Identity

How to Make a Living by Returning Expensive Shit

If the multi-billion dollar beauty industry is gonna try to scam me with outrageous prices, why not beat them at their own game?

by Evelyn Wong
Jan 3 2016, 8:00pm

Mattia Pelizzari

Worth, like all intangibles, is a relative concept. Your "priceless" family heirlooms are, to anyone who doesn't know their backstory, are worthless. Diamonds are expensive and rare because De Beers kept an iron grip monopoly on the rock for close to a century, artificially inflating their prices which drove up demand. Designer handbags are secretly manufactured in the same depressing, unethical Chinese factories as Old Navy pullovers. Despite what you've been told, premium prices do not necessary indicate premium quality — nowhere is this truth more evident than in the world of high-end beauty brands.

According to Euromonitor, a UK-based market intelligence firm, the average markup on premium cosmetics is an astronomical 78 percent. A Daily Mail investigation into the price of Crème de la Mer, which retails for £160 in the UK, revealed that the cost of the basic ingredients that go into the iconic face goop cost "no more than £9.71."

Translation: a cream that retails for $242 is made for roughly $14 bucks.

Crème de la Mer is but one of dozens of beauty brands manufactured by Estée Lauder. Its '70s-era formula is horrifically dated; Lauder's own scientists have designed better products and offer them to consumers at, while artificially inflated prices, a fraction of la Mer's cost. Nevertheless, the cream remains expensive simply because it's always been expensive.

"Some skin-care products you can buy in Sephora cost about $2 to make," says cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski, "but then are on sale for $300. Other skin-care products can be made for 50 cents and are sold for $2." Looking at the ingredients list of these products, from high to low end, reveals they mostly contain the same ingredients (dimethicone, parabens, titanium dioxide, etc.) as the crap you can buy at the drug store.

So why, then, are they so goddamned pricy? Because you're paying for their pageantry, their marketing, the two-page glossy advertisements alerting you to their existence. You're paying extra to justify their worth.

If I had my way, I'd never purchase beauty products. But as an acne riddled teen, I abstained from applying moisturizer, foundation and mascara due to "moral reasons" (moral reasons being I enjoy the music of 'Bikini Kill') and noticed that people, both male and female, in turn treated me like...uh...not a person. Apparently being confronted with the stark, unforgivable truths of a woman's face in its natural form is, to most, unacceptable; which is why I've begrudgingly resigned myself to a lifetime fate of leaving the house every day with my face shellacked on.

I am, however, insufferably cheap, so I try not to spend more than humanly possible when dolling myself up for public consumption. Now, one would assume, given all I've said about the artificially inflated prices of premium beauty brands, my makeup is procured at the dollar store. This assumption is incorrect. I use high-end beauty products, even though I earn little more than four digits annually. I do so by committing fraud, which I call The Grift.

My reasoning is this: if the multi-billion dollar beauty industry is gonna try to scam me with outrageous prices, why not beat them at their own game?

The Grift began with an experiment — if I purchased a $40 foundation from Nordstrom, used it until it was spent, put the empty bottle in a new box of the same foundation I purchased (in cash, naturally, so as to ensure the lack of a paper trail), and returned it, would they allow me? The answer was yes — I had a receipt, and the new box had its own branded Nordstrom return sticker unique to my purchase. The woman who took my return didn't even open the box, for God's sake.

The first time I pulled it off, I felt untouchable, the rush of my youth washing over me like a tide. I quickly became addicted once again to the sensation.

Beyond my original forty dollar investment, I have not paid for foundation in two years.

You may ask, why do I need a new box? Because most places won't do returns after thirty-day mark and it takes me a few months to go through one of these fancy plant-based foundations. So with the new box, receipt, and no questions asked, my foundation expenses remain at zero.

The next level of the Grift works with fancy face cream, but this is a two-step process. First, buy some moisturizer at the dollar store. Then do as I do, carefully replace the contents of the $50 moisturizer purchased at Sephora, taking the utmost care to ensure the jar of the $50 stuff appears completely untouched when I return it. Even if it did look touched, though, Sephora would still take it back. Like Nordstrom, they have a "not utterly delighted by your purchase? Return it, no questions asked!" policy.

Ensuring that everything is in mint condition ensures my not being seen as the scammer I most definitely am. Makeup removing towelettes are a grifter's best friend — by ensuring that all the products I return, from moisturizer to lip stain, have been thoroughly de-cruded, I appear legit, and appearances are everything (which is why society has dictated I need to wear makeup in order to be a citizen of Earth).

In the end, not only do I get my paws on premium beauty products, I also gain the satisfaction that comes with receiving $50 worth of face cream for a net price of $1 (a profit of $49, that goes towards things much more deserving, like groceries). The money I save on grifting the items necessary to look socially acceptable more than makes up for the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment never passed.

The last rule you need to know to pull off this grift: spread it out. Sephora has a policy against 'return-o-holics.' If they think you are abusing their return policy then they permit their clerks to turn you down. I avoid this fate by going different stores over the major metropolitan I call home.

But Evelyn, you may be asking me at this point, how do you do it? Aren't you nervous you'll get caught? Sure I am. But I'm also smart enough to, when fraudulently returning these items, to act so entitled that my actions are rarely questioned. When an employee shoots me a weird look or I see her hand slowly creep towards the Nordstrom phone to call over a manager, I double down, and coldly recite the store policy of "no questions asked". It has never failed.

Sure, committing fraud puts you in the wrong because stealing goes against God's law or whatever, but show an ounce of hesitation, of weakness, and the jig can be up in a moment. Being indignant is a gift. The shop girl wants to see your ID in order to return that Dior mascara you've used 30 times? Does she know who you are? By simply insisting you're in the right, you are in the right — after all, hell hath no fury like a fancy woman temporarily inconvenienced. Bringing a small dog into their place of business, in spite of the fact that it is not a service animal, works to push the narrative of your entitlement. To the shrillest, after all, go the spoils.

Is what I do ethical? No. But neither is capitalism.

Obligatory disclaimer: Don't commit crimes like "Evelyn Wong."