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Cosmetics Web Sites Are in Need of a Make-Over

March 01, 2001|JENNIFER LOWE |

My friend Judy loves cosmetics. She loves the blushes and the lipsticks and the eye shadows, mostly because they come in so many great colors.

But she wasn't too thrilled with her one and only Internet makeup order. The container of lip gloss was smaller than she thought, and the shade of lip pencil she got looked much browner than it had on screen.

Not one to relish navigating among crowded department store cosmetic counters staffed by perfume-spraying clerks, I logged on to the Net to see whether I could do better than Judy. I was running low on my favorite lipstick, so why not buy it online? While at the computer, I thought, I might as well see whether I could find a bottle of Lancome toner I liked.

Once you start shopping for cosmetics online, though, you realize that something is wrong. There's just not a lot of shopping to be had. Although you can find name brands at some specialty sites and at a department store site or two, many other makeup and beauty sites have closed. Plus, the sophistication and ease of use you are accustomed to on some e-tail sites are replaced by clumsy sites that just want to be cool.

For instance, after I left the MAC cosmetics site--a dizzying blur of fast-moving words--my head hurt.

Some of the lines you're used to in department stores (Lancome, MAC, Origins) do have their own sites. Many of the big names prefer to retain control of their products rather than have them sold by others.

I started at Lancome ( Before I could shop, I had to pick my country. Nothing like establishing a jet-set image. After clicking through a few products, I found Tonique Douceur, which, from the description, sounded like the facial product I liked. A big bottle was $32. If I registered on the site, I'd get free shipping on an order of $50 or more.

What I wanted, though, were those little goodies you get during gift-with-purchase promotions at department stores--usually a lipstick, some cute carrying case, an eye shadow you'd never wear. The site didn't seem to offer anything extra.

I skipped over to the Google search engine to find Lancome products and comparison shop. From there, I linked to something called ( It had brands such as Lancome, MAC and Estee Lauder, but if I read the site right, it had only one Lancome product in a few shades. Duh--I wasn't reading it right. The site turned out to be an e-zine.

The next listing on Google was for StrawberryNet (, a British e-tailer that offered free shipping anywhere in the world. That failed to wow me when I realized it didn't have the brands I wanted.

The e-zine had a flashing bar for (, where I could get $20 off my $80 order. I typed "MAC" and "Lancome" in the search window. Nothing. My friend Judy had told me about (, which has stores in malls too, but again no luck finding Lancome or MAC under "choose a brand." Sephora did have some well-known names--Jil Sander, BeneFit, Elizabeth Arden. And it spelled out the FedEx HazMat two-day delivery option (costing an extra $24.95) to allow quick delivery of perfumes; otherwise, they come by ground transport. (Because they're flammable, perfumes are considered dangerous air cargo.)

I sighed, then went straight to the MAC site (, where a picture of RuPaul greeted me. Then, the site's category names began zipping by so quickly from right to left that I felt as if I were playing a video game trying to click on one. Still, I managed to get into lipsticks and began looking for my Twig shade.

The lipstick names weren't in alphabetical order--or any order, it seemed--but I found Twig and then realized this site was no different from the others. The Twig color was represented by a streak of color on the screen. No packaging was displayed, something that's fun to check out in the store.

As I glanced at the other colors, thinking it would be fun to get something new, I wondered how I would know whether the color on my screen was true. Plus, often a cosmetics clerk will smear some lipstick on the inside of your wrist to see how it looks on your skin. Holding your wrist to the screen to see if the color is you just isn't the same.

I ordered two tubes of Twig from MAC but wasn't tempted by anything else. I couldn't see the products well enough. Same with the Lancome site. I bought the bottle of Tonique Douceur but passed on a perfumed soap that might have made a good gift.

Yes, it was nice to get the products by mail that I always use--no trip to the mall required. But then a few days later, I saw a department store gift-with-purchase ad from Lancome--with a nifty cosmetics brush set I was sure I didn't need--and I wished I'd gone and bought my Lancome there.


Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor of The Times.


The Skinny


(800) 526-2663

Product purchased: 1 bottle of Tonique Douceur, $32

Shipping: $10 for premium three- to five-day delivery; arrived in three days

Packaging: The plastic bottle was wrapped in a small box. A small facial cream sample was enclosed.

Bottom line: Easier to look at than some, but the site is slow to load and doesn't have a lot of consumer information. How big is that soap? Registering with the site brings a few perks, and I did get a tiny sample.



(800) 588-0070

Product purchased: 2 MAC lipsticks, $27

Shipping: $6 for standard five- to seven-business-day delivery; arrived in five days.

Packaging: Two lipstick tubes in small cardboard boxes were shipped in a padded envelope. No samples.

Bottom line: Order online if you're replacing a product, but don't try to find anything new from this too-busy site. Like other cosmetics sites, you can't be certain of shades; I held the lipstick I received to the screen, and the colors were slightly different.

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