Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 05/09/2008

Four cities, four undercover reporters in search of a spring skin care regimen—and a satisfying shopping experience.

This story first appeared in the May 9, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


Herald Square was abuzz with shoppers on a sun-drenched Saturday. As with many rites of spring, it was time to initiate a new skin care regimen. I entered through the side doors of Macy’s—a direct entrance to the beauty department. The post-lunch crowd ambled about in a slow, food-coma pace. My first stop: the bright-blue Bliss corner. Its modern, counter-free setup seems much more approachable than the traditional lock-and-key gilded vault displays. Fully stocked ready-to-go boxes lined the shelves. A closer inspection revealed a pyramid of bashed-in waxing kits, a broken sink and neighboring lids of packaged daytime creams thinly coated with crusty substances. My timing, it seemed, was slightly off.

As I headed toward the empty face care section, a young sales associate readied herself to go home. She quickly approached out of uniform and asked if I needed any help. I confessed a need to upgrade my minimalist soap-and-water regimen. After determining my skin type, she set a few bottles aside for me to sample on my hand. “Try this Pore-Perfecting Facial Polish,” she said. “Use it four times a week.” I queried her on such a compulsive routine, envisioning an emergency return to Macy’s for advanced hydration. “That’s what they told me to say,” she reasoned, before squirting an antiaging gel toner on my hand. Perhaps she had forgotten that without offering a tissue to wipe, all I could feel were exfoliating beads from the previous tester. “That’s your entire regimen,” she concluded, ready for a quick sell without offering samples or writing down her recommendations. Only upon request did she quickly mark a glossy checklist.


More customers began to flood in, so I headed toward Shiseido. With greater customer traffic along the line’s prime location, I made eye contact with one of the many sales associates and was immediately approached. An impressive skin care display glowed from florescent glass walls. Several displays of product testers were adorned with mostly full bottles, along with emptied tubes bending over from lack of product. On the whole, the area was maintained decently.


I briefly explained my situation, and the assistant whipped out an extra-gentle cleansing foam and SPF 15 cream, but was missing the toner that she needed, obtaining it from a colleague. She began to explain my customized regimen while a cheerful co-worker tugged playfully at her sweater throughout the duration. “You’re young!” she laughed, after we went through the testers. “Those three products are all you need.” Upon inquiry of samples, she suggested purchasing the minimum to obtain the sample-size promotional combination and promised the return policy if I wasn’t satisfied. I thanked her for her time and indicated that I wasn’t yet ready to purchase the entire skin care line.


I made my way to the Chanel counter, where two busy saleswomen were wrapping up a purchase. One quickly spotted me and promised she would be right with me after taking in my request. Despite the significant sale she was making, she kept on glancing back at me to make sure I wouldn’t disappear into the crowd. After finishing, she promptly emerged from behind the counter and swung open the drawer of unaligned products. Her mastery of soft sell was impressive. “I don’t want to overload you with products because your skin is already goh-geous,” she cooed.  “Let me have a closer look so I can see what you’ll need. I see so much better with these.” Whipping out a pair of reading glasses, she squinted her eyes and even lifted a red manicured finger to feel my cheek. I jumped back. Unlike the other counters I visited that day, she shared useful tips along with her extensive product knowledge. “Honey, you don’t need to use exfoliators every day,” she advised, doing an air-demonstration on her face. “Just on your T-zone. We don’t want to give you a microdermabrasion.” Before achieving clear skin, she warned me of possible breakouts a few days after starting the regimen. Thanking her for her time, I indicated I wasn’t interested in making an immediate purchase.  Undeterred, she handed me her business card and informed me that she would be in the next day.  “That’s why we’re here,” she concluded, justifying the absence of brochures and samples. “To show you everything.” After the deluge of products I saw that day, I agreed. Still, I left Macy’s empty-handed.