have successfully used the code. (Some codes are expired or limited to certain amounts/products/etc.) I usually try to limit my online shopping to sales and special discounts, but when I absolutely have to have something, I always turn to Retail Me Not to see if I can save some money.

Flash sale sites

“Flash sale” sites like Hautelook and Gilt often feature bath, beauty and skincare products. These sites offer limited-time liquidation sales on certain brands (usually high-end). Each day you get an e-mail letting you know what’s on sale and when the sale ends. When I sat down to write this post, Gilt Groupe was featuring Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, with Soap.com and Clarins sales set to start in the following days, while Hautelook had Kinerase, Sorme Cosmetics and Proliss on sale, with Crown Brush and Coola Suncare on deck. (Hautelook also features NYX Cosmetics from time to time.) Flash sale sites are free to join, with no membership fees or other charges – just the cost of any purchases you choose to make.

eBay

I’m of two minds about shopping for beauty products on eBay. On the one hand, I’ve never had a bad experience with an eBay beauty purchase. (I’ve stuck mostly to perfume. In fact, right now I’m wearing a Missoni perfume I bought on eBay four or five years ago.) On the other… well, there are a few caveats. One is that you don’t really know where the product is coming from or where it’s been – or how old it is. Maybe the eBay seller got an extra bottle of something for Christmas, or maybe that lot of lip glosses “fell off the back of a truck,” or maybe they picked it up at a liquidation sale. When in doubt, message the seller and ask how old the product is and where it came from – and don’t be afraid to ask for more photos or details. If you don’t get the answers you want, don’t bid.

There have been a lot of problems over the years with counterfeit cosmetics for sale on eBay, particularly MAC, so if that’s your thing, check out some of the resources to help you ensure you’re getting legit product. Ask questions, do your homework, and always, always, always check seller feedback. PayPal does provide some protection for fraudulent sales (I’ve had success getting money back from a flaky seller), but the best way to not get ripped off is to be an informed shopper.

eBay Guides: How to avoid fake MAC cosmetics products
BellaSugar: How to spot fake cosmetics on eBay
eBay Guides: Guide to fake vs. authentic MAC brushes
Buying cosmetics on eBay: How to spot fake products

Look for free shipping

Whenever possible, take advantage of free shipping promotions. This is a bit of a sticky wicket here in Alaska (and Hawaii), as some merchants tend to capriciously exclude us from free shipping deals – often, I’m pretty sure, because they just don’t know very much about shipping to the non-contiguous states. (It’s called Priority Mail Flat Rate. Look it up. I’m talking to you, Bath & Body Works, with your  ridiculous $20 minimum Alaska shipping charge.) Two notable exceptions are Sephora and Nordstrom, both of which include Alaska in their excellent shipping policies. I’ve also had good experiences with Macy’s.

Retailer e-mail lists and loyalty programs

The best way to never miss the best price on a favorite product is to join your retailer’s e-mail list. I’m on about a hundred mailing lists for various beauty products, brands and stores, and yes, that means I delete a lot of e-mails every day. But it also means I know when to buy the things I like and get the best deal, whether it’s for triple points at Nordstrom, 15 percent off at Sephora or a blowout sale price at Philosophy. Putting up with all those extra e-mails saves me hundreds of dollars every year since they also mean I know when to jump on special offers and surprise sales.

When it comes to loyalty programs, not all insider cards are created equal. Ulta’s Ultamate Rewards program has been a big bust for me because the rewards can only be redeemed in-store and only during a very limited timeframe – so since there’s no Ulta in Alaska, even though I drop a fair amount of cash there a few times a year when I’m traveling out of state, there’s essentially no incentive for me to try to accumulate Ulta rewards. The Sephora V.I.B. program, on the other hand, has been very kind to me, with discounts, special offers, perks and annual gift cards. And I always use my MOD debit card when I make a purchase at Nordstrom, especially during double- or triple-points promotions, because I have earned several $20 Nordstrom Notes certificates over the years. If you belong to a points program like Nordstrom’s, try to save your shopping for times when you earn bonus points. For example, my locally owned beauty supply store (what’s up, Marie’s!) offers double loyalty points every Sunday. And if you live near a Sally Beauty Supply, there is no earthly reason not to pay to join their membership program. Your $5 annual fee gets you a lower price on every single product in the store (plus they give you a $5 off coupon right away, and you get a discount coupon every month as long as you spent $25 the month before).

Shop savvy

Bottom line: It’s possible to save plenty of money on beauty products – if you’re willing to strategize and invest some time and energy in doing it right. If nothing else, join Ebates and always remember to start your shopping trip there – and never finish a purchase without checking Retail Me Not. Your wallet will thank you.

This post contains referral links for Ebates, Hautelook and Gilt Groupe. Essentially, if you click on these links and complete purchases, I get credits added to my account. I’m not compensated for mentioning these sites. I legitimately like, use and recommend them. You may, if you prefer, bypass my referral links and go directly to Ebates.com, Hautelook.com, or Gilt.com. 

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