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What Beauty Brand Founders Think About Retailers Destroying Returned Merchandise

Posted May 8, 2020 by dome BEAUTY


What Beauty Brand Founders Think About Retailers Destroying Returned Merchandise

By picking up on Ulta Beauty employee Bianca Ann Levinson’s viral TikTok video showing the retailer’s practice of destroying or “damaging out” returned beauty products, the publication Dazed stirred a heated discussion in the beauty industry about how to properly treat returned merchandise. The discussion was continued on the Instagram account of anonymous beauty industry watchdog Estée Laundry, where beauty brands brought up that the costs of demolished returned products are passed onto them. 

We decided to further explore the issue of “damaging out” by asking 11 beauty entrepreneurs: What are the implications for beauty brands of this retail practice, and what alternatives do you think should be considered?

 

GENEVA FONG
Creative Director, Dome Beauty

When I first saw dumpster diving videos materialize in 2014, I was disheartened as a makeup artist and brand co-founder. We put so much work into a product, so when a product gets "damaged out," so do months/years of research, artistry, formulation, design and testing. It's like watching a beloved pet get tortured.

Returns in the beauty industry are notorious for producing waste and can bring a brand down as a net loss. "Damaging out" prevents dumpster divers from using/reselling returned product and is regarded as safer for beauty consumers. Protocols like the one demonstrated in the video have been in place for years and are necessary evils to protect the brand and consumer, although it's complicated.

As a makeup artist, I get several PR packages from other brands. This is what I do with excess product:

  • Give some away to friends and other makeup artists, especially young artists.
  • Keep in touch with local women's shelters and other charities to see if they take unused beauty product.
  • Streeters, the artist agency that reps Pat McGrath, does an annual event called Beauty in the Park where their artists pool their unwanted makeup and give it away to attendees.

As we approach a more sustainable and less-is-more approach to beauty, there are much more sanitary and eco-conscious ways to manage the complicated issue of beauty returns:

  • Stricter return policies should be a mandate for beauty retailers. The U.K., Australia and Brazil make returns for used items nearly impossible for sanitary reasons, whereas Sephora and Ulta in the U.S. have fairly lax policies in comparison. I shouldn't be allowed to return a mascara I bought five months ago for store credit.
  • Companies like TerraCycle are great at recycling virtually anything. So, once the product is taken out for an eyeshadow, the component can be shipped to TerraCycle for proper recycling. We currently work with them and know they would welcome the recycling effort from retailers. We feel strongly about being more sustainable and responsible. It takes slightly more time, effort and cost, but these little steps make it worthwhile.
  • I hope consumers can be more careful and use samples or take advantage of makeup artist demos so they can make more thoughtful decisions about a product versus going on a spree of impulse buys and returns.

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