5 tips for shopping for beauty products

Tips for shopping for beauty products, from sampling to following beauty bloggers

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NEW YORK — Want that charcoal mask or the smoky-eye look but don’t want to spend a lot?

There are lots of options to look your best for the winter holidays, and the beauty shopping experience is becoming more enjoyable. Both Wal-Mart and Target are revamping their beauty areas, adding better lighting and bringing in new affordable niche brands. And many discounters and drug chains have carved out areas devoted to popular Korean beauty products.

Specialty beauty chains have been expanding. Ulta Beauty Inc., which offers products across a wide price spectrum and services such as brow bars, now has nearly 1,000 locations. And online sites, such as Colourpop and Glambot, feature high-end brands at more affordable prices.

So here are five tips:

• KNOW YOUR BUDGET: Figure out which type of products you want to splurge on. If you want to spring for $100 skin cream, great. But if you can’t afford to keep replenishing, perhaps buy something that’s within your budget, says Ron Robinson, founder and CEO of BeautyStat.com, a product review site.

Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing with price comparison website DealNews, says shoppers should look at the weekly circulars at Walgreens and other drugstores for coupons. However, the best time to get beauty deals is between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when shoppers can get discounts of 20 percent to 40 percent. That compares with 15 percent to 25 percent off the other times of the year.

• SHOP ONLINE: Use your phone while you’re in the store to compare prices and read reviews of beauty products. In addition to the beauty sites, check out eBay and Overstock.com, which offer products for less. Glambot allows customers to trade in their new or “unloved” makeup for cash.

• FOLLOW BLOGGERS: Robinson encourages shoppers to follow bloggers to get information on new products. Each has his or her own expertise. He recommended Andrea Matillano for information about beauty deals at drug stores and Sam Schuerman and CoffeeBreakWithDani for department store beauty reviews.

• TRY BEFORE YOU BUY: Stores are offering more opportunities for testing, taking their cues from Sephora and Ulta. Target is revamping its beauty section that includes an enhanced concierge program. It features a service counter where customers can ask questions about color-matching products, receive skincare consultations, and get samples to test. So far, the new look is in 75 stores and will be rolled out to 400 more by the end of next year, Target says. Wal-Mart is testing iPads in the beauty department of a store in Secaucus, N.J., where shoppers can watch videos and get product suggestions.

• SIGN UP FOR LOYALTY PROGRAMS: Many retailers like Sephora and Ulta have reward programs, so the more you buy, the more points you earn. At Ulta, the points you accrue expire a year from when you earn them. At Sephora, unredeemed points expire if a member’s account hasn’t been active through a purchase or redemption for 18 months or more.