Going potty: getting samples can drive you pot


Vicky Ward puts on a bold face and tries to persuade the assistants at the cosmetics counters to part with some freebies

Fingers crossed, hair brushed as neatly as it ever is, coat hanging casually on my right arm, handbag full of loose coins jangling on my shoulder, I approached the Clinique counter in Harrods. “Excuse me, I wonder if you have any free samples of y our moisturiser? As you can see, I have dry skin.”
The fake-tanned woman in her pristine white coat peered at me out of fake black lashes down her eagle-like powdered nose. Wearing jeans, polo-neck, Benetton cardigan and no make-up, I looked neat but scarcely a millionaire. “Nah, we don’t do samples,” she said, and turned away to examine her already immaculate nails.

My brief was to discover what it takes to get a free sample of the exfoliators, toners, bronzers, foundation, moisturisers et al that, in normal size, can be hugely expensive – sometimes more than £100 per item. Surely it is only reasonable to allow clients to take away a small sample to test the stuff before forking out for it?

No, it seems. Make-up consultants are picky about which of their clients are deserving. If you want a freebie, you need to learn how to go about it in the right way.

In Harrods, I wanted to test the efficacy of various chat-up lines, sans glitzy appearance (that would come later). I approached Estee Lauder and could scarcely get my query out before the woman with over-blushered cheeks riposted: “Nah, but we have a special offer of scent and bag if you buy two products.” Crestfallen (my brief did not allow me to spend any money), I walked on.

Putting on an expression of desperation and my best “air hellair” accent, I approached Christian Dior. “I’d like to buy some day moisturiser for my mother,” I lied. “She is fiftyish and has …” Before I could go any further, the woman interrupted, “Co m bination skin? Dry on the cheeks? Oily on the chin and nose?” Actually, I had been going to say, she has marvellous skin, but something told me that the path to success did not lie in that direction.

I smiled, dumping my bag on the counter, looking as if I was prepared to stay there all day if necessary. “Dooo tell me what you’d recommend.” Five minutes stretched into 10 as the virtues of cream against lotion, richness against lightness, day cream a g ainst night cream were extolled. I waited until the end of the spiel to put, nonchalantly, my two key questions: how much? (the answer ranged from £25 to £65 a pot) and, “Do you think I could take her a sample?”. By then I’d earned it. “Of course,” sher eplied, fishing out the cutest little pot.

The story of my mother’s facial ailments also did the trick at the Sisley counter, where I was recommended a moisturiser for £88. £88?! But it was crucial, I knew, not to flinch. “I don’t suppose you have a sample of that I could take her,” I asked airily, as if I spent £88 on a measly tub of moisturiser for my mother every day. “Of course,” said the girl. “This will last two to three days …”

So the mother story works, presumably, on the basis that the mother of 50 is likely to spend more on her face than her messy-looking daughter of 25, who is simply the marketing medium.

How, though, to get freebies for oneself? I approached Chanel looking, I hoped, totally bewildered. “Excuse me, I would like to look permanently suntanned but I’ve been told that it’s really bad for your face to wear foundation. Could you advise me please?” I sounded like a vain half-wit. “With pleasure,” said the girl, who then proceeded to test various creams all over my face and hands. “Ooh, I’m so confused,” I sighed vacantly. “I don’t suppose I could possibly take a sample?” The answer was yes. So the idiocy ploy works, too.

Now it was time to see how important appearance could be. I entered Harvey Nichols and, in the loo, changed into designer suit, jacket and pearls. I was careful to carry my coat so that my finery was clearly visible, and jangled my only expensive jewellery extremely loudly.

Back to Clinique with precisely the same query about moisturiser as before. To my horror I met with the same negative response. The woman (also an eagle-nosed type) was looking disdainfully at my hands. I followed her gaze … Cripes, I had some dirt wedged under the second and third fingernails on my left hand – and she’d noticed.

Big mistake. Make-up consultants test their wares on hands. A chipped fingernail, flaking nail varnish or, even worse, dirt … and they’re certain to notice.

On to Boots, where I casually looked at the Almay hypo-allergenic moisturisers. “I don’t suppose,” I said, trying not to sound as if I was saying it for the 100th time, “you do samples of this?” “But of course,” said the girl, seemingly amazed. She hand e d me two packets of the stuff. “Anything else?”

Essential tips for plying the counters Do… …clean your hands …clean your nails …wear expensive bracelets/rings …carry your coat so as to expose your clothes …invent plenty of skin problems …speak with an “air hellair” voice …mention Mummyif you are below 30