Auck Ward

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Why I’ll Never Buy Cosmetics in New Zealand (Unless I’m Desperate)

Clinique pencils, bought in New Zealand. Photo by Tina.

Cosmetic prices in New Zealand can be downright ridiculous.

I knew from previous trips that makeup prices in New Zealand wouldn’t be great. Maybelline Great Lash Mascara, a $6 USD mascara at U.S. retailer Ulta, goes for $22 NZD at the local Countdown. But an experience I had this weekend proved to me just how bad the prices are.

I went to the Clinique counter at the local mall to get a makeover — partially because I was bored with my makeup, partially because a blog was running a series on expats getting makeovers in their new town and I was willing to do one. Tough work.

At most counters, in order to schedule a makeover, you often have to promise you’ll buy a certain amount of stuff. So I ask around the different counters that don’t intimidate me, and I patter around the Revlon counter. Revlon is sold in department stores in New Zealand, drugstores in the U.S.

An associate from another counter assists me, and I ask her what is the purchase minimum for a makeover. It’s $90 NZD. I don’t mind having to buy some stuff if I take up someone’s time, but I can’t fathom buying $90 of Revlon stuff when I can wait a few months and make a drugstore run stateside and spend half the money.

The Clinique kiosk offered to do a makeover without a product minimum. I knew I’d buy something anyway because I’m not 14 and able to ask for free makeovers without shame. Book me in, Clinique lady.

The woman who did my makeup did a great job, even though I hate wearing a full face of makeup. (I don’t know if Jezebel will use the photos from the makeover I did. I want to give the blog the first go at publishing before I post pictures.)

I figured I’d buy a brow pencil and a lip pencil — that should hit $50 NZD, making the makeover worth Clinique’s while, right?

The woman ringed up my purchase — $93 NZD.

That brow pencil retails in the U.S. for $16.50 and that lip pencil/stick/thing is just under $30. That purchase should NOT have hit $93.


Kiwi and I went down to his mom’s home this weekend. I asked her if cosmetics are unusually expensive in New Zealand. She said yes and pointed out that a jar of Cetaphil is much cheaper in Australia. I offered to buy her a jar when I go over — she came out with the perfect denomination of Aussie dollars to cover the purchase.

I posted the question of why makeup is so expensive to a New Zealand bloggers group on Facebook, which has a number of active beauty bloggers posting. Their responses:

Courtney from Courtney Comms:

Hey! I definitely find that it can be a lot more expensive. Particularly the ‘high end’ brands. You can still get some stuff cheap if you order online but shipping etc means that it adds up quite quickly.

It’s great to see some more affordable options coming to NZ though. Things like Essence which is just launching at Farmers [department store, like Macy's] where I don’t think anything is more than $20.

Lena from Lena Talks Beauty:

I do! Most cosmetics are 2-3x more expensive than the US. I know things like our higher wages, shipping costs, GST and duty taxes come into it but I still feel like we are ripped off especially considering even Australia has cheaper cosmetics than us. Some brands have dropped prices, and like Courtney said there are cheaper brands – I think Essence has nothing over $10. Internet shopping has been a godsend though

Laura from Laura Loves Beauty:

I get so excited when I travel as I know I’ll be able to buy makeup and beauty products for so much cheaper! E.G going to australia and being able to pick up decent drug store products for almost half the price as they would have been here from places like Priceline or Target


I feel totally ripped off! And then theres all the postage and possible taxes if I try to buy cheaper – it’s so unfair

Dee from The Restless Empire:

Having worked in retail marketing, specifically beauty I understand in part why things are more expensive in this corner of the world. It’s further to bring stock and more of a risk in terms of moving through slow sellers… we don’t have the population. BUT at the same time I find it hard comprehend how some brands are treated as “high end” in New Zealand but are entry level in the states for example.

It’s not just beauty though, sneakers are cheaper too. I think sometimes in NZ we just don’t have the population or variety of brands in our market to force competitive pricing. Although with things like essence at Farmers and e.l.f at Kmart that is starting to shift.

