How Do You Feel About Help When Beauty Shopping?

"Just looking, thanks!"
Publish date:
December 9, 2016
open thread, makeup shopping, beauty shopping

Okay, this may be one of those things that everyone has semi-strong feelings about but never thinks about until it's happening, but considering how shopping for beauty has changed so much in the past 5-10 years, being helped can sometimes feel not so helpful.

Basically, what got my gears turning about this, is that last week Marci and I went to the opening of a brand new Space NK store in our neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was a small corner boutique — I've seen mom-and-pop coffee places bigger than this space. And since it was an opening party it was packed like a club with editors, influencers and industry peeps. I made a note to come back in the next few days to really get a proper look around.

I popped in on a Saturday afternoon with my #1 man companion, and it wasn't that crowded at all — I'm guessing because it was new and no one really knew it was there yet. However the shop was staffed with at least six people in a 200 square foot (max) space.

Every time I touched a product or looked at a product without touching it for longer than 10 seconds, a salesperson would come up to me and ask me if I either knew what it was, explained how it worked, or more than one time just say the name of the product for me aloud. I get that they're doing their job and it's the first opening weekend, but I really wanted to be like, "Yo, chill. I can read."

I even was polite and all like, hello how are you? I'm fine thanks (I used to be a shopgirl and I hated when I'd greet people and they'd either ignore me completely or say "justlooking!" all brusquely even though I didn't even offer help yet).

My man companion (manpanion?) just wanted to smell the Diptyque and Byredo candles, having little to no interest in luxury beauty products, eventually standing outside the shop to wait for me since he said he felt increasingly like an asshole saying "No really, I'm fine" when he was asked if he needed help for the third time.

I know that people who work retail in beauty are just doing their jobs — they gotta make those sales and probably some sort of commission — but for some reason it's only when I'm beauty shopping (yet I'm left to fend for myself at a Home Depot, go figure) that the staff are robotically enthusiastic about trying to help me when I've repeatedly said that "I'm fine, thanks" or "I'll let you know when I need help" and it just makes me want to leave. OR even more frustrating —the times I get the treatment from everyone working there as soon as I step across the threshold, and when I actually do need help and approach someone to ask, they're having personal conversations or are bluntly dismissive.

It's not all gear-grinding though — I've made some friends at beauty boutiques! I like going when (hopefully) it's not busy and really getting to chat with the person working there about products and geek out about the brands and products we've both used and like and connect on a person-to-person level as two beauty enthusiasts. It just makes the experience more pleasant all around. Plus, it's not a bad way to get hooked up with deluxe samples or that friends-and-fam discount if you come back often.

Sensing that this might be a hot button issue, the xo contributors talked amongst ourselves about our beauty shopping experiences when I asked:

How do you feel about overly helpful hovering sales associates when beauty shopping?

Kara: "That's their JOB! People who get annoyed probably haven't worked retail. Stores have sales goals. Salespeople have to sell. sales pay people and stores stay open. It's so easy to say, "Thanks so much, I'm doing just fine but I'll let you know if I have a question."

Maura: "Thats literally why I shop online. I must add that we don't have Sephora here so makeup/fragrances/beauty stuff is sold at perfumeries with mean old ladies. And people here seem to prefer being sincerely mean instead of being fake polite. When I was in the US I totally spent all my money because sales assistants were actually friendly."

Maricar: "I sometimes think they are hovering over me because they think I'm shoplifting... is that just me?"

Allison: "Omg yes, it drives me crazy. I generally know what I'm looking for so I'll make a beeline for it. That and if I genuinely need help I'll ask. Although I will admit that it annoys me more when you ask for help and the salesperson is super standoffish."

Marci: "If they've given me the opportunity to say I'm just browsing and then they're still on top of me, that makes me want to leave, not buy. Back in my retail days, I offered help right off the bat. If they didn't want it, I waited until they asked a question. If they were spending a lot of time browsing, I'd loop back around for a low-pressure "Everything going OK?" but never push stuff on them."

Wendy: I do a ton of research before buying things and I usually know exactly what I want. The only thing I need help with is locating said item.

Tamara: I'm with Marci on this. I like a check-in at the beginning, help if I ask, and the occasional "You still doing alright?" if I'm taking my time. From working in retail I actually tend to get annoyed if someone doesn't check on me even if I don't need the help because I think it's poor customer service.

Colleen: "Another ex-salesperson here. Omg those sales goals. Talk about anxiety. But I don't even go into stores now because I don't want to be helped, I just buy shit online. The place I really need help is usually the wine store. Omg I'm so stupid about wine. I know what I like and have no idea how to get it."

Lisa: "As a shopper it drives me nuts when someone hovers, because I'm all I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT MAKEUP AND DO NOT NEED YOU. But I manage the flagship Credo Beauty location in SF, so at the same time the expectation is that every person who walks into our store gets greeted. Cause, hello, what if they need help? So we try to be in the middle. We say hi when you walk in and then assess the situation. Do you look like you need help? Well, then I'm on my way. If you look like you wanna be left the F alone I'll be like . We usually just say when someone walks in, 'Let me know if you decide you need help with anything' and try to be approachable."

Samantha: "Lisa, this is literally why I walked out of Sephora and into Nordstrom the last time I needed foundation. It was such a mess in there and so many sales people who were just wandering around totally unhelpful. I walked into Nordstrom and immediately was sat down by the nicest woman ever who colour-matched me, had this whole long conversation with me and then gave me a huge sample of face cream. I was like YUP definitely coming back here instead of Sephora."

Hannah L: "I love having a little chat with sales people if I'm in the mood! People are friendly here so it's easy to have a good conversation with a stranger. If I don't feel like talking I just say 'thanks very much, I'm just having a look'. I'm like Tamara, having worked in retail myself I'm super aware of how customer service is supposed to work. There's a high end beauty shop I go to sometimes where the staff are just super uninterested in their customers and it drives me nuts!"

Christina: "I really hate it when people hover. I appreciate being asked if I need any help etc for sure, but when they still insist on hovering when I say no, it makes me anxious and uncomfortable. Especially because I take a long time buying and deciding and I feel like they're judging me."

How do you guys feel about the IRL beauty shopping experience? Any other shop-peeps wanna chime in from the opposite side?