Sunday, January 12, 2014

What the Hell Is Going On With the Tarte Cheek Stains?

Jessica asks, "You should do a review of how much some Tarte products cost per ounce now that they changed their packaging to half or third the size and kept the prices the same."

ASK AND YE SHALL RECEIVE. Unfortunately, I presume (since it was brought up), that I'm expected to take a tone of indignant outrage, and that's just not where I come out.

Here's why people are upset: The old tarte cheek stains retailed for $30 for 1 ounce of product, putting them at $30 per ounce. The new tarte cheek stains retail at $30 for 0.5 ounces, putting them at $60 per ounce. This isn't totally out-of-the-blue; Tarte's new releases have been 0.5 ounces since 2012. What's new is that all of Tarte's cream blushes are now in the half-an-ounce version.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/tartecosmetics

Prima facie, it actually makes a lot of sense to be displeased. Tarte cut the size of their products in half but didn't change the price. You get less product for your money.

Is It a Bad Deal?

Underlying this unhappiness is the assumption that you're getting a bad deal. Are you getting a bad deal? Well, let's go ahead and compare that to other cream blush sticks on the market, from least expensive to most expensive per ounce:

Maybelline Master Glaze Blush Sticks are $8.99 for 0.24 ounces ($37.46 per ounce). 
Josie Maran Argan Color Sticks are $22 for 0.55 ounces ($40 per ounce).
NYX Stick Blushes are $6 for 0.13 ounces ($46.15 per ounce). 
Revlon Babysticks are $5.99 for 0.1 ounces ($59.90 per ounce).
Be a Bombshell's the One Sticks are $16 for 0.26 ounces ($61.54 per ounce).
NARS the Multiples are $39 for 0.5 ounces ($78 per ounce).
Clinique Blushwear Creamsticks are $21 for 0.21 ounces ($100 per ounce).

If the old Tarte cheek stains were on that list, they would be the cheapest ones on there, less expensive than Maybelline, NYX, and Revlon. The new price is right smack in the middle: more expensive than the drugstore brands but less expensive than higher-end brands like NARS.

The only real outliers on that list are Josie Maran, which is priced low, and Clinique, which is priced high. My prediction is that Josie Maran will adjust in future, raising their prices a few bucks to be in line with the pricing of other brands, and that the Clinique Blushwear sticks will just sell badly.

In other words, $30 for 0.5 ounces of Tarte Cheek Stain isn't a bad deal, and is pretty much exactly what you would expect to pay if not for a cognitive bias called the anchoring effect, where the first piece of information ("$30 for an ounce of product") is used to make subsequent judgements ("therefore $30 for half an ounce of product is unfair"). 

Is There a Benefit to the Smaller Sizes?

Okay, so we've established that these new prices aren't ridiculous in comparison to other stick blushes out there. There's still another argument against the change that makes sense to me. The argument is thus: The actual "makeup" part of makeup is not incredibly expensive to make. Tarte is probably not saving a shitload of money by halving the sizes, but they are being assholes to their customers. There is no benefit to decreasing the product size, so they should just suck it up.
The thing is, as someone who has purchased the Tarte Cheek Stains quite a while ago, I think that there is a benefit to reducing the product sizes. 
 
 
 
I dug this out of the trash can by my vanity especially for you guys. This is a Tarte Cheek Stain that I purchased something like three or four years ago. As you can see, it looks disgusting. There is a layer of film over it and the oil has separated out of the product. (It actually looks less gross right now than it did when I originally found it still lurking in my collection-- when I opened it up, a heap of red goo poured right into my lap.) The pigment is all mucked up, meaning it is concentrated in certain sections of the product.

This isn't Tarte's fault. This is my fault for hoarding products and keeping them long after they have expired. Even people who know better, like me, keep shit for way too long and it gets yucky. And then, of course, you end up with negative feelings about Tarte because you had to pour your greasy bacteria-tube into the trash.

What's more, I bet there's an even grosser problem that they are trying to counteract: mold. My guess is that this change was precipitated by a series of complaints like, "How dare you sell me a cream product that doesn't last a full decade without molding! But also, don't put any new preservatives in it because something something cancer!"