Nishu from LipsnBerries:

Being an immigrant..I still haven’t gotten used to the prices in NZ. They’re almost triple the normal prices US and Australia have. Can’t justify buying them! Who’d buy a $43 Revlon foundation? Seriously crazy!! I do most of my high end shopping during travels. India is way better. Even high end brands like MAC are like half the price. I buy my drugstore stuff from the big bucket sales that go around the country. is my fav online store, though they don’t stock a lot of makeup.


I haven’t used the Clinique products since I bought them. I stare at them guiltily.

The receipt said that the counter may not take back my purchase, but I’m wiling to try to return them for a refund. The woman did not say that the sale was final, and I have not used the products. Any sort of wrapper around the pencils would have been nice so I could prove they are unused, but I guess that is what the box is for.

If I have to keep them, that will mean that every line I draw with them is going to cost $5 (or something).

Maybe I should draw my own line on cosmetic purchases: either do big hauls abroad, or adopt the makeup-free look and hope my thirties are kind to me.

Thanks to the #brunchclub bloggers who responded to my queries online. Please give their sites a visit.

Ever buy something abroad and get stung by sticker shock? Share your story in the comments. Or follow my blog with Bloglovin.


  1. Tina, What a great post. Let the world know how companies rip us off in NZ. No wonder we have to resort to online shopping. $93 for two pencils is just ridiculous. Even if I had all the money (which I don’t..haha) I won’t pay that amount for those pencils. I keep asking myself..Is $93 nothing?

    • Tina

      March 3, 2015 at 1:58 am

      $93… I bet pencils cost less than $10 to produce, then who knows how much in marketing, shipping and duty.

  2. It’s difficult, because I do want to support our NZ industry, and if we aren’t buying from them we don’t have a hope of the prices dropping but it is just so crazy. It’s not reasonable to compare to the US as everything is so different – for starters, salespeople here will be earning a living wage which includes higher taxes to pay for healthcare and the like, we have import duties, the fact that everything from real estate to petrol cost a lot more here. BUT I think it is reasonable to compare to Australia and I do feel ripped off. Prices for most brands like MAC are still the same as when the NZ dollar was worth like 40c less. I know Illamasqua prices internationally in accordance with exchange rates to make things more fair.

    When it comes down to it though, businesses work by charging as much as people will pay -and people are willing to pay these prices because for a lot of people, and for a long time there was no alternative. No internet shopping, and not everyone has the easy international access like you or I might do. I swear I could practically write a dissertation on this topic, it would really be interesting to investigate the economics behind the pricing.

    • Tina

      March 3, 2015 at 1:57 am

      Lena, you’re right to point out the living wage influence on prices. If you ever decide to do that dissertation, I’d read it.

  3. Great post! If the product is New Zealand made then I am happy to spend the extra money on it as generally Kiwi companies don’t have the scale/volume to produce cheaply (and are producing really high quality products).

    For everything else, I wait until I’m overseas. I’m counting down to my trip to the States next month so that I can top up!

  4. I bought a Coke in Paris. It was €8….so like $10. The funny part? I really wanted wine but was trying to budget. My friend’s wine was €5. Ugh!

  5. The prices of products here, even drugstore are ridiculous. I do like to buy from our local stores, particularly Mecca since they have made a conscious effort to lower their prices, but others I’m like nope *runs online*.

  6. I’m not in NZ any more, but I remember a small shop on Queen St. that sold Korean make up. It was the only place I bought make-up in 2 years! And I still use an awesome eyeliner/shadow pencil thingy I got there.

  7. I found this when I was googling around trying to decide my AEPS (Airline Employee Packing Strategy) for NZ travel – super helpful, thanks! In many places I simply stop at the local drugstore and pick up girl stuff once I arrive; good to know that this isn’t a good option in Auckland. (the stuff that doesn’t fit in carry on luggage!). Cheers!

  8. I am originally from India but live in Qatar. I can totally relate to what you’re saying. Makeup here is much more expensive that in NZ, you can imagine how they rip you off. I’ve promised myself not to buy any makeup from here. I always buy when I travel to India and yes, it’s like half price or even less compared to the US prices. I usually end up buying loads!

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