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Shopping truly has become global. The days of waiting two weeks and paying a fortune for shipping to get something from overseas are fast waning. Case in point? It is cheaper to order beauty products online from Cult Beauty, an e-commerce site based in the UK, than it is to order from Sephora.
Cult Beauty, as the name suggests, curates and sells specific star products rather than whole brand ranges. The products come from all over the world, and the team there also promotes discovery: It’ll incubate newer brands that show potential or are getting attention in other places. Cult Beauty was one of the first sites to introduce buzzy brands like Sunday Riley, Huda Beauty, and Anastasia Beverly Hills to the European market.
Co-founder Alexia Inge has worked as a model, a fashion journalist, and in PR (for Gap) in the early 2000s. She started the business in 2008 with her American partner, Jessica DeLuca, after they discovered a mutual disappointment and disillusionment with the beauty industry.
“We were both disgruntled consumers of beauty products, kind of obsessive and addicted to beauty, but we’d been over-promised and under-delivered a few too many times,” Inge says by phone. She also saw a lot of beauty sleight-of-hand happening in the fashion industry. She tells a story of a model friend who went to shoot a makeup campaign for a luxury brand, but the makeup artist on set used a drugstore product on her.
Inge thinks Cult Beauty’s model works especially well for shoppers today because they “don’t give a shit about brands, they want the product. It all comes down to product. Each has to stand on their own and convince them that it’s going to be a good match. That’s where beauty is headed now.”
The product range is like nothing you’ll see at retailers here in the US. Sure, it carries some of the same brands that are buzzy here, like Charlotte Tilbury and Ouai, but you can also find treasures like Iconic London (which is super hot on Instagram right now), The Ordinary (and it’s actually in stock at Cult Beauty, something you can’t say about the brand’s own website), and various global indie brands from places like Australia and Switzerland.
According to Inge, about 5 percent of current Cult Beauty customers come from the US, but the small and dedicated contingent I’ve seen raving about the retailer on places like Reddit convinced me that I should look into it. Boy, am I glad I did.
Because of economic conditions that favor US shoppers, it is cheaper to buy beauty from across an ocean than in our own backyard. Cult Beauty offers free shipping for orders over £40 (about $52), otherwise it is £4.95 (about $6.50). The dollar/pound parity is the closest it’s been in years, but the best part is that Cult Beauty bakes UK sales tax into the prices on the site, and then deducts tax if you’re ordering from outside the EU. Currently, you have to pay to ship back returns (unless the product is faulty), but starting September 1st, returns will be free.
So pull up your favorite online currency converter and let’s do some math. Sunday Riley’s Good Genes is coveted by skincare junkies everywhere. At Sephora, it costs $105. With free shipping and US tax, my total comes to $114.32. At Cult Beauty, it costs £85 (about $111.68). But when you click to check out, with free shipping and minus UK tax, the total is £70.83, or about $93.06 — a 17 percent savings.
Here’s another one that really excites me: Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanicals Serum costs $185 on Net-a-Porter (and pretty much everywhere else). With free shipping and US tax, the total is $201.42. At Cult Beauty, it costs £175 (about $229.93). With free shipping and minus UK tax, you pay £145.83, or about $191.61. Still pricey, but $10 cheaper! I could go on and on with products like this.
There are a few caveats here, though. Obviously if the pound strengthens against the dollar, these deals go away, so using a currency converter is a must. Second, sometimes credit card companies don’t give you the best possible exchange rate. Mine did when I ordered a few weeks ago, but it might be worth looking into before you order.
Lastly, there is a possibility that you could be charged an import fee by the US government, though speaking to people anecdotally who have ordered from Cult Beauty and other international sellers, you probably won’t. If you can make heads or tails of this dense document, it seems like if you are importing goods you bought for less than $800, US Customs doesn’t care that much. (But don’t @ us if it happens. A few years ago I ordered sneakers from Liberty of London and was charged customs fees.)