BEAUTY’S ONLINE VILLAGE
Byline: Kerry Diamond
NEW YORK — Who is Heather Kleinman? What is swaplifting? Where do you find a Beauty Buzzer?
If you don’t know the answers to any of these questions and you work in the beauty industry, you’re not doing your homework as far as the Internet is concerned. There’s a lot more to beauty online these days than the Glamazon sisters — those heavily financed, highly competitive glossy e-commerce sites.
In fact, there is a whole grassroots beauty movement on the Internet that consists of sites like Beautybuzz.com, Cosmeticconnection.com, Icompact.com, Makeupalley.com and Thelipstickpage.com. These sites contain a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of the beauty junkie via message boards, chat rooms, Web site links, cyber swap meets and product reviews.
For an industry that’s always eager for honest customer feedback — so much so that it pays big bucks for consumer research — these sites provide a free way to monitor what the customer is thinking about products, the shopping experience, Web sites and more.
Lots of beauty executives already are savvy to the sites. In November, Beauty.com chief executive officer and founder Roger Barnett snatched up Makeupalley.com. Officials from Revlon and Estee Lauder are on the mailing lists of newsletters from ICompact and Cosmeticconnection. And other executives admit to cruising the message boards and chat rooms for mentions about their products.
In some cases, companies have taken notice when their product flies off the shelves after a particular rave. Robert Gerstner, co-owner of Aedes de Venustas in New York, received more than 40 calls about Brandy, a fragrance inspired by a Central Park carriage horse, after it was mentioned on Makeupalley.com.
Heather Kleinman, the woman behind Cosmeticconnection.com and the Cosmetic Report newsletter — sent to 50,000 subscribers weekly — is probably the most influential Internet critic when it comes to beauty products.
“It’s obvious she has a significant following,” said Robert Holdheim, president of Better Botanicals, an Ayurvedic bath and body brand. “Every time she mentions our products, it drives a significant number of people to our Web site.”
Kleinman, who launched her site in 1996, and her team regularly review products that they purchase or that are provided by the different beauty companies. But as Kleinman has pointed out, free products don’t guarantee glowing reviews. Some companies have found this out the hard way.
What Kleinman doesn’t have on her site is a message board or a swap section. The sites that do have them find they are popular features.
The message boards are simply a series of e-mails about a variety of beauty-related topics. On a busy day, Beautybuzz.com gets hundreds of questions, comments, rants, raves and general musings posted on its message board. Maria Lawson, Indianapolis mother of two and co-founder of the site, said the most common postings concern hair care, makeup color recommendations, skin care and new cosmetics information.
A quick review of the postings shows what the current hot brands and products are. The Buzzers, as they like to call themselves, seem positively obsessed with Fresh and Nars. New product mentions that have cropped up several times include Estee Lauder’s Spotlight, Trish McEvoy’s Blackberry & Vanilla Musk fragrance and the Lancome Pollen collection from Fred Farrugia.
Recent Beautybuzz postings have included the following:
“Speaking of samples, would you pay for one? Since it’s getting harder and harder to obtain samples, and the companies keep whining about the cost, why don’t they offer sample-size products? I mean, I don’t necessarily want to lose the chance to get free ones, but I’d get a kick out of spending $30 at a department store and coming home armed with tons of new products!…I know I’d end up with a gazillion Clarins and Christian Dior skin care samples!” — Rebecca.
“Ugh. I’m overwhelmed. There are too many skin care products out there. I need a good moisturizer, eye cream and possibly an AHA product/night cream. I can’t decide between Neutrogena, Almay, Nivea, L’Oreal and a few others. I’ve been studying these lines for a few days and I think the people at Wal-Mart are tired of me lurking around the skin care products. Any suggestions?” — Anna.
“Help! The lid to my (Prescriptives) Magic Powder crumbled…My question is, since this is 60 to 70 percent water, will it dry out? I put three layers of tape over the crack and it seems to hold together pretty well.” — Sharon E.
