The beauty floor at any given department store is dangerous territory: It’s a chaotic mecca of colour matching, clouds of fragrance and trying to secure the latest cult buy before it sells out. But what’s it like to be on the other side, behind the brush belt? We spoke to two former beauty retail girls (we’ll call them SG1 and SG2) who spilled the deepest (and funniest) shopgirl secrets.


I worked at one of Australia’s biggest department stores for a luxury beauty brand. While most customers were lovely, a few more… interesting… clients stick out in my mind.

Money Talks:

“I had a customer spending a substantial amount of money on our premium skincare. As always, I made sure her experience was one of luxury. While I dutifully gift-wrapped her products, I caught her at the front of the stand rummaging through my samples drawer, shoving things into her bag. It was an awkward moment when I politely let her know I had already put them with her items. Then she asked me to hold her receipt with her client card so she wouldn’t risk her husband finding out she had just dropped upwards of $500 on moisturisers. I couldn’t tell then if she was thrifty or a spendthrift, but she sure my day a little more interesting.”


Phone Orders:

“I often took phone orders for certain customers, and there was one gentleman in particular who always chose to call. He always had the same request: two different shades of foundation and two bright red lipsticks. Seemed innocent enough, right? Except, it went to his work address, which was a little strange. One day, a lovely woman came in asking after a foundation that her husband always ordered for her. She couldn’t remember the shade so I checked his online orders and mentioned his double-order, two-shade history. She seemed confused as she’d been using one shade her for years. She returned weeks later and told me her husband had a mistress with a darker complexion. Now every time I sell that shade in-store, I wonder if she is Order 2.



I have been employed at a retail beauty store for a few years selling popular brands with high volume sales. There have been some absolute shockers in my experience- but these are the worst.

Five Finger Discount:

“A woman was browsing the products when I asked if she needed help. The answer was no, she picked up a few lipsticks and continued to walk around the store. I noticed that while she held them, she wasn’t heading in the direction of the counter, but the exit. As per procedure, I let the floor manager know, who then stood at the door as the ‘bag checker’. It seemed woman caught on, and I returned to find her emptying her shopper trolley onto the shelves. Dozens of lipsticks, nail polish, perfumes, shampoos and even a men’s groomer were in her bounty! I haven’t seen her in store since.”


Dirty Little Secrets:

“It would amaze me how unsanitary some of the customers were when it came to testers. My store was positioned next to a bank, and every morning at 9am, one of the bank tellers would come in and use the tester to apply her lip colour. She would even top it up at lunch. This went on for months. I also saw school kids play with the tester and rub product all over their hands. Gross, and…what?!

We had coffee beans with our fine fragrances to help with olfactory fatigue, and small child once started eating them. They had literally been out and uncovered for at least a year… I even spilt them on the floor once. We also kept cotton buds around for the customers to use, and I once caught a woman cleaning her ears with them, and left it on the shelf. I was mortified.”


As told to Emily Algar

Comment (0)

  1. December 27, 2016

    That phone order story is unbelievable!

  2. December 27, 2016

    Seems likes a crazy job, loved this article! Hope to read more stories in the future

  3. January 4, 2017

    Very different perspective from most of your stories… Love the behind-the-scenes dirt from the employees

  4. January 4, 2017

    Ew… Wish I didn’t know how unsanitary so many of the tester products are!! Definitely makes me think twice before using!