Are You Getting Less Value?

Fine, you may say. But I still get less product out of my blush! I want bang for my buck!

In reality, I don't think you are getting any fewer uses out of your products. I decided to do a quick test. 

I didn't want to put an expired product on my face for obvious reasons, so I checked about how much product I use in one application of cream blush is using my Stila Convertible Color and my fancy scale. (I only took one measurement, and you might cake on more blush than I do, so do keep in mind that my methods are inaccurate as fuck.) One application of cream blush came out to 0.009 grams (0.0003 ounces).

That means that one ounce of product (the amount in the original Tarte blushes) works out to something like 3333 application in a tube. THAT IS RIDICULOUS. THERE IS NO WAY IT WON'T MOLD IF YOU KEEP IT THAT LONG. If I applied the original one ounce tubes once per day, every day, with no waste (I admittedly waste a lot on those Tarte blushes because I always feel like they need to be cleaned off), it would take me something like 9 years to totally use it up.

I don't know how else to say this. There is no reason that this product needs to be a humungous one ounce tube. It's just extra landfill fodder.

Well, Then, Shouldn't They Just Decrease the Price?

Didn't we already establish that the biggest costs in cosmetics are not the products themselves? I would agree that PR-wise, it would have been an effective gesture of goodwill to decrease the prices. However, let's say that the extra 0.5 ounces costs $2 to manufacture (I totally pulled that number out of my ass, sorry). No one demanding a lower price is going to be satisfied if Tarte adjusts the prices from $30 to $28.  Adjusting the prices significantly (e.g. bumping them down to $22) would cut into employee's salaries, the company's ability to develop new products, the company's marketing budget, and so forth.

You can still be grumpy, but I feel like Tarte didn't have a lot of choices save building a time machine and traveling back to when these cheek stains were being released and saying, "STOP, FORMER SELVES! THAT IS TOO BIG!"

What About the LipSurgences?

People are weirdly also claiming that the Tarte LipSurgences have also decreased in size, but this is demonstrably false.

There are people complaining, for example, that these lip products are a third of the size. I can only assume that these people are confusing ounces vs. grams and then decimals... simultaneously. The Tarte LipSurgences are and always have been 0.1 ounces, which is the same as 3 grams. They have not changed. I took a photo of a LipSurgence that I bought quite a while ago, in case my word isn't gold.

Reading in at 3g/0.10oz
Sephora agrees
And so does the Tarte website.

Another part of the confusion is that Tarte released a new product called the LipSurgence Power Pigment, which is $24 for 0.04 ounces. Is that ridiculously expensive at $600 per ounce? Yes. Am I going to buy it at that price? FUCK NO. But it doesn't change the price of the other lip tints, which are still $24 for 0.1 ounces ($240 per ounce).

How Did Tarte Handle This Whole Thing?

Finally, it is worth noting that one of the reasons people are so enraged is because Tarte's PR team totally botched this whole thing. First, they made no announcements, and just kind of plopped a smaller product on the shelves. Then, their facebook response was 800 different kinds of vague:


I think being really explicit about what they are doing would have gone over a lot better. (E.g. Saying, "People were keeping them so long that the products would start molding, since no product can last forever." Except, like, nicer than that.) Likewise, they are so vague that it is reading as deceptive. For example, they're glossing over the fact that, for a period of time, they were selling Tarte Cheek Stains in BOTH one ounce and one half ounce sizes. Consequentially, people are thinking, "Well, I bought a Tarte Cheek Tint in 2013 and it was one ounce. That means that they are lying." Well, they did have 0.5 ounce products starting in 2012, but they also had 1 ounce products. I think being frank and clear would go over much better than what they are doing right now.

Crappy facebook responses are forgivable. The really big problem in the response came in the form of obviously fake Sephora reviews. They are, in fact, so obviously fake that the tiny part of my brain that wants to be a conspiracy theorist thinks that they might have been written by someone trying to make Tarte look bad. Because... seriously. Seriously. Are we expected to believe that these are real reviews?

