The seduction of the “free gift”


You know you want it; the alluring and intoxicating gift with purchase, known by the acronym “GWP” in the beauty-obsessed community (and finally, a legitimate use of the verb “to obsess”).

I’m not doing the research necessary to pinpoint the exact moment when this thing started, because I doubt you care.  Most of us are aware that Estee Lauder, Clinique and Lancôme have been leading the pack–by the nose, to their counters—for ages, offering collections of freebies at various times of the year in department stores from Boscov’s to Bergdorf’s.  These events used to incite a certain measure of hysteria, but have become commonplace to the point that you no longer see lines of giddy women waiting to earn their bonuses.

Though not scientifically proven (yet), a tiny eye shadow palette, or a 15 ml. sample of facial toner can have a pulling effect similar to the Earth’s moon on our oceans.   You might not need or want anything at all from the brand, but you will sure as hell think of something to buy in order to meet the minimum purchase required to get the gift.   Sales people are helpful – they feel your lust, they sense your vulnerability, and you are done for.

Let’s break down what you’re actually getting in the latest Clinique event at Nordstrom.  For a minimum purchase of $32, you’ll get the following if you choose the warm (vs. cool) set (an $82 value):

All About Eyes (0.21 oz.) – enough eye cream to last a month or so – not bad, if you buy into the necessity of eye cream in the first place.

Repairwear Sculpting Night Cream (0.5 oz.) – I don’t know how you can get any rest while being sculpted, but okay.

Take the Day Off Makeup Remover (0.5 oz.) – I actually like this stuff – it’s similar to Goo Gone.  But do I really need to spend money on products I don’t need to get this tiny bottle?

Rinse-Off Foaming Cleanser (1 oz.) – useful for that trip you’ll be taking someday.

Compact with All About Shadow Duo in Sunset Glow and Black Honey plus a Soft-Pressed Powder Blusher in Fig – adorable, and likely to go completely unused.

Dual-End Different Lipstick in A Different Grape and High Impact Mascara in Black – I’m confused.  Grape is almost never a warm color– shades like this make you look like you’re suffering from hypothermia.  And in what altered universe is a mascara on the other end of a lipstick?  That’s just silly.

Long Last Glosswear in Love at First Sight – well, yes, that’s the whole point.

Pink Printed Cosmetics Bag – the kind of quality you’d expect in an object manufactured in great numbers and offered for free.

How do these brands give you all these extras and still turn a profit?  Because the mark up on cosmetics is almost 80%.  So is the value of the gift actually $82?  No, it’s more like $17 and it’s only valuable if you can actually use it. When women come to me for lessons, they bring me all of their cosmetics to sift through, and most of these gifted products end up in the Naughty Basket (the place where useless make-up goes).

The only difference, after all, between a GWP lipstick and a full-priced version is the packaging.  So why does the retail version cost so much?  Because it can.  So is the gift with purchase an itch that deserves scratching?  Probably not.  In the end, nothing is really “free.”

2 thoughts on “The seduction of the “free gift”

  1. Hi Beke! Congratulations on this amazing website! So much good information! I’ve recently stopped buying products from brands that test on animals, so I feel like there’s not much for me to choose from anymore. I would love to see something in the future from you about the best brands that are animal-friendly (and won’t empty my wallet). Especially a decent mascara! Thanks for your consideration and congrats again! 🙂

    1. Hi Christine! I’m pretty excited about this blog, I must say. Will plan to do a post about products and animal testing, as I too am an animal nut. Keep reading, and thanks!

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