Sunday, December 13, 2009

Taking Advantage?

There have been several mini uproars recently on a popular beauty message board that shall remain nameless surrounding purchases and returns made using the Sephora gift cards. When I received my gift cards, they clearly stated that a $35 purchase was required for the discount to apply. I thought that this was fair--I was receiving "free money" and whatever conditions the company distributing it chose to attach, so be it. I made my hauls, happy to have saved some cash! Then a clever posted discovered that while the gift certificates clearly stated the minimum purchase, when using them online the system didn't require a minimum. Suddenly the board was afire with posts on how to utilize the offer to get as much as possible while spending next to nothing. Combination of free shipping codes, product codes, calling to stack gift cards, setting up new accounts to receive multiple offers. This wasn't exactly kosher, and definitely didn't sit right with me, but Sephora didn't take precautions to prevent it and I felt when they noticed the onslaught of sub-dollar orders they'd catch on quickly. Clearly an honor code is not alive and well among a large group of Sephora shoppers.

Eventually Sephora realized that they were being taken advantage of, so to speak, and pulled the no-minimum free shipping code that could be used in conjunction with the gift cards. The "how dare they" posts began! Apparently getting $20 in free product is not sufficient, one must have the free product shipped without charge, of course, along with free samples.

And just when I thought the greed had ended, the returns began. Posters were unhappy with the NARS shadow for which they paid all of 33 cents and wanted not only to return it, but to have their free gift certificate credited back to them! They'd now prefer makeup bag or a moisturizer. And while the gift certificates clearly state that refunds would only be given for amount of money actually spent out of pocket, this was not to be a deterrent. Return the product without a receipt, of course! Sephora will take anything back! How would they know how you'd paid? Turn the gift cards into a mini profit center!

I'm sure there are many naysayers out there who will read this and tell themselves that Sephora is part of a multinational conglomerate fueled by their purchases and so why not use a little ingenuity and work the system? What's wrong with feeling entitled to free merchandise and samples and shipping? I shop there regularly and who am I really hurting? Isn't it the company's own fault for not preventing this?

While I'm at it, why shouldn't I be able to return this lipstick I bought at Saks to Sephora since they don't require a receipt? No one will ever know and the company will never feel the hit. And wait a minute--why would I buy this eye cream or loose powder when I can just bring my own little sample jar and fill it up? Not only are things like this done regularly, but posted and bragged about on a public forum with bravado!

It's a slippery slope and I read posts of this nature all the time yet never cease to feel outraged. Am I the only one shocked and a bit disgusted by this? Call it being rule abiding, moral, a believer in karma, whatever. I find this behavior deplorable and it makes me angry, not just because the few bad apples will long-term contribute to increased costs and a lack of promotions offered, but because it shocks my conscience.

I'd love to hear other thoughts on this topic so please post in the comments and share your feelings.


  1. I just can't believe the outrage over Sephora stopping this loophole. Just because you find you *can* do something, it doesn't mean that you should. In the long run, stuff like this costs everyone who genuinely shops there, because it is factored into prices, and also because it'll stop offers like this being repeated for fear of abuse.

  2. Hi--very interesting post. Just because you can, should you? Karma is very real and catches up with us all. When you know you're cheating,, wheter it's a companyor an individual, it's still cheating. We may feel better when it's a company but it does come back to us when the deals stop and the promos go away.

  3. Great commentary. I believe customers can be ridiculous when it comes to these promotions or specials that companies put out. I think these ridiculous customers spoil the fun for the rest of us which makes companies think twice about putting out deals.

    I believe everyone knows what is right and wrong. But people still abuse return policies and promotional codes and make a fuss when they are caught or have "issues" at stores. I can't believe that people have gotten so upset that Sephora subtracts beauty insider points when you return something. Why shouldn't they?

    I think that when people abuse the system, it ruins it for everyone else. This has been the case for me with MAC - I spent over $200 at my local MAC store to find that when I got home, they sold me a broken bronzer. I went back to the store to exchange it for an unbroken one and they insisted that I broke it myself. They told me they would make a one-time exception for me but that in the future I would not be able to return things I damaged on my own.

    I think it's pretty far fetched to accuse a customer to her face of damaging something herself. The only thing I can think of that would generate this horrible service is the fact that people have abused the return policy in the past.

    My point is - these customer crazies ruin it for everyone else. Great commentary/article. You brought up a lot of good points to think about!

  4. Hi Blogdorf, I saw all the kerfuffle, greed, and crass entitlement on the board to which you refer, and it was honestly pretty disgusting.
    Lina's other observation too was right on the money. When you try to return a broken item, having spent a lot over the years in a store, and are met with narrowed eyes, it's because hundreds of advantage-takers preceded you, unfortunately. Thank you so much for writing this timely, ethical post.

  5. I actually didnt hear about the loop holw untill i had spend the 20 dollar gift i had been sent. while i thought it was kinda nifty that people were getting free money, i felt obligated to keep the stuff i bought and maintain that 35 dollar minimum (though i may of spend closer to 45)
    I agree that it is rude for people to exploit a free gift. and was a little miffed when i saw posts on blogs on how to get the most out of the gift you had been given, and take the most advantage of Sephora.
    I am hoping sephora did not lose to much money on this because that would potentially prevent them from extending the same offer next year

  6. I think that companies have benefited from information asymmetry for a long time (allowing them to charge some customers more, while offering discounts to others). Consumer sites allow people to aggregate information in a way that takes companies off guard. Probably in ways (or on a scale) that the company never imagined. If you allow people to game the system, they will. Personally, I ordered $50 with my gift cert. and was really happy to get $20 off. I hope that Sephora doesn't over-react and pull back on great promo's, but rather responds in a way that protects against abuse while still attracting the business of loyal customers.

  7. I thought your post on the subject was balanced, so well done !



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