So, Beauty Pie, then. Launched with no little amount of hyperbole towards the end of last year by Marcia Kilgore, the founder of (amongst others): Soap & Glory and FitFlop. Hyped as "makeup without the markup", the website boasts of "luxury" lipsticks from £2.84, eyeshadow palettes from £6.94, and foundations from £4.75.
Sounds amazing, right? By cutting out the middleman, using generic packaging, and charging a £10 per month subscription fee, Beauty Pie acts like a "buyers club" for loyal beauty fans wanting bargains on high-end cosmetics. I was sent a box of the hero products just before Christmas (alas, mostly unusable, because of the random - too brown and nude - colour selections), alongside a free 3 month membership, and I recently activated that membership and made some more suitable purchases to test out the service before I finished finalising my thoughts.
Before I get into opinions though, here are some facts:
Each product description on Beauty Pie gives you the member price, and the non-member price.
Your £10 subscription fee allows you to buy £100-worth (at the "non-member" prices) of products, which is realistically around three or four products, depending on what you buy.
Your minimum membership period is three months.
Meaning that if you only find a single product or two that you fancy each month, then they will have cost you (using the example products above): £2.84 + £6.94 + £4.75 + Shipping (£5.22 x3) + handling (2% of order cost x3) + £30 Membership fee which is around £60.48, meaning that each product actually cost you £20.16. Of course, if you ordered all three products at once, you'd save yourself £10.44 in postage fees (and I've used the minimum fee here - it's changeable depending on what you order), making each product cost £16.68.
And, at present, it is definitely entirely possible that there is only one or two products that you'd feel like buying each month, because the selection is definitely limited. It took me till March to activate my free membership, because when I first went to fill my basket back in December, there simply wasn't anything that I fancied buying. There were several things I stuck in my basket, I didn't particularly want them, and they were there just to make the most of actually placing an order, but I was ... underwhelmed. Now, admittedly, I'm a beauty addict, and there isn't much I don't have (I could wear a different lipstick every day for at least the next 6 months without a repeat, probably), but even so, I found the pickings thin.
However, if you don't make a purchase in a particular month, your £100 allowance (or, any unspent allowance if you didn't fill your basket) rolls forward. So, if you join and don't buy till your third month, you'd have a £300 allowance, and would make a saving on the postage costs. It, kind of, evens out.
Selection-wise, things have definitely improved recently with the addition of the eyeshadow palettes (which I think have been well selected colourwise), and some accessories like a brush kit, but there is - for me - still not a huge amount to choose from. This will change throughout the year, as they add more and more lines, and I believe skincare launches in April. But it's that element of picking and choosing that is problematic for me, because most of the pictures on the Beauty Pie website are CGI, and the colours are incredibly difficult to select, as a result. There are no swatches, no natural light, no photographs of the products in use, and the descriptions are minimalistic at best.
The website is great, however, for listing the breakdowns of the prices and for featuring complete lists of the ingredients - I noticed that practically everything is listed as paraben and fragrance-free (I'll come back to fragrance though), and the entire range is also cruelty-free, which is definitely something to be applauded.
|L-R Everyday Great Skin Foundation in Beige, Supercolour Kohl Eyeliner in Soft Black and Futurelipstick Matte in Red Light|
If I was asked "are they worth the prices you pay for them" though? Then I'd reply that depending on how often you order, and how carefully you order, they might be.
Let's take the Supercolour Kohl Eyeliner, for example. The non-member price listed is £15.00, but you can buy it for £2.04. At the £15 pricepoint, a good comparison might be the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide on liner which normally retails for £15.50. Ignoring the packaging, which is bound to differ, in consistency, Supercolour surprised me, actually. It is good and black - blacker than expected given the name "soft black" and is soft and applies easily. It doesn't last that long, but in a £2.04 eyeliner, this isn't so much of a problem. However, in a £15 eyeliner masquerading as a £2.04 eyeliner, it is more of one. Urban Decay lasts longer, and is better in the waterline too. I would not, ever, pay £15 for the Supercolour Kohl Eyeliner, but if the "non-member price" was listed at around £6-8, I'd believe it.