“Any problems ordering online with Sephora? I’ve ordered twice now and the service is excellent. Very quick, too. A manager at my local Sephora store said that a few months ago, their service was horrendous. They knew it and made the changes necessary and now their service is great. They’ve been including a very nice roll-up brush case with every order lately.” — Donna.
ICompact.com also has a message board, which unlike those on the other beauty sites, is conveniently broken into categories like “Cosmetic Bargains,” “Drugstore Favorites,” Nail Fanatics” and “You Know You’re a Makeup Addict When…”
Charla Krupp, vice president and editor in chief at Eve.com, is a fan of the message boards.
“They are so honest and fresh,” she said. “I just love the spontaneity. When I was at Glamour, I used to look at these sites all the time and I got some great story ideas.”
Kleinman thinks these beauty sites have become so popular because cosmetics customers are getting savvier about the ways of the industry.
“Women are understanding that some of the information they’re getting from the companies directly might be marketing and hype,” she said. “They’re looking for information that cuts through some of that. They’re looking for a real person’s experience with the products.”
But as Krupp asked, “Can you trust what you read? Who knows if someone from the beauty industry is posting a rave about their product.”
Executives from some of the sites admit that this can happen, but they do take some precautions, like requiring individuals to register before they can post anything. The rules also forbid the posting of messages that contain advertising or promotional material. Perhaps the weirdest thing about these sites is the product swapping. There is nothing new about swapping makeup, but in the past, it was an activity done among friends or relatives, not total strangers.
The way it works is that a person will post the items they want to trade on the swap section of the sites and indicate whether the products are new or used. The swappers also post a wish list of products and they get extremely specific about what they want in exchange. One swapper on Makeupalley.com, a woman named Dana, was looking to swap the new Bobbi Brown Scoop lipstick. Her wish list contained dozens of products, including Nars Babydoll Lip Lacquer and Chantecaille Wisteria body lotion.
However, one must be wary of swapping with untrustworthy types lurking online, looking to commit the cybercrime known as swaplifting. This involves agreeing to a swap, but not living up to your side of the deal. To check how reliable your swap partner is, the sites have lists of what they call swap tokens for each registered swapper. Makeupalley’s Dana, for example, has 60 different swap tokens, and each one declares that she is an excellent swapper. Swapping seems to be one of her favorite activities, although it obviously runs a distant second to buying and trying makeup.
Certain sites take a very tough stance against swaplifters. One even places repeat offenders on probation.
Some people find the idea of swapping used products rather unsavory. “You’re asking for trouble when it comes to anything that touches the inside of your eye or your mouth,” said Eve.com’s Krupp. “I just don’t get it. For the money you spend on shipping products, you can buy brand new ones!”
Interestingly, people aren’t just trying to swap used products. They’re trying to sell them, too. A recent search of the word cosmetics on the popular auction site Ebay turned up 437 lots featuring every brand under the sun, from Chanel to Avon to Lorac. Some items were brand new, but a big number of them were used.
Jerrod Blandino, the co-founder of Too Faced Cosmetics, thinks the buying, selling and swapping show that cosmetics have become like collectibles for some people.
“Cosmetics are like the baseball cards of the new millennium. Or Pokemon,” Blandino declared. “You want to collect everything, but it gets expensive. And $15 for a lipstick is a lot of money for some people.”
NEW YORK — New to the world of beauty message boards? If so, you’re probably puzzled by some of the symbols — known as “emoticons” — and shorthand used by the “messengers.”
Here are a few you might run across:
: ) Happy.
: D Very happy.
: ( Unhappy.
; ) Wink.
Rave Enthusiastic recommendation for a product.
Rant Product complaint.
R/O Read on.
N/M No message.
TIA Thanks in advance.
LOL Laughing out loud.
OT Off topic.
TTYS Talk to you soon.