Beauty Phenomenon: Seasonal Sales on Cosmetics in the UK

by PJ on Thursday, January 17, 2008

in makeup, skincare, What do you think? Beauty topics and thoughts

(sales ad from Selfridges & Co.)

(image from

I was surprised when I went to my first seasonal sale in London years ago (at the start of the winter sale on December 27th). In the most high-end department stores, a lot of limited-edition beauty items from a couple of seasons ago had a mark-down between 30 to 50 percent. I didn’t expect to see them, but then they were back and stacked up at the edge of the counter.

I soon realized that, during seasonal sales in the UK, cosmetics items are reduced just like clothes are.

There are mostly 4 types of beauty products that are marked down in UK seasonal sales:

1. Seasonal gift sets, especially fragrance sets. (Christmas fragrance sets usually have a 30% mark-down right after Christmas. Many people stock up their favorite fragrances at this time of year.)

2. Limited-edition makeup items. Dior, YSL and Guerlain do this the most, among many other (mostly French) brands.

3. Discontinued and soon-to-be discontinued products. If I see a couple of products from a brand’s current lineup being reduced massively (sometimes up to 50%), I know they are going to be discontinued very soon. (Or, if I know something is going to be discontinued or replaced, I’d expect it to be on sale.)

4. Surplus stock of makeup shades that are less popular.

So here are just some of the things I saw this time:

— Guerlain’s Pucci collection (limited-edition, summer 2007), 50% off
— Guerlain’s 4-color eyeshadow palettes, 50% off (the new range has replaced these).
— YSL Palette Esprit Couture (limited-edition, fall 2007), 30% off
— YSL limited-edition items for summer 2007 and holiday 2006, 50% off
— Dior Diorissime palettes (limited-edition, fall 2007), 30% off
— Various Dior eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks, 30% off
— Paul & Joe’s discontinued base makeup items (change of packaging and formulation in summer 2007) and the full nail color line (soon to be replaced by a new nail color range), 50% off.

For the first time, I saw fall limited-edition makeup items, such as Diorissime palettes, reduced right after Christmas in the same year. But, with spring collections out earlier and earlier, maybe it is not all that surprising.

I have always been in two minds about all the clearing out. Of course it is nice to buy things at reduced prices. I have bought some lovely Paul & Joe items during the sale for very affordable prices.

However, even though high-end brands have a certain image and cache that they try hard to maintain, some of them still haphazardly stack up discounted palettes at the counter. Lip glosses are bundled up in rubber bands and put in plastic boxes. I can’t help but feel that this is rather unsightly and that the only thing they aim for during the sale is to get some stock space back. It doesn’t really reflect elegance and sophistication.

(True to its Japanese roots, Paul & Joe’s attention to detail during the sale stands out. In Fenwick on Bond Street, Paul & Joe’s reduced items are usually lined up neatly on a small and simple round table next to the counter. No plastic boxes or rubber bands…)

As I understand, there are clear-outs like this in the US for brands that are going to be discontinued. But it appears to me that seasonal limited-edition makeup items from high-end brands are not usually marked down regularly like they are here in the UK.

In some other countries (as well as in the US), I am aware that there are similar seasonal beauty clear-outs, but they are done in companies’ warehouses or headquarters. These events can be slightly more exclusive in terms of how they publicize the event information.

Are cosmetics items reduced regularly like this in your country? Let us know!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

hightea_xx Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Canada it’s the same as you stated for the US. It’s usually a warehouse sale that only certain people know about. It’s not exactly advertised, because i guess they don’t want a lot of people knowing that they can wait and get stuff on sale (defeating the whole purpose of buying it at regular price i guess).

I posted before stating that i work at a shopper drug mart, sort of like your UK boots, and we have higher end brands in our cosmetic section (our store specifically is layed out more like a crossroads between a sephora and a department store… more info here). I personally take care of Dior (and am thus always happy to read your positive reviews of the brand!!) and have only heard of one such sale in my almost two years at the store. I think this definately helps eliminate the “cheap feel” of the sale.

Our store owner will, at his discretion, also put items on sale. It’s sort of haphazard as to which ones the puts on sale, but from my experience it’s usually ‘lower higher end’ fragrances, such as coty brand or l’oreal fragrances. nothing against those brands, but you get the idea i’m sort of getting at.

I also wanted to say that although i only comment once and a while, i’m absolutely addicted to your blog and that it keeps me on top of upcoming products, sometimes even before my reps, trainers and coordinators know anything about them! Keep up the great work : )


gracie Friday, January 18, 2008

Hi, in S’pore, we do have these marked down sales in departmental stores. It is usually warehouse sale or sale at a rented venue. It is usually not publicised that much. Usually by word of mouth or through makeup addicts regular SAs.


