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Undercover Shopper: From Sin City to Shopping Mecca

Rolling the dice on finding a new look in Las Vegas.

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Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 06/15/2012

Las Vegas never ceases to amaze me. It’s noon on an ordinary Wednesday in May, and the Fashion Show Mall is bustling. There’s a line at Starbucks when I attempt to get a green tea latte (yes, I’m from the Left Coast,) and the Apple store, like Apple stores everywhere, is full of customers gazing at the iEverything devices. Shouldn’t these people be at work or at school?

This story first appeared in the June 15, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

 

Even though I’m at the mall, I’m working. Like around 30,000 others, I’m in Las Vegas for the International Council of Shopping Center’s annual convention. As I walk around the mall, I hear German, Spanish, Chinese and English. It’s a virtual United Nations of shopping.

 

I must admit, Las Vegas is a pretty great place to shop. The range and concentration of stores is incredible. The stores themselves are often spectacular. And, usually, the customer service is exceptional. Salespeople tend to take the adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” seriously. I’ve seen couples in Las Vegas wearing flip-flops and cowboy boots spending thousands.

 

I’m about to put Las Vegas customer service to the test. In the spirit of this test, I’ve assumed a Las Vegas persona. Outwardly, I’m a schlub—my Anne Taylor Loft sweater and Old Navy jeans are emphatically not up to high-roller standards—but I imagine myself to have just hit the jackpot.

 

Saks Fifth Avenue seems as good a place as any to spend a mini fortune. As I walk into the store, I’m busily typing on my cellphone, jotting down notes on what’s in the cosmetics department—an array of upscale brands—when a neatly dressed salesperson asks me if I’m interested in anything in particular.

 

When people are engrossed in their phones at the store, she says, she thinks they’re scrolling for information on something in particular.

 

Actually, I’m not shopping with a specific product in mind. But it’s Las Vegas, and the heat is searing my skin. I ask for a moisturizer to combat dryness. She happens to be a specialist for SK-II and brings me to the counter where its star products are arrayed.

 

The associate singles out Facial Treatment Essence as the heart of the brand. This treatment is the foundation upon which everything else is laid. In order to demonstrate that to me, she applies the Essence beneath the Skin Signature facial moisturizer on my left hand and only the moisturizer on my right. My left hand is undeniably softer, but adding the product to my moisturizer purchase means spending another $155. The moisturizer is already $205.

 

I’m feeling rich, however, I’m really not. Delighted by the moisturizer’s lightweight texture, I tell the saleswoman that I’ll take just that and leave the Essence for my next visit in the hopes that my fantasies of wealth might turn into reality.

 

The associate, an aesthetician who has passed my customer service test with a soft, nonjudgmental approach, seems fine with that, but she has another trick up her sleeve to get me interested in more products. She suggests I submit to a skin consultation using SK-II’s Beauty Imaging System. She tells me the consultation will be similar to one I could receive at a doctor’s office and covers, among other horrifying skin issues, pores, wrinkles and dark spots. Honestly, there are some things I’d rather not know. But, I’m a journalist and, as such, I am occasionally forced to dig deeper to find the truth. I insert my head into the machine and it quickly takes pictures of my face.

 

I soon discover one thing that I’d rather not know: Wrinkles are forming underneath my eyes. I always thought hyperpigmentation was my main skin problem—now I have wrinkles too. She informs me that the skin analysis compares me to 100 other women. I score above average on every issue except lines and wrinkles. In a booklet charting my analysis, the associate draws lines underneath my eyes to show me the lines that have formed or are forming. To further petrify me, the analysis simulates my face five years from today—the wrinkles worsen and the skin around my jaw line is getting droopy. (I should contemplate a firming product, she advises.)

 

Yikes! I have got to stop the wrinkles before they conquer my entire face. The skin analysis has convinced me to buy an eye cream as well as moisturizer. The total bill is $340.51. My moneyed alter ego pulls out a debit card. It is declined. Reality is crushing my champagne wishes and caviar dreams! I guess this purchase has to go on credit. The associate is very nice about the whole episode. She says cards are declined in Las Vegas all the time.

 

 

I may not be rich, but I can still have fun, right? My next task is to search for affordable makeup to ready me for a carefree night on the town, Vegas style. I’m thinking long eyelashes, glittery eye shadow, bright nail polish and shiny, come-hither lip gloss. I head to Dillard’s. I’m intrigued by The Edge Beauty, which Dillard’s describes as a one-stop shop for cutting-edge beauty trends. The Edge Beauty sits at the front of the store, and I estimate by walking the length and width of the section that it is nearly 400 square feet. I guess black is supposed to indicate cutting-edge because that’s the primary color here, while the rest of the Dillard’s beauty department is mostly white.

 

 

The Edge Beauty contains a number of brands across cosmetics, skin care and devices. Too Faced, Murad, Napoleon Perdis, StriVectin, Osmotics, Tanda, Xen-Tan, Butter London, DDF, DuWop, PürMinerals, Paula Dorf, T3 and Studio Gear Cosmetics are some of them. There is a cash register dedicated to the area, and I assume a staff person separate from the larger Dillard’s beauty department is supposed to be there. This person is alluded to in a sign that mentions I should see The Edge Beauty advisers for a gift with the purchase of a qualifying cosmetics line. There is no one in sight.

 

Even without a salesperson, I can effortlessly sort through the section. List-oriented displays highlighting key products help guide me. The largest of these displays features “The Edge Beauty Eight” that includes Xen-Tan’s E! Live From the Red Carpet Perfect Blend, an Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Kit, Scott Barnes Body Bling, DuWop’s Private Lipstick, Butter London polishes and Clarisonic’s Sonic Skin Cleansing System. There is also a lash display spotlighting items from Too Faced, Dior, Clinique and Lash Allure MD, and a primer display with products from Napoleon Perdis, Lancôme, Paula Dorf, Studio Gear, Too Faced and PürMinerals. Deals abound, as small signs throughout the section inform me. I can get from DuWop, for example, a free full- size Doubleglow7 with a $50 buy.

 

For a sum that I could probably manage, jackpot or no jackpot, I can suitably fulfill my Vegas look requirements at The Edge Beauty. Butter London’s cobalt blue Blagger lacquer would give my nails a pop, and the DiorShow Black Out Mascara would intensify my lashes, but I can’t seem to easily buy these products with no adviser present. I wait for close to an hour at The Edge Beauty for someone to show up to serve me. As I wait, the phone goes unanswered. People wander in and out of the section. Not a single associate appears. I exit empty handed. Too bad. I’ll definitely gamble on a return visit to The Edge Beauty when I return to Las Vegas, though—and hopefully, I’ll have better luck in the service department.

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