Why do cosmetics never go on sale? It’s a question that nine women took to federal court in California in 1998. Their suit accused manufacturers of setting a suggested retail price in their contracts with department stores, while prohibiting discounts. In return, cosmetics companies guaranteed a 40 percent margin on the products as well as paying salaries of salespeople and supplying store displays.
More than a decade later, consumers everywhere can benefit from the settlement of the class action lawsuit. Starting Tuesday, January 20, department stores nationwide will be giving away cosmetics worth $175 million. The sale lasts a week on a first-come, first-served basis, but Bloomingdale’s in Bloomington expects the freebies to be gone within a day or a day and a half. Anyone who purchased cosmetics between May 1994 and July 2003 is eligible to take part. Consumers must sign a form declaring that they purchased products during that period. Will there be anyone checking to see if you received more than one freebie? Only you and Estee Lauder, God rest her smelly soul, will know.
More than 14 department stores will be participating in the giveaway, including Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, Herberger’s, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Younkers. The list of freebies includes perfume by Boucheron, Christian Dior and Guerlin, body lotion by Clarins, Chanel, Vera Wang and Calvin Klein, shower gel by Sarah Jessica Parker, Lancome, Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren, Advanced Night Repair by Estee Lauder, Moisture Surge by Clinique and mascara by Lancome. The freebies are larger than “sample” sizes. Although they were created specifically for the giveaway, the value placed on each is supposed to be between $15 and $23, according to the settlement.
Bloomingdale’s plans to set up six tables with signs above each to indicate the products available at that desk. The Mall of America store received as few as 20 of some products and more than 100 of others. Supplies will vary among department stores, with stores distributing goods that they ordinarily sell. Macy’s spokeswoman Sharon Bateman indicated that the supplies were created specifically for the giveaway, not taken from the stores’ regular inventory. Bloomingdale’s expects supplies of Estee Lauder, Clinique and Lancome to go first.
The retailers have claimed no wrongdoing in the settlement, which probably explains why nothing has changed. Cosmetics still never go on sale. The best you can hope for is a freebie with a purchase, and now the minimum purchase is often $75 or $100. I’ll bet there will be many “free with purchase” offers while us “plaintiffs” pick up our “settlements.”