Retail Beauty or Retail Ugly?


Recently an investigative beauty special aired on a well-known national television show which wasn’t complimentary to cosmetic counters in major department stores nationwide. Business managers, counter managers, retail makeup artists and beauty advisors were rendered as dishonest and sales hungry. I have held a wide range of roles in retail beauty for numerous brands. One would say I am a “tramp” in the industry however with experience comes knowledge. I’m the most unbiased individual out there and I do not believe that one line has everything for everyone. More importantly, I do not think retail beauty consumers are as ignorant or naïve as portrayed in the documentary. So let’s talk reality and the real deal.

During the report’s dramatization a client entered the store with the current makeup she was using which consisted of multiple brands and sat for a consult by a store employee who worked for a specific line. To keep it short and semi-sweet, when the client displayed her makeup collection to get input the consultant made a face that looked as though she just took a strong whiff of rancid milk. For the love of drama you have to appreciate it. The client immediately became submissive to all recommendations and product purchases imposed by the consultant and both women obviously had a great day. One’s purse a little lighter while the others a little fuller. The report wouldn’t have been successful if they didn’t embellish and push the truth. The scarier or more violent the story the better for them, true? Cosmetic personnel in department stores have a business to run and they work very hard. Each counter has sales goals which are set by the brand and store which are sometimes idealistic. So the pressure is on for these individuals to build their businesses, be excellent consultants and make everyone happy from the creator of the line to you, it’s a stressful job, and yes the creators of household brands have a lot more to do with their businesses than you think. It is not uncommon for store employees to have professional relationships with the big bosses like Bobbi, Laura and Francois.


So is it retail beauty or ugly? It can be both but it’s up to you as shopper with common sense and intelligence to make the right decisions. Here are my tips when you are out looking to restock your cosmetic inventory. I have total confidence you can make your own purchase decision and in case you need a little advice, follow some of these insights:

• Brand loyalty is important. You may love a brand because of the color palettes or style of beauty they offer, i.e. NARS offers a selection of more vivid color versus Laura Mercier who has a more natural palette. If you love the line because you love the style, that’s great and you know what you want and shop away.

• “Something” for everyone not everything. No single brand has everything for everyone and they never will so if your consultant is fanatic about the brand and has forceful tunnel vision there is a good chance you are experiencing retail ugly. I habitually cross sell when consulting for brands because I am honest and I will recommend what is best for you not the brands profit margin.

• Don’t judge a book by its cover. Packaging can cost more than the product. That fancy compact or hi-tech pump can raise the price simple is better and usually less expensive.

• Get to know the brand before you purchase. Asking questions about its origin, the creators and the current company who owns it can speak volumes. You will be surprised who owns who.

• Sit down for a makeover. You may enter with caution and think you are going to be hustled but you would be surprised. You may learn something new about your preferences in lip colors or simply make a new friend. Be honest with the consultant up front about your purchasing intentions. Their time is just as valuable as yours.

• Business conflicts have nothing to do with you. Within the store, counters compete with each other and will often try to scoop you from another brand. My advice, see what they have to say and try something new but if they say anything negative about the other brand it is incredibly unprofessional. When a beauty pro speaks negatively about another brand, stay clear.

• Just like the stock market the best portfolio is a diverse one. You have had a good shopping experience if your shopping bag is full of multiple brands and not just one or two. In my opinion, the more the better.


Retail beauty is really not about scandal and more about common sense. I personally don’t understand why we take something as fun and enjoyable as makeup and turn it into something grim. We have to understand business is business. We need to be educated as consumers in every market. I’m not savvy nor all-knowing but I do know I won’t be cattle prodded into a decision by one person’s facial expressions or tone of voice. Give it a try.

matthew ambrosio

matthew ambrosio

Matthew Ambrosio is a considered a beauty connoisseur on many levels. As a designer and image expert he presents a fresh and realistic attitude towards personal aesthetics and style for men and women.