Last week I went to Pacific Mall, an Asian mall in Toronto that sells a lot of Asian merchandise that you can’t quite find anywhere else in the city. Because it’s a very high-traffic mall, I generally don’t like to go there very often. But of course, that was before I learned that they opened several Korean beauty brand retail stores. I went on a little morning shopping spree before the masses started swarming in the area for some delicious Asian food.
I had already known that there was a Holika Holika store at Pacific Mall for a few years now because I had bought a BB cream there, but when I learned that The Face Shop and TonyMoly had opened as well, I just had to go take a look. I was looking for a new cleanser and moisturizer anyway.
There were a few other stores that sold a variety of Asian cosmetics and skincare a few years back too: I had bought my Skin79 VIP Gold BB Cream then. But no store is quite as reassuring as an authorized retailer.
I discovered that PMall (yes, we do call it that) also had a Missha and an AmorePacific, but I didn’t venture into them for a closer look. I believe I glimpsed some Laneige products through AmorePacific’s store window. Store units at PMall are pretty small, sometimes only manned by one sales associate (SA). It makes for a pretty uncomfortable shopping experience sometimes when the SA looms over your shoulder and watches your every move. I suppose they can’t help it – there’s really nothing else to look at. You’re probably the most interesting thing that’s happened to them all morning.
I also noticed a store called “Le SaSa”, but I was pretty far away and couldn’t tell if it was part of the SaSa chain. It was missing SaSa’s signature pink in its store banner, so perhaps it is a standalone store.
I think I’d spent enough anyhow. Check out my haul!
I had pretty different experiences in each of the stores, but I suppose that also depends on which SA is on duty at the time. Luck of the draw, I suppose. And of course, it also depends on how much money you had already planned on spending when you walked in.
The Face Shop
My first stop was The Face Shop. I have never tried any The Face Shop products, even though I bought two of their masks when I was in Hong Kong. I haven’t opened them yet, though. I really like the woods-and-greens feel they have going on here.
The SA at The Face Shop was very nice and helpful. She knew the products pretty well and had tried several of the lines herself. She also asked me about my skin type, concerns, and age to try to determine what products would suit me best.
Funny side story: an older lady had walked in and she seemed like she had some questions so I graciously lent her my SA (hahaha) and browsed around myself. The lady wanted skincare recommendations. When the SA asked her age, the lady was so scandalized, it was hilarious.
Lady: “Why do you need to know my age?”
SA: “Because different product lines work best for different age groups because you have different types of skin.”
Lady: “Well what age group am I?”
SA: “Uh… I don’t know, so that’s why I asked.”
Lady: “Well what product lines do you have?”
And on it went. I had to hide my smirk as I shook my head to myself. Poor girl. Lesson my mother taught me as a child: At a certain point in a woman’s life, she doesn’t want to share her age. Don’t ever ask.
I listened to most of the SA’s recommendations and she wasn’t overbearing. However, she did introduce me to several (more expensive) moisturizers near the end even after I had already picked the first one she recommended. I only have one face, one moisturizer is enough! Perhaps she was just happy that I listened to her. She didn’t try to push all the products on me, so I think she just wanted to share her knowledge (which I love – I learn things from Sephora SA’s all the time!).
Products I purchased (left to right):
- Aqua Tinted BB Cream (40 ml): $23.00 CAD
- Arsainte Eco-Therapy Cleansing Foam (140 ml): $13.00 CAD
- Arsainte Eco-Therapy Essential Cream (50 ml): $23.00 CAD
- Lovely Me:Ex You Face Blusher – 08 Orange Syrup (4 g/0.14 oz): $7.00 CAD
The Arsainte Eco-Therapy line is the most natural skincare line offered by The Face Shop. The SA told me it was good for sensitive skin and I found the prices to be reasonably priced as well. She recommended this line because she had really enjoyed using it. Because I had contemplated getting the Eco-Therapy lotion, she gave me samples for all of the other items in the line: Tonic with Essential toner, Serum with Essential, and Daily Moisturizer. I also had trouble deciding between the Arsainte Eco-Therapy Essential Cream and the Chia Seed Moisture-Holding Seed Cream so she gave me samples of the Chia Seed cream too. Last but not least, I was given a box of cotton pads, which I particularly appreciated.
I love that I got so many samples here! I feel that two packets were enough to get a good feel for the product.
The Face Shop also offers a reward system. You get a points card for free and you receive points with every purchase. I believe you get store credit once you hit 3ooo points, but I only got 330 points for my $75 CAD purchase. That’s a goal too far away to reach, almost like trying to collect Optimum points at Shoppers Drug Mart… It definitely doesn’t hurt, though.
I have to say that I am vastly disappointed that I purchased everything at The Face Shop last week, since it seems they are having a 30% off all purchases for Black Friday. *sigh* You win some, you lose some. But maybe it’s incentive for me to make a second shopping trip?
My next stop was Holika Holika because one of my favourite BB creams was running low. I had purchased it from Holika Holika about a year or two ago. They have announced that another Holika Holika store will be opening downtown this winter.
My interaction with the SA at Holika Holika was very awkward. There wasn’t very much conversation between us and she spoke to the other SA across the store a lot in Chinese, even while I was checking out. But she still followed me around the store when I said I was just browsing. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Products I purchased (left to right):
- Petit BB Watery (30 ml): $12.00 CAD
- Petit BB Clearing (30 ml): $12.00 CAD
The Watery BB Cream is one of my favourite BB creams (featured in my recent FOTD) so I picked up another tube. I also grabbed the Clearing BB Cream for my sister as it contained tea tree oil extracts and sebum absorption for her teenage skin. I had first been drawn to this BB cream because of the adorable cats printed on the tube haha.
