Beauty counters always seem to be envisioned initially as totally glamorous, transformative counters where dreams come true by an assistant who is your Beauty Fairy Godmother in disguise. They'll pop you on the stool and a brush of this here, a slick of that there and you'll become a new person - a totally drop dead gorgeous, better version of yourself.
Cue reality. Instead, you find yourself curiously squinting at the blur of beauty products and counters ahead of you. You awkwardly circle the counters a few times, and notice the assistants sensing your nerves. You blubber your words, everything comes out as gobbldy-goop when they ask what you're looking for.
The reality of approaching a beauty counter is often a lot less cool than anticipated. Do we feel intimidated by these women (and men too), with their ever so precise make-up? Or is it simply the overwhelming sea of products that all blur together, leaving us with no idea where to even begin?
Now, this isn't one big bitch fest about beauty assistants. There are plenty of truly lovely people who work on beauty counters and do give you that total transformation, and whisk you off armed with a dinky little bag stuffed full of magical products. However there are some you do encounter that leave you feeling scared off from ever returning to a beauty department ever again. There are even some who approach you leaving you desperately eyeing the exit, terrified they'll try and turn you into an orange skinned, over drawn lipped monster (one time, I had a lady approach me about eyeliner, only for hers to be drawn on shakily over her eyelids, not near the lashes, in a watery grey wobble. Eek).
As I work in retail, I thought I'd be able to offer you some advice however as to how to properly approach an assistant. Take a breath, do NOT be scared! Although I don't work in beauty, I do have advice that I'm confident through my own approach and experiences, can be used when approaching a beauty counter too...
Know what you want
Although there's nothing wrong with having no idea what you actually want, it'll make things a much smoother process all together. If you know a certain brand has a certain foundation you're interested in trying, tell the person at the counter! Say something along the lines of "I've heard quite a bit of this foundation you've just launched and think it might work for me, could you tell me a bit more about it?". The assistant will happily go through the features and perhaps even offer to colour match you. You may decide actually you do quite like it but may want to try it out a few more times before you buy it. Which leads me on to...
Could I sample this, please?
Try before you buy. Most counters will be more than happy to offer you a sample, and most will probably offer you a certain amount. For example, Origins give you a maximum of three. I knew I wanted to try a few moisturisers of theirs I'd been eyeing up online but didn't want to make an accidental purchase. So, along I went to the Origins counter, told the lady my skincare concerns and asked if I'd be able to possibly sample them. Obviously things like eyeshadows/blusher/mascara are almost always going to be un-sampleable so be realistic. Skincare is always a great thing to reasonably ask for samples of. Just remember - be reasonable if you're asking for a sample. Don't expect to simply turn up at a counter, demanding samples of all of their face masks. Not going to happen.
Makeover or no makeover
If an assistant offers you a makeover or facial, remember two things.
One: If you say yes, be excited and take the opportunity to ask questions if needs be. Chances are, the assistant has been stood around all morning trying to entice potential customers. The moment a customer says yes to a makeover/facial, the moment the assistants job becomes exciting. They're most likely a poorly paid assistant who's waiting to do something exciting on their shift. And don't just get a makeover for the sake of it. Regardless of whether they earn commission or not, it can be a kick in the teeth if you turn around and tell them you love the makeover but aren't going to be purchasing any of it.
Two: If you say no, there's nothing wrong with that. The assistant simply wants to help you - they want to do their job by helping you, the customer. So still ask them questions or advice, perhaps they'll offer you samples. Just remember, they are more than happy to help. Take a deep breath, they aren't trying to intimidate you - promise.
It's OK to say no
If you've got a rather pushy assistant, telling you that you'll really see the effects of this product if you buy that product, firmly but politely tell them that no, thank you, I don't quite think that's the product for me, and leave. If you're being told you need two products in order for them both to work, walk away too. I remember going to the Clinique counter (sorry to name and shame) and the lady told my friend she needed the infamous three step kit in order for the moisturiser she wanted to work. Fortunately she was firm and told the lady she was only after the moisturiser today, and that was that.
Alternatively, if you've had a makeover and you're not happy with the result, politely tell the assistant that it wasn't the look you were going for. Awkward, I know but they'll either be able to alter the look to suit your preferences or remove it all together. Saves you from running out the shop with your face covered to frantically scrub it off in a public loo.
Work out your budget
Beauty counters are sneaky. You have this glistening array of products on display yet funnily enough, no prices are to be found! Then you have the makeover and you've been encouraged to take it all, only for the assistant to announce at the till it's a total of £250. Cue you struggling to pick your jaw off the ground. If you know you've got £50 to spend on some new products, do ask the assistant the prices and don't be ashamed to whip out your phone and start calculating things. This is especially important when you realise the heaven on earth concealer you've just tried is actually £45 - is it worth it?! Once again, if they're trying to upsale by suggesting another new product once you've agreed your purchases, just firmly say no, you know how much you've got to spend. Plus it's always a good idea to budget anyway so you don't walk away with hundreds of pounds worth of products you won't ever use.
Use your brain
All the while beauty counters can be overwhelming, and new products being thrusted at you can be overwhelming too, make sure your brain is turned on. If they're suggesting a colour that you know isn't right for you, don't be afraid to tell them. I was offered the NARS All Day Luminous Weightless Foundation to try a few weeks ago, that I already have and wasn't too keen on due to the colour being wrong. What shade was I then offered in store? Yep you guessed it, the wrong colour again! I spoke up and explained I didn't think that was quite right unfortunately. All for the good as instead I was offered a totally gorgeous foundation, in the perfect shade.
If you're asking for a new cleanser, use your brain to ensure you're being offered the right products. If you know gel cleansers don't work on you, tell them, don't nod along when they promise it's going to transform your skin, then to purchase it only to find it's done exactly what you knew it would to your skin - the total opposite to what you were promised. You know your skin better than anyone else.
Phew! That was a long one, well done if you got all the way to here. So, how do you feel about approaching beauty counters? Do you work on a beauty counter or know someone who does, and can you offer your advice? Otherwise, what lessons have you learnt from taking a visit to the beauty department? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!