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A Complimentary Cosmetic Conundrum: Is it Unfair to Swap-Out Freebies?

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By , dealnews Copy Editor

The free gift with purchase promotion is a standard in cosmetics retail, and many women hold off on buying products from brands such as Elizabeth Arden and Clinique until the promise of freebies rolls around; some customers even spend more than they ordinarily would in order to score the gift. Knowing this, what then happens when the freebie that motivated the purchase doesn't turn out to be what was originally advertised?

Our friends at The Consumerist recently wrote about a reader's experience with an Elizabeth Arden free gift that fell short of expectations. The story goes like this: Reader Lauren had spent the requisite $65 at Elizabeth Arden in order to receive an advertised 33-piece Holiday Color Collection (pictured) of complimentary cosmetics with a retail value of $350. But what she received was a cheaper (by $100) and smaller 29-piece makeup gift set, and no prior notice of the substitution from Elizabeth Arden. While one can make a strong case that the "retail value" for the original item was certainly inflated to begin with, Lauren explained that the swapped-in gift lacked the "higher quality items (skincare items as well as makeup, larger compacts, and brushes)" that the advertised gift set had.

When Lauren called to inquire, a representative from the company informed her that they had run out of the original item. While technically not a "bait and switch" as Lauren suggested in her letter, and not as grievous a fault as Best Buy's canceled Black Friday orders, this practice of distributing a lesser-quality product (free or not) than advertised is a sure-fire way to upset customers. For many people, the free cosmetic gift set is a major factor in their deciding to buy a new blush or foundation to begin with.

This anecdote thus brings to light a few questions for all shoppers, regardless of whether you care for cosmetics; is it OK for a retailer to sub-in items when the advertised free gift goes out of stock? If they cannot fulfill the original offer, do you think the retailer should inform you of the switch before completing your order? Would you be less likely to buy from that store again? And have any of you experienced this with other retailers? [The Consumerist]

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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7 comments
dealnews-Lindsay
Was Sephora amending an issue with a freebie that you got through their frequent buyer membership? Or just a normal freebie that was available to any customer? 
snaimpally
My wife works in cosmetics.  Here is what happens - the cosmetics company estimates how many free gift collections they will need and distributes to them to the various retail stores that are participating in the promotion.  If the store runs out, then they try to get extras from another store.  However, if its a popular promotion, they may run out and substitute with whatever they have on hand.  So if you are interested in the advertised gift - GO EARLY.  You can also call ahead at the start of the promotion and have them ring it up for you so that your gift with purchase is put aside in your name.  Going towards the end of the promotion increases the likelihood that they may run out and will substitute.  If you do go late and they substitute, a good sales associate should not only tell you that they ran out and are providing a substitute, but should add samples etc. to compensate if the substitute is not as good as the original gift.  This depends on how good a customer you are.  Regular customers who develop a good relationship with their sales associate will get treated well.  Unfortunately, some people abuse the system by buying merchandise, returning the merchandise, and keeping the free gift.  This is one reason why companies run out of gifts.
cityblondechic
I can tell you Sephora is great about things like that. They will send you additional things or give you points to redeem for other items. Definitely call them and they will handle it well. I have shopped with them for over 12 yrs and have had issues here and there but their cust service is excellent.
I have had issues with gwp items but the companies have always done something to make up for it. You have to be assertive and decide what you want before the call, do you want a credit, more samples, another one of the one you recieved, whatever the case is usually companies will do the right thing, and this seems to go for cosmetic companies specifically. Good luck and as I said, call them and talk to them about it!!
sooch
Toy R Us got me awhile back with a buy 2 get one free video game sale. They shipped me the 2 that I payed for but told me that they were out of the one I was supposed to get for free and that they will offer me a refund on that one game. So basically I over payed with them just because I wanted the free gift, then they took back the free gift. Never had a choice, and they went ahead and shipped the others before telling me, not cool.
patriciae
Sephora did this to me two years ago they ran out of the free makeup bag I was to get they never told me until I recieved the order and it was missing. I got nothing for the free item. Unfair.
lorddavid
 Most Definitely - After drinking a fresh brewed cup of coffee (carabu) over this and weighing the facts provided. I do believe this is a "technically" Bat and switch argument here. I would send my whole order back with a nasty letter. :) and tell your friends oh yea and Deal news to.
msinms
Definitely, I want to be informed of the substitution so I can decide if the deal is still worth it.  When I am blindsided that's when I start thinking about not using that retailer again.  Designer style makeup is quite expensive.  The freebie is what makes or breaks it for me. 
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