Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Interview with an Insider: Savannah Scorpion reveals what it's like to sell expensive beauty shit (with tips for how to get what you want)

The beautiful and mysterious Savannah Scorpion (not her real name . . . or is it?) recently contacted me with an offer to provide a beauty industry insider's perspective from the retail side. YES PLEASE. First off, I thought we'd do a little Q and A to introduce our guest and to start you off with some of the advice she considers particularly important. If you've ever considered working in cosmetics retail, this is some useful shit - and of course, very valuable for those of us who are consumers, too. I hope that in future, she'll provide us with some topical guest posts, so if you have anything you'd especially like to hear about, please do leave a comment.

Savannah Scorpion (I don't actually know what she looks like, but I imagine it's something like this).
(Or this.)
Cheap as Fuck: Thanks for offering to share an insider perspective with us. First a few questions about you. Anything you want to start out with to introduce yourself?

SS: My name is Savannah Scorpion (okay, not my real name, but it should be), and I am a recent art school graduate, makeup fiend, and former tour guide who now works selling expensive products to the rich and gullible. I am one of those people who wears a full face of makeup everywhere, all the time (even during sex). I also do a lot of writing, social justice work, and to quote Dale from KOTH, I am an expert hater.

CaF: You sound fucking awesome. Makeup during sex, yes. I mean, who has time to remove it in advance, anyway? By the way, this is my favorite sex mascara, because it doesn't smear at all when things get appropriately sweaty. Unless smeary is the post-sex look you're going for, which is totally legit - and kind of hot, honestly.

What’s your personal favorite type of beauty product? Do you have a big collection, or do you sort of hate makeup/skincare now, like that time I worked at a bagel store full time for 6 months and . . . never mind, I still ate bagels every day. They were half-price!

SS: So, one of the weird contradictions about retail cosmetics sales is that you get a super sweet discount on amazing things, but you aren't really paid enough to purchase much of what you sell, even with your discount. A lot of stuff in my collection are things I purchased when I worked as a tour guide and different specialty things that I bought for theatre productions, like crepe hair, fake blood, a bruise kit, etc. My favorite products are lipsticks. I have 30ish, and most of them are different shades of red, though I also have blue lipgloss and 2 different black lipsticks. I also love skincare stuff, so I have lots of little bottles of creams and serums, some of which I got as
gratis samples from vendors.

So far, my biggest work-related purchase was the Naked 2 palette from Urban Decay. I never really wore powder eyeshadow before I took this job, but I use that palette pretty much every single day.

I totally get the thing about bagels though. When I worked at Panera, I was constantly nicking loaves of the tomato basil bread.

CaF: If I had to choose between discount makeup and discount bread, I honestly don't know what I would pick. Let's hope that never comes up in a life or death situation. So, where do you work? Okay, I know you don’t want to answer that. But can you give us an idea of the sort of place it is? What kinds of products do they sell?

SS: Unfortunately, telling you where I work would violate the confidentiality and social media disclosure clauses in my contract. HOWEVER, I can tell you that I work for a large national chain of beauty retailers. My company sells prestige cosmetics, skincare, and haircare. We sell brands like Urban Decay, Bare Minerals, Stila, Philosophy, etc, in an open plan layout so you can go around and try out different things. My company was also a big sponsor of a modeling competition TV show that aired on Oxygen.

CaF: Hmmmm, I have some guesses, but I will keep those to myself. What is your position? How long have you been there? What do you spend most of the day doing? What do you like best/worst about the job?

SS: My position varies. I do a lot of merchandising, which involves stocking products and cataloging shipments before the store is open. I also ring people up at the register, and on busy days I'm positioned in high-shrink areas of the store to assist customers (and keep them from stealing stuff).

I have been on the job for several months, but I'm in a weird limbo where I haven't been receiving any hours, but I also haven't been terminated, either. I also work at the front desk of a local day spa. So, the least favorite aspect of the job would be the whole "extremely inconsistent schedule" thing, along with there being a lack of shade options for darker skin tones. It really sucks to tell people who want to buy a prestige product, that there isn't anything dark enough for their skin tone.

CaF: The lack of shade options is definitely bullshit. Not everyone is medium. Also, I don't even think "medium" is medium. It's a slightly darker light.

What is the thing your customers ask you about most?

SS: Honestly, customers DON'T ask any questions. Which is a problem. I think a lot of customers walk in and are afraid to ask anything, because they assume that we're just going to try and "sell" them a lot of things. So, they wander around the store, refuse any help, and then call the store to complain that they couldn't find anything and that no one would help them.

When customers do ask questions, it's usually "Where can I find X product?", or "Why don't you have X product?", or "I'm looking for a product that doesn't contain sulfates/silicones/parabens/gluten/etc".

