Now that I live in Spain again, I search endlessly on the internet for shopping services and online stores that will somewhat fulfil the beauty 24/7 hole that Korea left in my heart. And my wallet. In some ways it’s probably good that I’m back, because when you have an Olive Young on every corner, it’s hard to resist. At least we have Sephora here, but at €6.50 for a Tony Moly mask, you can see why I’m not keen to buy there.
So I’ve now found a few shops that meet my needs, and I know I have a buying service like Korean Buddy available if there’s anything I desperately MUST have. Still, I find myself trawling various sites, looking to see if there is anything new, and drooling over the prices – big websites based in Korea seem to have the best prices. And now I’ve found out how to avoid ridiculous customs prices (see my blog post about it), the world is really my oyster.
So when, through a blogging friend, I was referred to Althea, who were looking for bloggers, I knew exactly who they were. I wasn’t quite sure why they were looking for bloggers, but I went ahead and asked. So here we are with the reason – Althea were looking for an unboxing story. Which means I’ll be describing the order from start to finish. Naturally, as the experience was a little set up, it may not be 100% authentic, and budgets etc may not be the same as yours, if you are looking to order through their site. Nonetheless, I can give you my honest experience of the website, the selection, and how I feel about the process.
Some important things to know about Althea if you are considering ordering from them:
- they ship worldwide now, with very few exceptions. It was founded to ‘bring beauty to SE Asians’, but they are expanding.
- worldwide shipping is free over $50
- prices are very similar to the actual retail prices in Korea, if not lower some of the time
- you can return products, but it’s within 30 days, so obviously if ordering from abroad you must be aware of the time scale for shipping back to Korea
- you can create an account which allows you to accumulate points, thus getting advantages over time, rather like Jolse, or with a Sephora card
- they have just started doing boxes, so if you’re reminiscing of Memebox in the old days, this might be a new alternative
- when you sign up, you are given a $10 discount, and a $10 rebate. However, this is only valid for 30 days, and there is a minimum order amount.
- you can get referral codes, but not if you live outside of SE Asia. That means the US, Europe, South America, Africa, Australasia and a fair amount of Asia are not included. They’re apparently working on this. At least you can rest in the knowledge I’m not getting anything out of any referral links here, if that’s something that bothers 😉
When you access the site, you can choose your country or zone. You’ll be prompted to make an account. You don’t have to, of course, to browse, so check the store has what you want before making, perhaps.
The reason I say this is because if you are signed up, you’ll receive emails and news from them, unless you opt out. I don’t mind this, because I like deals, and they have some useful information in the emails, like when they have sales, or events that they sometimes run on the page.
Althea doesn’t just have products to sell – there is a blog attached, with Kbeauty information, and information about their website (how to make an order, how to track products, etc). It means there is a lot of support for people new to ordering online, and most FAQs are answered on the site. If I’m ordering from abroad, I appreciate this, as sometimes with time zone differences you can wait a long time for replies.
Browsing the Website
So, let’s get on to my order. I have to say that one of the first problems I encountered was when browsing the website. It looks nice and it’s easy to navigate, but it’s really, really slow sometimes. For example, now when I’m writing this blog post, I’m on the site, and it’s working quite well. But when I was browsing while placing my order, it was very slow on several occasions.
Another thing is that while it’s easy to navigate, I think it could be improved in some small ways. If you want to use the toolbar, and go onto ‘brands’, for example, you then have to scroll quite a bit to find your brand, and sometimes when you click, they don’t have any products left in there. This doesn’t happen often but it means you are slightly disappointed when discovering a brand listed doesn’t have any actual products on the site. They may need restocking, or come in the future, but it’s still nicer to see actual products when shopping. One way to avoid this problem is simply to click ‘brands’ and browse that way. It opens a page listing all products, and brands, and how many products each brand has – so you can see if it’s ‘0’. Then, however, when you click a brand, you have to go back – you can’t navigate using that side bar again. So it could be better laid out.
Other than those two problems, I didn’t have many complaints while placing the order. There was a lot to choose from, and a lot of products were at very reasonable prices. So much so that I changed my cart about ten times. They have lists of product types, sales, and things that are ‘trendy’ in Korea. So you can choose how you want to browse.
Some brands I was happy to find (especially as in Europe they’re either expensive or non-existent) were Sulwhasoo at good prices – for example, the Clarifying Mask is $37, very similar to Korea – and other higher priced brands such as Hera and Iope. Then after that, there’s a good selection of products and a price range for everyone’s budget. I was happy to see Belif, Swanicoco, Thank You Farmer, and Laneige there, as these brands are some of my favourites. They have the usual go-to Kbeauty brands there, like Etude House, Tony Moly, and The Saem, but they also have lots of new things to discover.
When ordering, I decided to mix and match a bit. Choose some brands I knew I liked, and choose something new too. The products I ordered were:
- Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water EX 125ml (priced $55)
- Koelf Ruby Bulgarian Rose Hydrogel Eye Patches ($9.75)
- PACKage Korea I Love Myself Masks 10pc ($18)
- Piolang Gold 24K ($17)
Delivery was simple, too. If you spend over $50 you get free shipping, but you can also choose to get faster shipping if you want to have your products quickly. You’ll have to pay for this though. I placed my order over holidays in Korea, but it still got to me relatively fast and was dispatched a day or so after I made the order (I ordered it on a national holiday).
It got to Spain quickly, but of course was held at customs. With my speedy new method for getting things out of customs quickly, this only slowed things up for about a week. On a $100 package I paid €22 in customs fees – shipping is included too, so that’s not too bad.
The package came wrapped in a special Althea bag, with all the details and order written here. Important to note that if you ARE EU and are worried about customs, the value will be declared exactly as you bought. They cannot change the value as it’s simply your order printed on the side. So no taking down to try and get round customs here.
When you open this, you’re met with a pretty pink box. Mine had a little dent in the top, but largely was fine and really it’s to protect what’s inside, so never mind.
Inside the box, everything is wrapped individually in bubble wrap. That means your products are protected on their journey, and I experienced no leakages or breaks.
The samples were also really nice – three masks, and a set of Too Cool For School sample packets. I have been told that on some orders Althea don’t put many samples in though, so either they were unlucky or I was given extra. I think samples should be uniform across the board, so whatever happened here, I hope that the samples I got were a representation of what a real order would be like.
All in all, a pleasant experience. I can’t comment on returns or problems, because I didn’t have any. It was a simple, smooth process overall.
- large selection of products
- prices very similar to products on the market in Korea
- navigation is relatively simple
- Althea offers more than a simple buying experience, they have beauty information
- you can accumulate points
- regular sales and discounts
- beauty boxes now available
- could be expensive for European shoppers if you don’t know your customs laws
- the website is quite slow sometimes
- you’ll receive email updates if you are the type that doesn’t want them
- the site is easy to navigate but has some flaws
- it appears they do not always provide free samples, which I believe they should if they were included in a box like this which is an ‘example’ of an order
If you’re interested in the products I chose, I’ll be reviewing them all in separate reviews, for everybody’s mental stability and the sake of not leaving an umpteen million word review. I’ll leave the links of reviewed products below. Not all are currently reviewed or ready for review – I like to use toners for about a month before reviewing, and sheet masks a few times, but I wanted to leave some reviews for your viewing pleasure!