When I asked the SA about the Clearing BB Cream, she didn’t have a coherent answer: she just pointed me towards the sign. I may as well just have relied on the packaging myself. Which I did.
She also STARED INTENTLY AT MY NOSE and said “I see you have some pore problems and redness, this BB cream will cover it up”. Uh… what?! I had ONE small pimple and no makeup on that day. She then recommended the Face 2 Change Moist Cushion BB and chose the shade that was far too light. I abhorred the packaging because it was incredibly unsanitary. You mush a dry sponge into the wet sponge soaked with BB cream and apply the dry sponge to your face. Then you mush it into the wet sponge again to get more product. Eek.
At this point, I obviously felt incredibly self-conscious about my nose, like if I reached up, I would feel my nose replaced by a bumpy nose-shaped volcanic rock.
Lovely. Needless to say, I suppressed the mad urge to touch my nose and hightailed it out of there as fast as I could.
Frankly, I’m surprised that I got any samples at all. I actually didn’t discover them until I got home and emptied my bag. She hadn’t asked me what I was interested in or what my skin type was so there was no way she knew what I would be even remotely interested in. She obviously didn’t give me any instructions, either. All the instructions on the sample packets are in Korean. I can’t read Korean. I’ll have to Google these products myself when I decide I want to. It’s still nice that I got some samples though.
Out of the three, Holika Holika is the only store that offers exchange or store credit for unused and unopened merchandise within 14 days of purchase with the original receipt. This was printed directly on the receipt. This is a rarity because Asian stores usually don’t allow any exchanges whatsoever.
My last stop was TonyMoly. It was considerably smaller than the other two stores, as it was in a smaller aisle. I have never tried TonyMoly products before, either, although their packaging is ridiculously adorable. I ordered one of their BB creams from YesStyle that I haven’t tried yet. It had a cat on its packaging, too!
There was only one SA in the store and she welcomed me in. I told her I just wanted to browse and she sat behind the cash as I took my time going through the aisles, trying testers. She didn’t stare at me but she was obviously paying enough attention because she approached with makeup remover when the back of my hand started getting very colourful, and helped me with colour selection when it seemed I was having trouble. She may have been able to read all the Korean on the packaging that differentiated colours, or she just knew the products well enough.
Products I purchased (top to bottom):
- Tony Nail Trendy polish – CL10 (size unknown): $2.99 CAD
- Latte Art Milk-Cacao Pore Pack (85 g): $18.99 CAD
- Crystal Jelly Cheek Pot – 01 (size unknown): $9.99 CAD
- Crystal Eye Decoration – 02 (size unknown): $5.99 CAD
- Easy Touch Auto Eye Brow – 05 (size unkown): $5.99 CAD
The SA was also very nice and knowledgeable about the products when I had questions and made recommendations according to my skin concerns. She was more timid than the SA at The Face Shop, but that suited me just fine. I did note that she recommended a mask that was less than half the price of the one I got – it seemed more genuine and less about trying to up-sell me. But just look at the packaging of that Milk-Cacao mask! I couldn’t resist.
Based on what she gleaned about my skin type and my interests from my questions about masks, she gave me samples from the line Floria: Nutra-Energy Emulsion and Whitening Capsule Essence. The orange-coloured line contained argain oil for my dry skin and the white-coloured line was for whitening. After I made my purchase, I asked her more about TonyMoly’s skincare, even though I wasn’t really looking to make another skincare purchase. She was happy to share her knowledge as well, and gave me the Intense Care Snail Cream sample as well before I left.
My Overall Impressions
I am very happy that so many Asian brands are now locally accessible. My experiences at the stores were generally positive and the cute packaging is definitely a plus. The prices are fairly reasonable and much lower than the average Western brand. The major downside is the inability to make returns if the products don’t work for you (I didn’t actually ask, but this is the general rule for shopping in Asian stores and also what I’ve experienced in Hong Kong and Taiwan).
I really like getting the free samples. It’s a great marketing strategy because if you like it, it ensures you’ll come back for more. I was also surprised that in general, the prices in store were actually lower than the prices on YesStyle. I should note that ordering cosmetics from YesStyle is generally more expensive than ordering from Cosme-De, from Sasa, or from The BB Cream Shop. However, we do have to pay 13% tax, so it probably all evens out in the end. But at least I get to see and feel the products in person and get my goodies immediately.
Despite my funny story about my interactions with the SA at Holika Holika, I do love the BB cream I purchased and it is one of the more inexpensive ones available. I can’t vouch for its other products because I didn’t look around too much, not even to notice whether the prices were lower than if I ordered online. However the store itself is very well-organized and the products have adorable packaging as well. Do check it out if you’re interested in the brand.
In general, Holika Holika products are more expensive than those at The Face Shop and TonyMoly. The Face Shop and TonyMoly cost about the same, with prices varying for different products. I did not think that the price differences between the two were noticeably drastic. I do recommend going to the stores just so you can see in person what the products look and feel like. There is no substitute for firsthand experience!
Having a good in-store experience always depends on how well you get along with the SA’s. I am very happy with my purchases though, so that trumps all else. After all, SA’s vary day by day and who knows, mine could be having a bad day. But that’s okay, because I had a good enough day for the both of us.
Have you tried any of these products? What memorable in-store experiences have you had?
(Image sources: The Face Shop Facebook page, myseoulobsession.blogspot.ca, holikaholika.ca, wikipedia.org, TonyMoly Facebook Page)