I am borrowing someone's computer, and screenshots on this computer look awful for some reason.

These are made by individuals with only one review, who joined Sephora.com the day that they made that one, glowing comment about how Tarte is so amazing that we should be grateful, and, if you need icing for that cake, many of the reviews are by usernames that are just random numbers and letters.

WHAT?!



Tarte needs to tell their marketing department to shut the fuck up, because they are turning what could have been a totally reasonable change into something really embarrassing for the company. And if, by some bizarre turn of events, it is not Tarte employees posting those blatantly fake reviews, they should probably ask Sephora to remove them since they do not leave a good taste in consumers' mouths.

In summary, I don't think that Tarte's product size changes are insidious. I do think that they are totally fucking up the PR.

53 comments:

  1. This was a great post! I completely agree that it isn't too much of a big thing that there is less product (Do people really use the whole thing? If they can concentrate on one blush that long than they deserve a high 5 lol). Although, the PR choices they are making are crap. You can definitely tell just by the writing in the Sephora reviews that it is fake. It sounds more like an add than a review. GREAT WORK!!! I'm so happy to have read this!
    beautyjunky22.blogspot.com

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    1. Yeah, they're pretty comically false...

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  2. Awesome research as always. Thanks!

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  3. I really appreciate this post. All I'd seen of this 'issue' was the outraged reviews on Sephora, and I'd really wanted to try this product, but those reviews had made me leery. When I saw the picture and the topic, I was expecting the same outrage in this post, but leave it to you to not be the norm, once again. This is so smart and well laid out, I think that Tarte should be linking to this on their site!!

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    1. Well, except for the part about how they totally botched the PR, haha.

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    2. But then it would be awesome PR for them to admit to their mistakes! "We realize we handled this incorrectly, but look at how much sense it really IS!"

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  4. Thanks for this post! I agree that it makes sense to cut the product in half. Seeing the cost breakdown, I can forgive the lack of a price decrease. The way they handled it really bugged me though, and part of that is the way the company presents themselves. They are the kind of company that tries to foster a bond with the consumers (ex: calling us Tartelettes - I hate that, by the way. I don't like my fiance calling me pet names, let alone a makeup company). For a company like that, you would expect some sort of notification on size change. Tarte is acting like we should have known that they changed the amount of cheek stain back in 2012, even though the packaging stayed the same, and it looks like they started to hide the amount of product (it used to be printed right on the front of the tube, but more recent packaging doesn't have it there). The whole situation makes it seem like they were trying to be sneaky about it so they could say that it was the same amount when they rolled out new packaging. If this was a company like Nars that pulled something like this, it wouldn't have bothered me as much because Nars has a more aloof persona in terms of relating to customers.

    I will still end up buying from Tarte because I really enjoy their products, but this has left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

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    1. I hadn't really thought about the packaging-staying-the-same-and-thus-confusing-people since I'm an online shopper and so it is written on the website that the size changed! That's a good point, though, and definitely re-enforces the idea that Tarte's PR needs some serious work.

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  5. I don't have a horse in this race, but the whole PR thing is massively amusing. Hooray for trivial trainwrecks that are fun to watch!

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  6. I'm fairly new to the "caring about make-up" scene - all my current products are drugstore basics - but I've started following your blog with an eye to educating myself. As a fellow scientist by training and profession, can I just say how much I love that you used an analytical balance for this post? (Also, I'm still fangirling over the chi squared tests from your "beauty box of the month" comparison.)

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  7. I'm in agreement with you - the change in product size is forgivable and even rather sensible. The fake reviews are just embarrassing though.

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    1. Yeah, they seem like part of a badly written Law and Order episode or something.

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  8. What is on your nails in the LipSurgence picture? Is that a Milani polish?

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    1. It's Deborah Lippmann's Happy Birthday.