Anonymous Friday, January 18, 2008

Where I live (Thailand), they are called “Warehouse sales” where all these cosmetic companies gather together to have a huge sale in one of the rooms in an office building. I remember attending my first ever sale. I had to make my trip down to where the sale was located, take the elevator to the floor where the sale was happening. When I got there, I saw tiny flyers are posted along the walls with arrows telling you which way to head towards. There were brands like MAC, Estee Lauder, Origins, Anna Sui, Clinique, and some other perfume brands (Tommy, CK, JPG, etc). It was a rectangular room with tables lined up on the sides and the sellers were behind the tables. Behind the sellers were lipstick boxes bundled up in rubber bands inside plastic boxes (just the way you explained it to be),,and tons of products messily arranged in plastic boxes. There were testers on the table and if you wanted a certain product you would tell them and they would go to the plastic boxes to retrieve the product, put it in a plastic bag and give you a number. Then they would send the plastic bag of your product to the cashier area. You would give the cashier your number, pay the cashier and redeem your product. The room was crowded and full of pushy people. I tried to get some Estee Lauder moisturizers that were on sale for half the price but I was not strong enough to push my way into the crowd or get the seller to notice me. So with that, I gave up. Clinique was another place where people were crowding along and being pushy. At the end of the day, all I got was one MAC lipgloss. And it wasn’t even that cheap. I believe it was only 3-4 dollars cheaper. I hope none of these stuff are near its expiration date or even worse, already expired. I have GOT to learn to read the makeup expiration codes. Hope this helped.


YM Friday, January 18, 2008

the phenomenon of department store discounts is rare in NZ, we only have one department store literally – Smith and Caughey’s, there are a few outlets in the country and they are the only ones apart from Duty Free that carry all the top end brands. although mall-type stores like Farmers (think David Jones/Myers) are catching up with the competition, only certain stores in higher socio-economic districts stock a full range, but all in all it is all the staple products, we do not have the variety compared to the UK/US or even Aus.

Now the sales.. equally ridiculous, S&C are doing storewide sales quite often now, and people go crazy for a measly 10% off. again, it is the unpopular colours or d/c items which are stacked in bargain bins or wrapped around in rubber bands in little trays. They often trick you by putting 50% off signs on a few items but also put full price items next to them… nothing worth scoping out at these sales, and the prices are still not worth it – eg Estee Lauder’s glosses retail for $52 here! and on sale they are $24, but you can easily find them on ebay or get a friend to CP from the States. I don’t believe in sales anymore, I just try to get the items when they are released and avoid the risk of panic when everything is sold out.



Row Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hey PJ

You know, even though I have a Selfridges, Boots, Harvey Nicks and places near me, I haven’t found anything decent in the Make Up department (I did see a lot of YSL).

I completely agree with you. Esp on the Dior counter, there were some crushed lipsticks, things dumped in a discount bin, not samples left out for me to test. Urgh.

Oh I need your advice! I am popping to London soon, and I want to visit Paul & Joe, Suqqu, the Chanel Boutique…do you know where the places to find these brands are?


PJ Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hi Hightea_xx,

Thank you for taking the time again to post such an informative comment! Thank you as well for your kind words about my blog!

I was having a quick browse at the array of high-end brands at Shoppers Drug Mart, and the range of the brands seems quite good. (In the UK, Boots doesn’t have Shiseido, Smashbox, or Guerlain.)

Indeed, I don’t really like the “cheap feel” of the cosmetics sale, particularly with some prestigious designer cosmetics lines in high-end department stores. I do browse through the discounted items, but, most of the time, I don’t usually attempt to buy them. For me personally, if I really want something, I usually either buy it when it is just out or pay for it with my Boots points…

(Paul & Joe is perhaps an exception. I do have a tendency to pick up their reduced items so that I can get to try more of their products…)

Thank you for posting your informative comment again! :)


PJ Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hi Gracie,

Thank you for telling me about the situation in Singapore.

In terms of maintaining a brand’s image, I do think a warehouse sale is probably better than presenting all the marked-down items right in the department stores.

Thank you for posting your comment! :)


PJ Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hello there,

Thank you so much for telling me about the warehouse sale that you went to in Thailand! It is extremely informative and interesting!

Your description actually reminds me of two warehouse sales in Taiwan that I went to. (Warehouse sales are how most cosmetics brands clear out items in Taiwan too.)

I went to a L’Oreal one, which featured brands like L’Oreal, Lancome, and Biotherm. It was in a conference room that L’Oreal rented. It was very crowded and it was not easy to get to the tester desks all the time.

