Woman Upset By Elizabeth Arden's Crappy Free Gift

Elizabeth Arden was running a promotion that advertised a free gift of $350 value with any purchase of $65 or more. Anyone who's familiar with the vagaries of beauty advertising knows to expect a certain amount of inherent deception in the Free Gift — seriously, it's like there's a special photographic lens that only makes dinky little sample-size mascaras look full size, and ugly clown-colored lipsticks appear suitable for everyday human wear. But some are calling Elizabeth Arden's free gift swindle a downright bait-and-switch.

According to a customer tip sent to the Consumerist, which lists online deals and coupon access codes each morning, a recent Elizabeth Arden deal was too good to be true:

Hi there! I'm a big fan of the site and regularly take advantage of some of your morning deals. I thought that you might want to reconsider posting deals from Elizabeth Arden, as I have learned that they will substitute items of lesser value if they run out of what they are offering.

Last week, I saw a coupon code you posted for Elizabeth Arden, which was for a free 33-piece gift ($350 value) with a purchase of $65 or more. Not being someone who can regularly splurge on make-up, it was a tempting deal to replace my current collection of odds and ends!

I received my order today, and was disappointed to see that they had replaced the free set that was advertised with one of considerably lesser value. It is a 29-piece set with different/smaller items than were advertised. The original set was supposed to include a case and a variety of higher quality items (skincare items as well as makeup, larger compacts and brushes). The sticker on the upper right hand corner of the box I received reads, "38.50 with any 24.50 Elizabeth Arden purchase. Over 250.00 value." That's a full $100 difference off of the value they advertised!

I spoke with a customer service representative who said that I could return it if I am not satisfied, and that they substituted this gift because they ran out of the other one.

I told her I thought it was a bait-and-switch, and it seems to me that they are hoping that the consumer doesn't notice the differences in quality between what was advertised and what was shipped. They could have at least notified me of the substitution and given me the chance to cancel the order. Now instead I have to go through the hassle of returning an item that I didn't order. This is my first experience with the company, and I suppose it will be my last!

Thanks for listening!

The ad the customer responded to indeed promised 33 items, not 29, and described in detail each product to be included in the gift.

This kind of thing is frustrating because the free-gift model is so endemic to the beauty industry. Does it seem cheap to complain about not getting the right free gift? Sure. But I, like this customer, am secure enough in my inveterate cheapness to get a little ire going at substitutions like this. The free gift is totally crucial to my deciding to spend money on overpriced department-store cosmetics in the first place. I doubt I'm the only person who waits to buy makeup until the product I love and can rely on is part of some kind of free gift. Sometimes the thing I actually buy to get the gift is just a place-holder; the substitution of free gift items without warning, especially items of lesser value, is shitty customer service. It's also not a new tactic: none other than Vogue magazine was caught offering subscribers a handsome, maroon croc-embossed handbag as a free gift in 2009, when what actually arrived in the mail was "a red canvas bag with 'pleather' handles about the size of a small gym bag. The bag also has 'pleather' patches on the bottom corners and a zipper closure. Neither of these features appear in the online bag." Pleather! Egads. At the time, the Post noted, "Calls to Condé Nast's promotion department to explain the mix-up were not returned."

Elizabeth Arden Sends Out Cheaper Item, Hopes Noone Notices [Consumerist]