Monday, 9 July 2012

The risks you take when buying grey market cosmetics

I mentioned the other day that I attended a Lancôme media briefing. Whilst I was there, a few of us had an informal chat about grey market cosmetics and it really was quite eye opening so I thought that I might share some of what we talked about with you.

What are grey market cosmetics? These are cosmetics that are legally sold through unauthorised distribution channels. It does not necessarily mean that the product is fake; however, as the distributor has not been authorised by the manufacturer the authenticity cannot be guaranteed. The best known grey market cosmetics distributor would have to be Strawberry Net. Others include some of the larger sellers on eBay or discount stores (as opposed to department stores) such as Chemist Warehouse.

What are the risks? The main risk is that you have no idea whether the product you have bought is in fact genuine, or if it is genuine, just how fresh it actually is. Lancôme bar code all of their products so that they can be traced throughout the distribution chain. There have been times when they have tried to trace back the origins of a product purchased on the grey market to find out which distributors were responsible for the products ending up on the grey market only to find that the bar code did not correspond with any of theirs. So, in this case, the products were fakes.

If the products are fakes then you have absolutely no idea what is in them so you are putting yourself at risk of a reaction to the product as it is unlikely the ingredients have been tested for safety. Best case scenario you have wasted your money on a product that does not do what it claims. Worst case - you have a severe reaction to dodgy ingredients.

As I mentioned, not all products on the grey market are fake. Some find their way there by being bought in countries where the product is cheaper (either for full retail or wholesale prices), then on sold at a profit to countries where the product is more expensive. In these cases, the products are genuine but you have no way of knowing how old the products are or whether they have been stored correctly. Storage at incorrect temperatures can cause cosmetics to greatly deteriorate. Before I understood the concept of grey market products I bought some Estee Lauder skincare from a cheap online site. When they arrived, the packaging all looked genuine; however, when I went to use the products they had separated and there was an oily residue on the top with the cream below looking curdled. I suspect that this was either old stock or it had been stored at excessive temperatures though I really have no idea what as in that jar.

The big companies hate the grey market distributors and it is not just because they cut into their profits. These grey market distributors can really affect the reputations of the big brands by selling products that are inferior that the consumer believes are genuine. Say a beauty blogger buys a much hyped skincare item from StrawberryNet or any other grey market distributor and finds that it does nothing for them, or worse they react to it. They might then blog that the product is a load of crap and not worth the hype. So their readers then think 'Ok, I am definitely not going to waste my money on that one'. The bad review is then on the net forever for anyone to google when in reality the 'load of crap' product is probably not even genuine.

Now, I am not saying to not look for bargains online as no-one likes to pay full price. However, you really should do you research to find out whether the supplier you are buying from is an authorised distributor - often it will say so on the website. If it isn't, ask yourself is it worth the risk and if it is then don't be disappointed if it doesn't perform as expected as you really do get what you pay for.

What are your thoughts on discount cosmetic retailers? Worth the bargain or too risky? Have you ever been burnt by a non-genuine product?

All opinions stated in this blog are my own and I received no remuneration for my comments