The items were reduced massively, at around 80%. Some of the items were close to their expiry dates. But everything was clearly marked, so customers could make a decision.

I remember picking up some full-size Lancome skincare items and some Biothem skincare travel sets at very good prices.

I have also been to an Anna Sui warehouse sale, which took place in their office in central Taipei. Most of the things were about 60% off, and I picked up several things too.

These sales can be fun but they can be really tiring. They involve getting up early to make sure that I arrive at the event before it officially begins as well as being fast and agile.

Talk about shopping as a sport! :)

Thank you very much again for sharing your experience! Hope that you will continue to stop by my blog! :)


PJ Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hi YM,

Thank you very much for telling me about the seasonal sale situation in New Zealand and for describing the retail scene there!

As I mentioned in one previous comment on this post, like you, if there is something I want, I usually purchase it when it comes out (or I use my Boots points to get it). Most of the time, I don’t tend to pick up the reduced items.

Sometimes, in the UK, some department stores do a 10%-off event on cosmetics. The discount applies to all the items sold in the store, even the very latest ones.

Estee Lauder lip glosses at 52 NZD are very expensive! (It would be around 20 GBP and 39.5 USD.) Their lip glosses are retailed at 14 GBP in the UK…

Thank you for posting your comment on this topic! :)


PJ Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hi Row,

I am glad you agree with me. As a makeup lover, it is not very nice to see these discounted items like this while very few people are even looking at them…

As for the places you were asking…you can find Paul & Joe cosmetics in Harrods and Fenwick (a much better counter space). (If you need their addresses, you can find them on the Shop Info page on Paul & Joe Beauty’s English site.)

SUQQU can be found in Selfridge. (It is tucked at the very back of the cosmetics area, right next to RMK.)

There are Chanel boutiques in London on Sloane Street, Old Bond Street, and Brompton Road.

Actually, a UK reader suggested that I do a post on the Japanese cosmetics brands available in the UK and where to get them. The post is scheduled to go up by the end of the month. Perhaps you would be interested in this…

Thank you for leaving your comment again! :)


CounterGirl Friday, January 25, 2008

Cosmetics in dept Stores are NEVER reduced in the US. The only time a client can get a discount is if they open a new Credit Card – they get a discount on the First Day Purchase, and then with a Rewards Pass, for racking up $500 in store purchases for a given time period.
Needless to say, I am always asked by shoppers if they can get “a deal” on cosmetics.
American Dept Stores are all the same – there is NO deal making, reducing, or bargaing on cosmetics/fragrance items for. Period. It is NOT a market or a Swap-O-Rama. It’s just amazing how a shopper will think that if they ask often enough, like, every time they come by the counter, that we’ll give in because we are dying for a sale. Yes, we need the sale, need to hit sales goals etc, but we have NO authority to reduce prices, EVER. Whew, thanks for letting me vent!


PJ Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hi CounterGirl,

Thank you for sharing your experience! :)

I see. I am not surprised at the fact that customer-based discounts are not offered in department stores in the US. I have not known of such types of discounts in department stores in any other country.

As I mentioned in the post, substantial discounts are given on some cosmetics items during the summer and winter sales in the UK, and the discounted prices are marked on the merchandise so the prices don’t vary from customer to customer.

Thank you very much for posting your comment! :)


Shibooya Thursday, November 27, 2008


I am desperate to know when the Fenwick Sale in Bond Street will start because I really need to get myself down to the Paul & Joe counter! Have you got any idea when? I've been trying to Google it, but can't find any info.

Also if you know when any other cosmetic sales are could you keep us posted? They had a 10% cosmetic sale in Debenhams and House of Fraser last week but i'm saving myself for the winter sales when the real bargains begin! Any help will be greatly appreciated and i continue to read your blog with great interest, keep up the good work =)

Thank yoou!



PJ Friday, November 28, 2008

Hi Shibooya,

I think Fenwick’s winter sale usually starts on December 27th. But do give the store a call to make sure.

As for the pre-Christmas discount, they do a Christmas Shopping Evening each year (with 20% discount on all cosmetics), and you can see the relevant information here.

The event this year is on December 3rd. As far as I remember, you need to request a ticket in order to go into the store for the event (between 6 and 9pm). It seems that it is a little late to send the voucher for the ticket now…

I went to the event two years ago, and my memory is a little fuzzy. I am not entirely sure if I saw customers there without tickets. I think you can probably head over there and see if you can get in.

For your reference, just remember that the event is in association with The Telegraph, and I usually put “Telegraph UK Fenwick Christmas” in Google and I will find the information. (By the way, The Telegraph website should have a list of all the winter sale dates of various shops and department stores later on.)

Thank you for posting your comment again! :)


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