Price Gouging and Makeup Snobbery: Why I buy a lot of expensive high end crap

Someone pointed out to me recently that my favourite products tend to be high end. At the time, the person in question was laughing at my ridiculous stress-purchasing of truly absurdly priced cosmetics (Lancôme La Rose Blush Poudrer anyone?). I agreed with them wholeheartedly and laughed along, but it occurred to me later that I genuinely do have an innate bias against many drugstore products – but probably not for the reasons you might expect. It’s not that I think they’re poor quality or that I suffer some delusions of grandeur about my income which means that I feel compelled to only be seen throwing a designer brand compact into my designer brand handbag (which, of course, is from the current season *hair flip*).
So why don’t I buy a lot of drugstore? Read on!

Price Gouging

I was watching a recent “Madness Monday” youtube video posted by Tati. Due to the intense sleep deprivation I was in the middle of at the time, I happened to end up being an early commenter and unexpectedly got quite a few responses. I’d said that watching videos about drugstore shopping in the US tended to frustrate me because it highlighted exactly how much price gouging goes on in the Australian market for drugstore products. Based on the responses I got from people, this is a problem widely experienced outside of the US, not just in Australia.

tati screenshot

This difference is one reason why I tend to frown away from drugstore. In short, I find the price differences on a lot of drugstore brands outside of the US market intolerable. “But Steph,” I hear you cry “it costs more to import the products!”
Well, dear reader, you are correct about that. But then I have to ask myself one very important question:
Why can smaller companies like Mecca Cosmetica offer a US price promise and yet bigger companies who sell to drugstores apparently can’t?

mecca price promise

I’ve heard a lot of reasons thrown around about this one, but as we learned when Sephora Australia opened and faced a huge wave of backlash about the significant cost increases compared to their US counterpart, there’s a limit to how much consumers are willing to accept excuses. Yes, the currency conversion is different, yes there are shipping and import fees to pay, but that still doesn’t justify the incredibly huge gap – as should be pretty clear with the conditions of the Mecca Price Guarantee which account for these things.

More importantly, even with companies like Mecca, if you read the fine print of their price promise, it does specify that for many brands (including a lot of the ones I like – sigh) they use the RRP set by the brands themselves.

mecca price promise 2

Key words: set by the brands.

So why are these brands jacking it up so much? That’s really down to the individual company, and consequently a question I can’t necessarily answer for you (and some, incidentally, are still pretty on par with US markets even if they are setting specific RRPs for Australia).

Regardless of their reasons though, I just do not buy that there is a GENUINE need to charge as much as many companies do for cosmetics in Australia when many can remain on par with the US. The sheer fact that so many, particularly in the drugstore category, can afford to frequently advertise their products for 30-50% off merely supports my suspicions.

So why does this mean I’m happy to fork out bigger bucks?

Well part of it is that I like to support companies like Mecca who make more of an effort to not flagrantly strip me of all my funds with impunity. I actually very recently got the shits with Sephora Australia over their pricing when Net-a-Porter started stocking Marc Jacobs Remarcable foundation at a whopping $19 cheaper.

(Forgive the crummy screenshot, but I wasn’t actually taking it for the purposes of using it in a blog – as the caption would suggest, I just posted it quickly on my Insta story because I thought my followers might want to know)

By the next day, Net-A-Porter had very quickly corrected this and have since adjusted their prices to be on par with what Sephora Australia is charging.

Screenshot from Net-A-Porter, taken less than 12 hours after the previous photo

I can’t substantiate my suspicions, but I believe this is probably part of an agreement between the two (and indeed any retailer shipping to Australia and thereby stepping on the shoes of companies who have exclusive rights to the Australian market), and the whole thing just made me bitter and stroppy. Truth be told, I put my foot down and decided that I was done with Sephora Australia. Whether or not I can stick to this remains to be seen as I am a shallow and vain creature who likes pretty stuff (but we’ll come back to that).
“But Steph!” I hear you protest, “based on what you just said, many of the high end companies you buy from are price gouging as badly as the drugstores!”
You’re absolutely right. I tend to find, however, that the difference isn’t quite as extreme with many drugstore counterparts, and at least there are some high end options where the US Price match comes into play that I can buy from Mecca (Nars and Hourglass come immediately to mind for example). However, this isn’t the only reason I sometimes shy away from drugstore.

Success Rates

Part of my reason for deferring to “high end” over drugstore has to do with my success rate. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on drugstore cosmetics that haven’t worked out for me. Because our prices are so exorbitant here, I often find that I don’t actually save money in buying the drugstore options and having to go through trial and error.

I imagine this is very much just my own limited experience – I know for a fact that there are many great drugstore products, but when I first started buying makeup I didn’t know much about blogging or youtube and so I didn’t know where to find honest reviews that helped me weed out the crap. The cosmetics industry is huge, and the sheer volume of products you can have to try before finding a success is mind boggling.

So why was I more successful with “high end” products? Drugstore products don’t generally allow for samples or applications from most stores. With “high end”, however, you often have the option to try samples or have the product applied directly onto your face before you opt to buy it. This meant that I ended up saving money, especially on finicky products like foundation, because I didn’t have to buy 3-4 different ones before I found one that actually worked. In Australia, 3-4 drugstore foundations can run well in excess of $60-80 on a good day. Most of my high end foundations run within this price bracket. Basically, I wasn’t actually saving money trying out the drugstore options. It’s true too that some high end companies won’t give out samples of products (I’m looking at you Tom Ford counter – I’m still mad at you for that) but honestly I just avoid those. If I can’t use a foundation for at least a week before I buy it, move along please.