Likewise the Futurelipstick Matte, which would ostensibly retail at £20. Lipstick Queen Sinner lipsticks retail at around £22 and have better pigmentation, alongside a better texture and they smell better too; of nothing. For some reason all Beauty Pie lip products smell rather strongly of toffee - and I wonder how that has happened given all their products are ostensibly unfragranced. Fututrelipstick Matte is a fine, nice lipstick. Nice pigmentation, comfortable to wear. If I'd spent £6.99 at Superdrug on it, I'd be very happy. at £2.84 + postage and handling and membership, it's fine. If I'd spent £20 I'd be bitterly disappointed at the cheap smell, the cheap packaging, and the just average wear, however.
That thought brings me to the Everyday Great Skin Foundation, which smells of nail varnish remover. And disgustingly so. It may well be a great product, but I can't bring myself to put it on my face, to be honest. I can't think of any "luxury" (or even high street) brand that would have allowed a product that smelled this bad to be sold, especially for £30! Even at £4.75, it's a little overpriced, to be honest. Especially when you add in the difficulty of selecting the correct shade in the first instance. I am aware I have a smell disability, and I thought for a while that this might be my problem rather than a problem with the product itself, but I've read some other reviews with similar thoughts. So if you're not bothered by the smell of your products, then do crack on and let me know how wrong I am, but for a "luxury" product to smell this bad - and it is a bad smell, not merely "a smell I don't particularly care for" like with the toffee lip products above - is beyond the pale, to be honest.
And then there is my final thought, whilst everyone likes a bargain (and I LOVE a bargain, me), a beauty brand stands or falls on the value for money, whatever the price point. If I can tell, objectively, that a £20 lipstick lasts longer on the lips than a £6.99 lipstick, and won't leave my lips chapped and dry, then I'll probably buy the £20 lipstick, and yes, I know that the majority of that cost is on the packaging and the scent. Here's the thing though, I LIKE fancy packaging, it turns out. And I really don't like it when expenstive makeup has cheap packaging - I like the full package, and I don't really mind paying for it. But also wanting value for money (and it is the consumer who decides this, according to their budget) is why independent beauty reviews are important, and this is why I'm still blogging about makeup, these days. Colour selection from a brand will also have a part to play in making my selections too - if I need a specific shade, and the cheap one has it and the expensive range doesn't, I might make a different decision. But with Beauty Pie, one can't make those decisions because you can't swatch, and the colour pictures on the website can't assist in those decisions.
Once you factor in all the on-costs these products aren't as cheap as they appear, and nor are they the great value I'd like them to be. That your £2.04 eyeliner might end up costing more like £6-8 or even £17 by the time you get it into your grubby little paws doesn't bother me that much (though your mileage might, as they say, vary) it's still a "cheap" eyeliner. But will it be a great eyeliner? For me, Urban Decay do GREAT eyeliners, even at £15 a pop. The Beauty Pie liner is just an okay liner, at whatever price you ended up buying it for. However, if you're happy with "okay" pretending to be "premium" albeit with the bells and whistles stripped out, then that's great too. I like the bells and whistles, personally.
What really bothers me is that the website tell you that you're getting a £15 product, and, actually, the products don't measure up to the standards of "real" £15 products. I like that my real luxury products smell better, and feel better, and look better in the packaging, however, I must add here, that I actually quite like the simple packaging of Beauty Pie products, they're nicely branded, visually striking, and look good together. That they don't look expensive isn't, particularly, a problem ... But there is an entire sensory element missing from Beauty Pie for a number of reasons. If I buy an expensive product, I expect more from it. If I buy a cheaper one, I have a different set of expectations. If I buy an expensive product at a cheap price, I don't really expect a cheap product with a fake high price discounted to make it look like a bargain, and to me, that is what Beauty Pie looks like.
In conclusion, I do actually think Beauty Pie is a great idea. But if you go in expecting Tom Ford/Charlotte Tilbury/Chantecaille/Chanel, or even Mac-level quality, you're going to be disappointed. However, if you want a source of cheaper Rimmel/Revlon/No7/Gosh-level products quality-wise, then you might just have found the beauty retailer of your dreams. I am disappointed Beauty Pie isn't real "buyers club", and only offers own-brand products, but maybe that might change in the future, and the membership fee will be really worth it if they expand in that way.
I still have two months left of my membership. There's a brush set that I might invest in once I can purchase again, but beyond that ... I just don't know. Beauty Pie might be cheap, but it's .... complicated.
The Fine Print: PR samples and purchases
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