CaF: So what would you say is the biggest mistake customers make when shopping for products like the ones you sell? What is the biggest waste of money?

SS: I've already touched on the biggest one, which is not asking questions. If you're looking for something, ASK. If you want a product recommendation, ASK. If we don't know, we can get someone who can answer you. If you're concerned about avoiding a certain product, we have a massive computer database with ingredient lists.

Now, I'm going to completely contradict myself and say that another big mistake people make is believing everything the salesperson is telling you. All of the information we get about products comes from sales reps--not dermatologists, chemists, or scientists. Sales reps do all sorts of things to get us to promote their stuff. That includes offering gratis products, buying us lunches, etc. So if you're looking at making a big purchase, ask specific questions like, "How long have you been using this product? What do you like most? How has your skin changed? How versatile is this color palette?". Let's go back to my Naked 2 palette. If you're looking at it, and you ask a salesperson for a recommendation, you want them to say "Oh yes, I love this palette, the colors look really great on green eyes, you can also apply the shadows wet for a more precise look, there are some great dramatic shades, but also some that are great for everyday wear". What you DON'T want to hear is "Oh yeah, that palette is great. I swear by it".

CaF: I think your advice for what makes a reliable recommendation versus a useless one from a sales associate applies perfectly to bloggers or online reviews too. Anyway, carry on!

SS: Another mistake is not asking for samples. We have lots of little plastic cups, so if you're looking at making a prestige skincare or foundation purchase, ask to take home a sample with you. Colors look differently in different kinds of light, so it's totally okay to say, "This looks great, but I want to see how it looks throughout the day", or "This sounds like a great product, but can I get a sample of it before I make a purchase?". If you buy an expensive product, use it once, find out that it's the wrong color or that it irritates your skin, and return it, we lose money. It is perfectly okay to ask for samples. As long as you're not coming every day and taking a zillion samples, we will be happy to help you.

CaF: Oh that's a really good point about why asking for samples (within reason) isn't going to annoy sales associates. I didn't think of it that way. I always worry that they are going to think I'll get a sample there and then buy it somewhere else, and that'll piss them off. I mean, I do that sometimes, but still. Returns could be worse, because they lose the store money and/or the associate commission. Of course!

SS: As for the biggest waste of money... 
well, I have several.
  1. You do not need to spend $20 on those little gel pot eyeliners (Tarte makes one, Bobbi Brown makes one, etc). The Maybelline Eyestudio gel eyeliner is EXACTLY THE SAME (minus the bullshit amazonian clay extract): it is super-pigmented, it stays on all day and night (and day if you're like me and you wear it to meet up with a fuckfriend, stay the night, and then wake up the next morning to go to a session with your therapist).
  2. You do not need to spend $65 dollars for a half-ounce of eye cream. Ever.
  3. And unless you work as a tour guide and need to have super-dramatic lashes every night, you do not need to spend 20-30 bucks on mascara. Yes, some brands of mascara like Big Fatty and They're Real will make your lashes look like a giraffe's, but unless you're using them every day for 3 months, shit's not worth it. Remember, with mascara, you have to throw it out every 3 months. If you're curious about trying a prestige mascara, start with a travel size tube (those are sold up near the register).
Now, if you are a tour guide or employed in a similar performance-related profession, buy the expensive shit and expense it on your taxes.

CaF: I wish I could claim makeup on my taxes. Sigh. But you make a really important point about expensive mascara. I have a sample of UD's Big Fatty, and though it kind of terrified me at first, now I'm pretty into it. I'm also someone who likes to have 3-5 mascaras going at a time, though, so it'd definitely dry out and/or get gross before I used it up. Maybe I'll just wait for another mini one to appear some day. I think this one was a free gift with a Sephora purchase, or something.

Also, it never occurred to me how important makeup would be for a tour guide. I guess "tour guide" brings to mind for me the middle-aged men at the entrance to Pompeii who just make up complete nonsense for tourists to ooh and ahh over (seriously, just get the audio guide), or The Cruise.

SS: I should mention that I worked as a tour guide for a ghost tour company, hence the super-dramatic makeup.

CaF: Oh, that makes sense. This has been wonderful! Thanks so much for doing this! I look forward to the next round. And I hope anyone who reads this and has questions for you will comment below (hint, hint).


  1. I know the very sexy, elusive Savannah Scorpion quite well. She is my comedy writing partner. I'd like to answer some questions. 1) Savannah Scorpion is not her real name (but do not tell her, please). 2) She in fact looks like a combination of Marliyn Monroe AND Meryl Streep. With that said, very fun interview. I LOL'd several times, and was inspired to check out the rest of the blog. Very good work, keep it up!

    1. I knew it! I could sense the hotness. And thanks!

  2. It is a great day when you choose to stubble around the web and come across a Q & A that is flat out fantastic! Thank you.


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