It is also true that some high end companies are not available in my state, and therefore I can’t actually try before I buy. When this is the case, I find that resale value comes into play and makes the higher ends sometimes safer options. Even if the product I bought was not available in my state (which is true of many brands because we don’t have a Sephora or Mecca Maxima in South Australia), I often found that I could make my money back through selling the makeup second hand on facebook groups or selling platforms such as Carousell. So long as the product you buy can be sanitised (meaning that it’s trickier with mascaras and liquid lipsticks – you need to use disposable mascara wands or lip brushes rather than the applicators that come with the products for them to be suitable for resale). This was not foolproof obviously, but I can honestly only think of a handful of times where I wasn’t able to either make back what I’d paid or close enough to it that I wasn’t weeping over my lost funds.

These days, I’m a lot more willing to try drugstore options BECAUSE I know which reviewers/bloggers/youtubers have similar skin types and success rates to mine. It’s taken a long time to figure that out though, so all in all I still find I’d often prefer to try things myself.

Because I’m A Marketer’s Dream and I Like Shiny Shit

Herein is the stupidest of all my reasons. I have a thing about pretty packaging. It’s a problem and I’m making a conscious effort to cut back on this particular inclination of mine. I’m seriously like a magpie – I see a pretty package and I want it even if I know full well that it’s a stupid and illogical inclination.

In saying that, I feel less bad about this than I probably should. I liken it to people who like fancy cars. A car is a tool which gets you from Point A to Point B. It probably shouldn’t matter if it has a fully sick stereo, or racing stripes, or a cool spoiler, or a body kit which gets you defected at the first cop you pass. It also probably doesn’t make THAT much of a difference to the comfort of your journey that your seats are made from the finest Italian grain leather and hand stitched. And yet, people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on cars and it’s generally accepted that this is a legitimate hobby. I can’t pretend it makes sense to me that people are interested in that, but I tend to take the attitude of “eh whatever rubs your Buddha”.

Luxury makeup, to me, is in a similar vein. Yes, it’s indulgent. Yes, it’s probably not worth the money sometimes. Yes, they are absolutely laughing all the way to the bank that I paid that much because the package had a shiny gold logo on it. Yes you are absolutely right that it is vain and shallow and capitalistic and ridiculous.

But you know what?

It makes me happy.

I work sixty plus hours a week and frequently cop abuse from left right and centre about how I’m still not doing enough. If I spend some of that hard-earned (and believe me – it’s bloody hard-earned) cash on something stupid because it brightens my day, then why does someone think they have the right to cast shade on my decision?

In saying that, everything in moderation. This is why I’m trying to cut back. There’s such a thing as too much indulgence. Yes, treat yourself when you can afford it, but not at the expense of more necessary things. And only what you can afford. Which brings me to my next point.

I Know I’m Lucky

Yes, I indulge. But I rarely lose sight of the fact that I am INCREDIBLY fortunate to be able to do so. The simple fact is that not everyone can afford to buy high end cosmetics. I’m extremely glad that great drugstore options exist so that makeup can be fun and accessible to everyone. I don’t think that drugstore products are bad or that they should be avoided by any means (in fact, I’d really like to start exploring more affordable options since I can afford the cost of the trials and failures at the moment). The reality is that my heyday will come to an end and I won’t be able to splurge the way I am right now any more. That’s totally okay with me too. Over time, I’ll find cheaper alternatives to the things I like and save up specifically for the things I like to indulge on.

In the meantime, excuse me but I think there’s a stupidly overpriced new eye shadow palette calling my name.

What do you guys think? Do you like drugstore, high end or both?

9 thoughts on “Price Gouging and Makeup Snobbery: Why I buy a lot of expensive high end crap

  1. I could not agree with you more!!! I recently bought some Dior stuff and I have no regrets becuase i know its going to last and has beautiful packaging which I have displayed on my vanity ❤ I really wanna go shopping with you one day haha!!


    1. Thanks love! I was honestly so disappointed. I shouldn’t have been surprised though. Net-A-Porter is cheaper for things like Artis and Charlotte Tilbury, but shock horror the second they were competition with an existing Australian retailer, suddenly they’re not the cheapest option. Blah!


  2. What a great post! You’ve explained everything really well and have enlightened me – I never knew about the Net A Porter price change and I really was’t aware drugstore prices were so inflated either – I thought the main problem was the higher end stuff selling in Sephora!

    Di from Max The Unicorn


  3. Couldn’t agree more! I remember a few years ago when idiots were raging that Mecca’s price was unreasonable for the Urban Decay launch because they didn’t understand conversion rates between currencies or how sales tax worked in American states versus GST here. It was only about $2.50 difference on products – but people were too stupid to realise that Mecca does the best it can 99% of the time.

    I love Philosophy and they can’t decrease the prices at Mecca because they also sell it at David Jones 😦

    I feel the same as you in terms of drugstore – I never buy foundations anymore because it takes too long to find a half decent shade when you can be matched right from the beginning in high end!!

    Maddie |


  4. oh GOD SO TRUE and I am nodding vehemently with agreement at the gouging, compounded here in SA by not having Mecca Maxima and Sephora locally so any pre-swatch purchase online is a gamble. I bought some Zoeva stuff from Beauty Bay a few months ago and when I came back to go again, they no longer ship to Australia. Surprise, surprise, they are stocked in Sephora Australia for $$$$$$. Same with when Strawberrynet stopped selling MAC. Angry face.


    1. Ughhh so true! They keep taking more and more things off other sites and it’s killing me. A friend recently told me that she finds bulk ordering from the US and using one of the forwarding services STILL ends up being cheaper despite our weak dollar. I’ll have to give it a go soon I think – especially if Sephora Aus is our only option because I’ve had about enough of them at this point!


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