We shop for just about everything online—from clothing to home decor. Sure, we may find upon arrival that those jeans don’t actually fit or that those chairs don’t look quite right in the living room, but we don’t think twice about the safety of these items—we’re getting the exact same product we would purchase in a store. It’s just arriving on our doorstep.
Beauty products are a different story. Unless you’re shopping from a trusted retailer, like Sephora or a department store’s e-commerce site, there’s a little bit of risk involved. For starters, beauty products expire and are pretty easily counterfeited if you don’t have a discerning eye. Even worse? If you don’t know where, exactly, you’re buying them from, there’s always a chance that they could come used. So gross—and potentially dangerous too.
But that hasn’t stopped consumers from looking to sites like Amazon and eBay for their products. It’s especially appealing to the budget-conscious, as third-party retailers make it easy to buy your favorites at lower prices than you’d find in the usual stores. But where’s the logic in spending $40 on what you think is a fragrance that usually sells for $80, only to find that it’s a total knockoff?
Kaitlin Clark, an employee at a New York City–based marketing agency, frequently uses Amazon to shop for her beauty products. She purchases only skin care products that come in unopened packaging, and she usually orders only things that come directly from Amazon rather than a third-party seller. She chooses Amazon over other beauty purveyors for its shipping system: “To get two-day shipping at places like Sephora and Saks, you have to pay extra,” she says. And because she’s an Amazon Prime member, the products ship fast—and free.
Amazon chose not to comment for this story, but Clark personally attests that she’s never had a bad experience or received an unsealed or sketchy product. As an extra precaution, she skips products that are priced way below market value, like a Clé de Peau Beauté concealer she once spotted for less than half its retail price.
It would be easy to mistake eBay, with its community-based marketplace, as an even shadier source, but the company is committed to making sure customers get exactly what they’re looking for. Laura Chambers, VP of global consumer trust at eBay, encourages closely examining a seller’s ratings, reviews, and feedback. “Counterfeits are not welcome on eBay,” Chambers insists. “We play a lead role in partnering with law enforcement and brand owners to combat counterfeits.”
eBay permits only new, legit products to be sold in its marketplace, putting the kibosh on anything that’s used or not in its original container, but in the event of receiving an item that’s not as described, the site’s money back guarantee protects buyers by ensuring that they’ll be reimbursed. That said, eBay does sell hard-to-find beauty products, like that discontinued Chanel lipstick you’d give your right arm to find, but it’s almost guaranteed to be far, far past its expiration date.
Jet is a new retail site on the scene that follows Amazon’s lead of offering a wide variety of goods from multiple sellers. The difference is that Jet verifies its sellers, checking to ensure that its retail partners are reputable. They vet retailers or order directly from manufacturers and authorized resellers. Melania Lonchyna, VP of Jet Direct, says that the only real way to know that you’re not receiving a knockoff or used beauty product is to shop a site that vet its sellers. “Unlike other [online] marketplaces, Jet is a closed marketplace where sellers need to be verified, and brands have an ability to shut down authorized retailers,” she says.
Amazon and eBay both permit unauthorized retailers, but should you receive an unsatisfactory product, they offer excellent return policies that ensure you’re not stuck with a dud. But when you’re shopping online from big marketplaces like these, the two most important things to consider are the seller and the price of the item. Is it a first-time seller or someone with poor reviews? Skip it. Is the price too good to be true, like that $70 Clé de Peau Beauté concealer for $20? Hard pass.
If you’re smart about it, it is possible to score legit beauty products at better prices from sources like these—but always keep in mind that, when you don’t really know where the stuff is coming from, there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll get the real thing. It’s a gamble, yes, but done properly, it might just be worth it.