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    2. I was about to comment on your polish! I have twice passed it over, once in favor of Glitter And Be Gay, and once in favor of Stronger. The next time I buy a Deborah Lippman polish might be the charm. Also I don't know why that makes me feel like I have some kind of bond with this polish, except that I did spend like half an hour in Sephora painting it on things along with the other two glitterbombs and comparing it in different lighting....

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  9. Awesome, thorough post, and I agree with the points you have made! I am pretty understanding when it comes to shit like that but when PR steps in and pretends nothing is wrong, going as far as to manipulate consumers with blatantly fake (or paid?) reviews, then it just annoys the fuck out of me.

    x Carina

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    1. I just don't understand what they thought they were accomplishing!

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  10. I've been fairly annoyed with Tarte lately, even though they used to be one of my favorite brands.They make such a big deal about their natural ingredients and how good they are for your skin and how innovative tarte is for developing them. They make huge deal about their company ethos, and then they come out with the same crappy formulation of color change lipgloss (LipSurgence energy) that they claim "adjusts to your skin's pH" to give you a "personalized tint", which is a blatant lie. I tend to take such deceptive marketing as par for the course with most makeup brands, but it irritates me more to see it from a company that is so high and mighty.

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    1. Ooh, yeah! Time for a Beauty Bullshit post!

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    2. A lot of it also seems really unnecessary. Like the benefits of "Amazonian clay" are obviously nonsense but I will still buy the blushes and the glamazon lipsticks because they are good products, not because they have magical powers.

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    3. I've been meaning to do one for Stila's Custom Color Blush, which is exactly the same thing!

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  11. On point as usual. Love you, Robyn! Now if only they sold tarte in Germany. :(

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    1. Get yourself an American pen pal!

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  12. Totally unrelated to the cheek stain fun, but I think you should definitely check up on this product as a fellow oily-skinned gal. I just recently bought some Becca Ever Matte primer (even though there were some serious mixed reviews). It's insane. There has to be something magical in it to keep my skin matte all day long. Like for real. My skin even stayed stunningly satin-y matter after an hour workout. while amazed, it also freaked me out LOL. Now, you can't use the stuff like it says to, as in following their directions because you will have the same thing happen that many unhappy people had happen: little white balls. I need to know why and what that is. If you pat the stuff on your t-zone (well, that is where I get all greasy) right after your moisurizer, no balls. And amazing mattifying effects. There has to be something magical in this crap. Tell me what you know!!!

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  13. You know... the word "tart" has some fairly nasty English and French slang attached to it. Sure, Tarte has an "e," but close enough and pronunciation is the same. Bad, really bad name for womens' cosmetics. I actually got a good laugh out of it when it first came out.

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    1. In the US, I feel like the connotation is a little more... flirty? And I actually like the name Tarte! May we incorporate more Old English insults into our cosmetics names!

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    2. In French, ''tarte actually has 2 meanings. The first one, which is the one that is the most used, is ''pie''. A ''tarte à la fraise'' in French means ''strawberry pie''. The other meaning is ''dumb''. But we don't use that word as an insult that much. So no, Tarte isn't a bad name for us. It's rather cute :)

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  14. Fantastic post! That old blush stick of yours is fascinatingly gross - I also love how you pointed out that people expect things to last forever but won't 'let' companies use preservatives - you kind of can't have it both ways, people!

    Those fake reviews are so terrible that I, too wondered if someone was trying to make Tarte look bad. Aren't marketing people supposed to know how to manipulate consumers? Not blatantly reveal what they are trying to do? (still terrible, but...)...

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    1. As someone who has worked in marketing, you would think!

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  15. Great post! I've been enjoying the shit storm on the Sephora forum over this issue. It seems that it would be quite impossible to use the 1 oz product before it went bad... I almost never make it to the bottom of anything I own, even the products I just love - and I have a fairly modest make-up collection compared to many on the Sephora board.

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    1. It's doable with powder products and easy with foundation, in my opinion. Things like this, though? I wouldn't use up the 0.5oz version!

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  16. "Prima Facie?" Please tell me you are a fellow law student....I have never heard a normal person use the term ;)

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    1. I am not! It's just a helpful term!

