Long before I plunged into writing and realised that I wanted to spend as much as time as possible tapping my fingers against keyboards, I was a freelance makeup artist and worked across various cosmetic counters.
From the most luxurious department stores, to the boutique shops, here are my confessions from my experiences in Central London:
Makeup skills are the last requirement
For the skincare brands that sell cosmetics (there are only a few that dominate in makeup), being able to skillfully create an Instagram worthy eye crease is the least of their concerns.
Sales always take the leap which is why you most-likely have had beauty products applied by a non-professional. They would rather an efficient seller with limited makeup skill than vice versa.
Applying makeup is time-consuming and people can expect a lot from a free service without any intention of purchase. An assistant should always be happy to put on a product to try, but their focus is in describing the benefits and the ingredients.
Skincare and perfume are far more expensive – don’t be surprised if an assistant encourages a cleanser or moisturiser to compliment your foundation etc.
The pressure is from sales and not commission
There is an assumption that if a consultant tries to entice a sale, they must be strictly focusing on commission. High targets are scheduled daily and failure to meet them can result in a meeting, warning or potentially being fired.
One brand in particular, I would have to ring their head office every morning at 8.30am and report figures. If I couldn’t think of a good enough excuse on the weeks that we failed, either a trainer would greet an unscheduled visit or the area manager.
Cosmetic counters promote up-selling
I fell out of love with toners when I realised that many companies have cleansers which shoot up your ph, followed by a toner to soothe it back down. But toners are known as an easy 2 unit sale. Meaning, if you buy a cleanser, it’s easier to persuade you to add the toner that goes along.
Both are inexpensive compared to creams, however together they help with those pesky targets.
Another up-selling technique is to show you a range of items, with the hope that you won’t pick them all. For example, convincing you to buy 5 products from me would be challenging. If I displayed 5 and pushed 3, the customer will conclude that they are not spending a lot by buying all 5.
Everyone hates traffic-stopping
This includes sales assistants who have to partake in this dehumanising task. Again, it’s the pressure from management that has you rushing past the “would you like to try” noises.
Head offices are adamant that traffic stopping occurs at all moments unless there is a customer or the store itself forbids it.
The cosmetic counters themselves are never clean
Ok they are clean in the morning when most are wiped and dusted. But seeing customers smear their dirty hands in eye shadows and bronzers, apply lipsticks straight from the tube, and emphasise zero awareness of hygiene, I always say be prepared.
What used to irritate me is that plenty of assistants don’t wipe the products and only the brush. Anything powder based requires a wipe with a tissue.
My craziest story is a woman asking me if she could borrow some perfume to spritz. As soon as I said yes, she took the bottle, put it inside her top (she was wearing pyjamas), sprayed by her armpits and then quickly put the under her pants.
Me and the manager were frozen in shock. To which the woman replied “I have a spa appointment and didn’t have time to shower”.
Speaking of which, other stories include a woman asking if she can pee in the spa shower – due to the toilets being upstairs, telling me they’ve not washed their face from last night but do not need cleanser and using the sample deodorant all under their arms.
They sometimes lie
Not all lie about whether they believe in a product. However, ask us if you have wrinkles and it’s going to get awkward if you do. Numerously we play therapist although it’s a job expectation to act positive about the brand we promote.
Therefore, don’t expect many to inform you of their favourite blusher if it’s from a different company. And again, “are these cosmetics good?” We can’t exactly say no.
People routinely demand collections of samples without any interest in potentially buying. This means if you do want to try before you buy, make that clear. Walking up to a cosmetic counter and asking if they have a ‘moisturiser sample’ is not the best approach.
On the other hand, is fairly unlikely that a consultant would hide products from you – if does them no favours. If they say it’s out of stock – it’s probably out of stock.
My worst was a fifty-something woman throwing a tantrum because her blusher was not available. She threw the other item at the till and stormed off with her arms crossed.
There are always worse customers
Seriously, whilst there are plenty of rude, obnoxious and unknowledgeable assistant on cosmetic counters, some shoppers are in a separate league.
Spending 5 minutes talking to you like an idiot for not knowing a product – before discovering they are at the wrong brand – no apology, 20 minutes tracking down a red lipstick – then figuring that they want brown – continuing to get angry at you for not knowing that red equals brown.
I’ve seen it all and if you’re considering a career as a makeup artist, only 10% of cosmetic counters and their roles are based on makeup.
Do you have any cosmetic confessions in general to share?
If you loved this post, read my: Highlight and Contour: Ten do’s and don’ts