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Beauty websites finding new ways to work for New Zealand consumers are offering increased levels of assurance and service.
Personally, I'm a big fan of bricks and mortar retailing - use it or lose it - but there's no doubt the convenience and selection offered by shopping online is eating into over-the-counter sales. Cost is obviously a consideration also; with prices in New Zealand considerably higher than overseas for many products it is no wonder shoppers go searching. But behind the lure of a bargain they might not always like what they get, with counterfeits plaguing the international marketplace.
Although prices on some prestige brands have been held or even lowered here in the past few years, travellers, both physical and cyber, are often shocked by the high mark-ups they find. A prestige brand doubling its home market price for sales in New Zealand is fairly standard and partly explained by the tyranny of distance and economies of scale. But when the current high exchange rate mark-ups are three times what a regularly priced item might cost from an American department store, it is no wonder consumers shop around online and check out parallel importing deals.
Official distributors and licensed retailers hate being undercut by legal parallel imports. Though this is partly patch protection, there are also issues of consumer advice and assurance in both parallel importing and online shopping through unofficial channels. Several high-profile legal cases are challenging some of these arrangements.
Two months ago Target stores in Australia were forced to withdraw parallel imported M.A.C makeup after M.A.C claimed its tests showed the items selling at discount prices were counterfeit. Legal action has been initiated and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is believed to be investigating.
Issues of authenticity and the selling of old stock also continue to swirl around Strawberry Net and some other overseas beauty websites. Murad skincare has taken Hong Kong-based Strawberry Net to court in the United States for selling unofficially obtained Murad-branded items devoid of its quality-control tracking features.
A luxury brand manager in Auckland says department store counters have been faced with consumers bringing in branded merchandise they are unhappy with looking for refunds, only to find the goods have been bought online from suspect sources.
A New Zealand-based website which works with brands to ensure it stocks only officially sanctioned merchandise is reporting good growth. My Beauty Store began a year ago as a small operation, but now has a team servicing its customers, many from down country who enjoy being able to access products they cannot buy in their own area.
Brand manager Tanja Seselj is a pharmacist who switched to beauty industry work before starting work on the website while juggling the demands of motherhood.
She says key to gaining the confidence of the brands it stocks, has been dealing with their official local distributors. Though this means her prices may not match some overseas sites, she has struck deals to ensure they match the brand's cheapest everyday local retail price.
The website also offers sample and service guarantees and has a loyalty programme and free delivery as ways to keep customers coming back. They appreciate having any queries handled in-house from its Auckland base, rather than dealing with the vagaries of overseas operators.
My Beauty Store has just added L'Oreal Paris, Maybelline New York and Garnier to its stable of more than 40 brands, making it the first time these three brands have been available to online shoppers through channels endorsed by their local suppliers. O.P.I is another recent addition. "These brands are market leaders," says Seselj. "Mybeautystore.com will allow them to obtain a new set of measurable data about their customers."
The website does not judge brands, she says, and sells goods at all price points, ranging from $4.99 to $1200.
Publishing company ACP recently bought a stake in the company and she is optimistic it will continue to grow based on feedback from customers who enjoy a trusted shopping experience. Where the website sources products from overseas which do not currently have a distribution chain in New Zealand it also works direct with the brands and their agents. Among items it sells exclusively here are Supergoop sunscreen which Gwyneth Paltrow endorsed on her blog and Sara Happ lip scrub.
Seselj says a way to watch out for unofficial websites is that they often stock only a limited and patchy range of products from a brand. She advises caution. In time she hopes to grow the"how to", haircare and blog side of her site, but for now is happy that New Zealanders seem to be keen to shop homegrown - one way or another.
Sample Bar is a new online site where beauty lovers can try and buy products and post reviews. "Gone are the days of expensive beauty mistakes," says founder Natasha Razak. The idea is to sign up for a membership and pay a $25 monthly fee to get a Glam Pack delivery of samples. The first example was a pack from local and overseas brands, including Dermalogica, ModelCo, Moa and Evo, plus a bonus subscription to an online yoga channel.
SAVE ON SALONS
Fixy is another recently launched Auckland-based beauty and fashion website (Viva readers may recall that several months ago we ran some nail art images taken for a shoot on the site). It is getting a salon booking connection under way, tapping into off-peak pricing for hair and beauty services.