Shopping online is a wonderful convenience. The Internet allows you to buy on your coffee break or in your pajamas. Goodies arrive at your desk or doorstep, complete with bonus gifts and deluxe samples. Here's what you need to know to make it a great experience.
Look for deals on shipping.
Unless you must receive something overnight (and don't mind paying about $16 for shipping), wait for your window of opportunity and then pounce. Sign up at bigger sites, such as Gloss.com, and they will notify you of free standard shipping offers. Usually you'll need to spend a minimum; Lancome.com pays shipping for every member's purchase over $50 and Sephora.com ships orders of $75 or more free. (Their flat delivery fee is $4.50 otherwise). To know exactly what you'll pay for shipping, make sure to read the fine print before clicking "process my order."
Don't be colorblind.
Makeup colors don't appear true on a computer screen, especially when you're choosing between shades represented in small circles or squares with names like "Sand" and "Warm Sand." Plus, you don't know how they'll look on your skin.
Don't choose a whole new palette (foundation to blush) online. "Go to the store and get your colors done and then e-shop for convenience," says Sunday Fisher, assistant manager, Clinique Global Communications. "You really should see the colors in real life first." If you're getting a fun nail polish or basic black mascara, feel free to have your first date online.
Can you return it?
The fine print on almost every site, from RiteAid.com to JoMalone.com, addresses returns and exchanges. It may take a while to find; look under "Customer Service." Usually the Websites for larger chain stores will be more likely to accept returned cosmetics. Rite Aid, for example, covers you with a risk-free money-back guarantee, which allows you to bring cosmetics back for a refund with your receipt. Online, you're covered too, except you have to return it by mail within 30 days (and pay return postage).
Look for live help.
Who wants to shop for beauty products alone? Some sites, like NeimanMarcus.com, are staffed with operators who can e-chat, which is helpful for questions about gift wrap and shipping. Others have representatives on the phone 24 hours a day.
Go for the gifts.
You don't have to shop in stores to get great gifts with purchase (GWPs). In fact you get more choices online. You can scan your favorite sites to see which one is giving the best freebies. Some also include deluxe samples with every order.
Stick with scents you know.
Don't venture into new fragrance territories. If you haven't sniffed it, even if it's a close cousin of a favorite, you might not like it. Want a new scent? Take a trip to the store. But to order your favorite fragrance, check PerfumeBay.com for drastic discounts on overstocked fragrances, counter testers, and miniatures from dozens of brands, including Burberry Brit and Annick Goutal.
Get classy gift wrap.
Choose sites that wrap it up nicely. Sephora's gift packaging is free and pretty. Other sites charge about $7.50 for gift packaging. Sometimes a nice, basic box is free.
Choose reputable companies.
Don't shop in fly-by-night sites with counterfeit fragrances and wannabe brands. If prices seem too cheap or the site looks or feels rickety, don't shop there. Go with trusted brand names you know from favorite stores. Read product descriptions closely. Most important, be sure the site is secure so your credit card information is safe.
Save your favorite shades.
If a site asks if you want to save your shopping list online, go for it. "My Lancome" members get the perk of having their order history stored online, so they don't have to dig out old lipstick tubes to remember colors they loved.
Don't forget megasites.
Target can be a good source, and at Kohls.com, you can find trendy young lines like Flirt! In June, you can get a free Big Flirt Mascara ($10 value) when you buy two lipsticks online.