How To

By Lauren Flaum

We all do it.  Behind closed doors, in the privacy of our own homes, millions of women are logging on, signing in, and – yes, dear readers – shopping.  Picture, if you will, a nation of sweaty nerds hunched before their keyboards, clicking feverishly in search of the best bargains and latest fashions.  But in the rush for retail, let’s not forget the perils of the online experience.  It’s a jungle out there, folks.

The Internet is a Mecca of consumerism. Anything you can put a price tag on can be bought. Convenient, yes, but it’s also overwhelming – and a little dangerous. The idea of limitless options sounds appealing, but is it really? I get overwhelmed just trying to pick out a box of popcorn in the grocery store (what is the difference between butter and movie-theater butter anyway?). Then there’s the safety issue. How do you know if you’re handing some Internet slime ball access to your Gold Card?
 
But don’t let all that stop you! Shopping online doesn’t have to be an endless string of clicks and scrolling, wading through bogs of thick search results and a constant stream of ads. Beauty News is here to help, even if you’re no computer nerd.
 
Search engines are your friends. But sometimes they’re crappy friends who use you and have a hidden agenda. Be sure to use an engine that pulls data from a wide range of stores and vendors. Some only show results from retailers who pay to be listed. How to tell? If your searches keep spitting out the same seven or eight online stores, chances are they’re getting a little kickback.


 
If you’re a Google girl, you’ll love froogle.com, which is Google’s answer to “smart” online shopping. To find virtually anything, simply type in what you’re looking for, hit search and a list longer than Ken Lay’s criminal record pops up with information including the store and price. You can’t actually buy anything on Froogle, or any search engine for that matter, but you’ll be directed to sites where you can make your purchase. Shopzilla.com is another fun search engine that gives reviews and compares prices.

The Internet makes finding discontinued items a breeze. Everyone has that favorite lip gloss or hair gel that hasn’t been around for years. Don’t waste time pushing pins into a Bobbi Brown voodoo doll because she stopped making that eye-popping mascara. Go get it, girl! Many companies sell products they are discontinuing on their Web sites, including Ms. Brown (check out “Bobbi’s Closet”), Lancôme and Estee Lauder.
 
Online auction houses are a great place to look for discontinued items, hard to find products and foreign favorites (or to just get a bargain). The beauty of auction sites like eBay, Yahoo auctions and Amazon.com is that you can buy from individuals, stores and even manufacturers. Don’t get these online auctions confused with hoity-toity auction houses like Christy’s and Sotheby’s. Sure, you can buy expensive antique furniture and diamonds, but with a quick search, you can also bid on items like Paula Dorf eyeshadow in the discontinued shade Nymph, vintage Louis handbags and Jimmy Choo shoes. The world is your oyster – now go bid on those pearls.
 
If bidding against other consumers gets you all hot and bothered (and not in good way), don’t sweat it. Many online auctions include a “buy it now” option, where, if you’re willing to pay a little more, the item is yours with just one click. To truly be a contender in an auction, make sure you have a fast and reliable Internet connection. There is nothing more frustrating than your page freezing up with 20 seconds on the auction clock when you’re bidding feverishly on that $50 pair of Seven Jeans that you’re sure to nab if you can just hike the bid up once more.
 
A few fab sites for beauty:
Drugstore.com (and its offshoot beauty.com) has a killer selection. Virtually any brand you can dream up, from drugstore dependables like Bonne Bell to department store staples like Clarins to the high-end heavies like Fendi, they pack em’ all. The prices are fairly average, but you can usually score free shipping.
 
Beautydeals.net offers a plethora of everything from brushes and tools to skin care, makeup and beyond. The prices are discounted, but it’s not exactly bargain bin rate. Check out the extra discounts section for some coupons to save even more. They also have an instant rebate program – the more you buy the more you save. If your bank account can handle it, it might be a good idea to stock up and buy a lot of a product or products that you love and use a lot. In addition to the beauty deals instant rebates, most sites offer free shipping for more expensive orders. 


 
Gloss.com is a sublime site, very well put together and easy to use. The special offers section has free samples. You can get one freebie with every order, and we’re not talking cheap either. Get a spray sample of Thierry Mugler’s delish fragrance, Angel, or try out Chanel’s Body Satin. They don’t offer a ton of brands, but they’ve got the best, including Missoni, Darphin, La Mer and more.
 
To really get some bang for your buck, get the ball rolling. Ballbeauty.com has a much more discount store feel to the site – It’s not very well organized and they don’t have the same glossy professional feel as say, Sephora.com, but the prices make it well worth it.
 
Wherever you choose to do your shopping, make sure it’s secure. How to tell? Watch for the padlock icon on the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. Your friend the padlock is cute, but it’s not an absolute guarantee so still exercise caution. And if you get a warning about a certificate, run. With so many online retailers, you can easily take your business elsewhere, so don’t jeopardize your financial safety for a deal that’s too good to be true – ’cause, girlfriend, it probably is.

 

Charge it! No, we’re not encouraging you to spend beyond your means or completely demolish your budget (though that Chanel Cabas bag on EBay is a tempting treat!). You want to use your credit card for online purchases because debit cards don’t have the same protection when it comes to limiting your liability for fraudulent use.
 
Check out safeshopping.org for more tips on keeping your information private, finding out about the seller’s reputation, making sure you get your products within a reasonable time (30-days, ladies), and more.

Originally published January 2007
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