August 15, 2010

When a Train Wrecks, People Get Hurt

In early July I mentioned that most of Bare Escentuals' colors are formulated for women with warm skin tones. Suzi McGowen commented about a line of mineral make-up with lots of cool toned choices that I'd never heard of - Aromaleigh. I visited the site and saw it was preparing to shut down. I didn't want to build up an attachment to something soon to disappear, so I stopped looking. Then, when FragranceX, a website that supposedly carries discontinued BE could not fill my order for Heaven blush, I decided to take a second look at Aromaleigh.

Soon I had three brand new blushes, heavily discounted due to the going-out-of-business sale, that were all in my color way, and at that point I thought to myself, "Why is this woman going out of business after twelve years?"

Both before and after my vacation last month, I alternated between investigating and ordering eye shadows, which were even more heavily discounted in the last two weeks. Tonight at midnight the website turns off its lights for good, and I am strangely bereft. Not because I'll need mineral makeup any time in the near future, but because of what I learned...and what I still do not know.

Did site owner Kristen Bell use unapproved ingredients in some eyeshadows? One group - whose members set up a forum ostensibly to provide a forum for all mineral make-up users to rant even though their intention, allegedly (and there is evidence of this), was to rant against Aromaleigh - says yes. Kristen Bell's defenders say they were told by FDA employees that the site was victim of a witch hunt.

Did Aromaleigh's owner fuck up with an overly complex point program, some iffy customer service, and erratic personal blogging? It looks like the answer to all three is yes. Staffing issues, a death in the family, and a all likelihood these matters contributed to some Bad Behavior, but compounding these personal problems were some women who decided they needed proof of her suffering, and by doing so, caused more suffering, and probably more erratic choices.

In the end all I know is this: I placed five orders in the last two months, during a period when Aromaleigh's owner was trying to get rid of inventory by using ingredients to mix probably a hundred and fifty shades of eyeshadows and forty shades of foundation in three formulations, and experienced terrific and personalized service, and near-immediate delivery. There's a whole lot involved in running a business that ships internationally, and hordes of the site's international and/or institutional customers, worried about order fulfillment, began filing premature claims with Paypal, resulting in thousands of dollars taken from the business account and presumably held in escrow in the interim. I don't envy Kristen Bell's life over the last two months, and in some way feel a kinship with her as a person who made some mistakes and suffered some very public consequences.

All that said, had I been a customer made to feel guilt over the mention of poor service, if I felt blown off after questioning the safety of a product, no doubt I'd feel somewhat differently. After all, look at how publicly I've announced my anger toward Penguin books, but Penguin is a large corporate entity and not a small business. Then too, I'm not out to close Penguin down...I just want them to treat their ebook customers as they treat their print customers.

So it's not quite an apples to apples thing.

As midnight approaches on the East Coast - it's slightly less than an hour away - my thoughts are with Aromaleigh and its owner, and some disgruntled customers who apparently played a part in its closing down. I'm reminded of some instances in my own online past and some individuals who caused me personal pain as a result of my public position. I didn't lose my livelihood as a result and therefore cannot truly know how Kristen Bell feels, but I do wish her luck in the future and hope she finds a creative outlet for her talent.


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