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  17. Nicely done mentioning the anchor effect here, I have never heard a normal person use that concept either. This article brushes a point I wish I could make to the cosmetics industry: I'd rather invest in smaller portions, or even a pack of custom chosen samples like you can get with so many indie brands. I hardly ever finish a single product since I collect so many different things.

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    1. Yes! Sadly, that would be disadvantageous to most makeup companies, even if they jacked up the prices on the products, since most people would spend less money (which is why we like the idea!).

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  18. Just had to come back with this one. There's a "review" for the cheek stains by someone who is supposedly over 54, and here's the review: "OMG...MY FAVORITE TARTE CHEEK STAIN HAS A NEW LOOK!!! IF YOU'VE NEVER TRIED THE CHEEK STAINS..THEY ARE GREAT! THEY STAY ON ALL DAY! LOVE 'EM!!" Really??? I don't think someone over 54 talks like that.*sigh*

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    1. I actually know a lot of people over 54 who do... that generation still often uses all-caps because it seems like it would be better for visibility, and uses that sort of disingenously cheerleaderish tone because nobody ever taught them irony ;)

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  19. Ooh, this gives me an idea for a Beauty Bullshit post: What are some markers of a fake product review? Which products tend to have the most fake reviews, and which companies are the biggest offenders? I have to say I know when I see it, but haven't given that much thought to how you can tell...

    Anyway, first comment here, yay. Love the blog!

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    1. Oh gosh. I am not sure if I have enough information to be definitive about that!

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    2. Hey Robyn,

      Would you mind contacting our community manager at jen@tarte.com? Thank you!

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  20. "How dare you sell me a cream product that doesn't last a full decade without molding! But also, don't put any new preservatives in it because something something cancer!"

    OMG. After reading this part, I wanted to give you a standing ovation and full sheet of gold stickers.

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  21. GREAT post. I had no idea this was going on. I have to say, I feel very disappointed with Tarte... the Sephora stuff was just ridiculous.

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  22. I don't think a bad deal but I do think the way they went about it is a bit distasteful. I love this whole post, thank you! (Also 600 bucks an ounce for a lip pencil, dude I'm pretty sure if my math is right even an ounce of Guerlain Rouge G would be less than that, Tarte!)

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  23. The thing that bothers me about Tarte's pricing is its inconsistency. Like, I can buy a single Lipsurgence pencil for $24/0.1 oz = $240/oz or a holiday set with 8 minis at 0.06 oz x 8 = $34/0.48 oz or $73/oz for more variety? Also, the high percentage off coupon codes they frequently offer devalue their product and make me suspicious that their whole regular line is vastly overpriced.

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  24. Wow. Thank you so much for this post! I had some leery feelings for Tarte after hearing about this...but I feel much better about their products now that I know that it was mostly a good idea/bad PR moment. I can forgive bad PR. As long as this doesn't become a trend.

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  25. I have to say it : you.are.awesome. Love your blog!

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  26. I have a Tarte cheek stain in Flush that is 1.5 oz. I purchased it about 12-13 years ago. Yes I know it's way over the expiration date, but it's still as good as the first day. Not moldy or gooey. I can't remember how much I paid back then, but I do shudder at thinking I'll be paying the regular price and getting 2/3 less product. I bought it because it was going to last a long time.

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  27. Robyn have you done a post where you talk about (read: analyze and publish data regarding) expiration dates/shelf lives of makeup? I was having a discussion with a friend today who was kind of scoffing at my desire for a Lorac Pro palette because I already have two Inglot palettes and two WNW palettes and she claimed I would have to throw all the stuff I already own out before I could ever use it all--especially if I bought the Lorac Pro and added to the collection.

    It got me thinking. I have something like 70 lippies, all of which I acquired since about December 2013 when I spontaneously became addicted to lip products. I really hope I don't have to toss a bunch of those in another year or two, because I'm sure I won't get through them all.

    Anyway, I found conflicting info via Google, and the internet only seems to agree that mascara should be thrown out every three months. So I thought I'd ask you.

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