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I’ve had dark circles under my eyes for as long as I can remember — since childhood, in fact. Only twice have I seen my face without them: once at a Sephora makeup demo, when expertly applied YSL concealer erased them (my own face registered shock in the hand mirror), and during my senior year in college, when I slept nine hours a night after halting my social life entirely. The circles came back pretty fast when I found a boyfriend.

Occasionally, I’ll try a product that swears its different from all the others. The product promises some kind of new oxidation process, or a new collagen blend, or a new silk polymer cloned from queen bees, or whatever. And I fall for it. And it doesn’t work.

As I browsed on Amazon one day, an eye gel popped up — let’s call it EyeLite. The reviews promised (with many exclamation points) that EyeLite worked at reducing dark circles when nothing else did. The price seemed right — not cheap enough to be suspicious, and not expensive enough to exclude me as a buyer. Oh, fine, I thought, and added it to my cart. I used it for the next few weeks and studied my face carefully before deciding that it, too, didn’t work. Sigh.

In my review on Amazon, I said as nicely as possible that EyeLite didn’t improve my dark circles. I believe I called it “disappointing,” but I used neither caps lock nor obscenity. I forgot about this completely for a week or two, until I got an email from someone on the EyeLite team:

I just saw your 2-star review on Amazon for EyeLite and wanted to reach out to you personally. I’m so sorry to hear that you didn’t see more noticeable changes while using it. Since the product wasn’t a good fit for your skin, I’d like to issue a full refund for your purchase. There is no need to return the bottle.
I’d also be happy to recommend another product that might be a better match for your skin care needs. Can you reply and share with me what areas/skin care concerns you were looking to target? Is it just dark spots you mentioned in your review?
If that all sounds okay, please reply to let me know and I’ll send along your refund and some suggestions right away. :-)

I admired her patter, but I saw no need for a refund. I’ve spent untold dollars on attempts to get rid of my dark circles, and I consider that my own folly, not that of any one company. I have bigger problems with the beauty-industrial complex than a vain hope that my dark circles will vanish if I rub enough goop into them. So I wrote her back:

Thank you so much for this message — I’m extremely impressed. I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t need a refund. Buyer beware, right? I will edit my review to note that you reached out.

Nevertheless, she persisted:

You’re so welcome, Katharine! Thank you for taking your time to reply and for your very kind compliment! It really means so much to me! :-)
I don’t feel right about your paying for a product that you aren’t satisfied with. If I can’t issue a refund, I would like to send you a bottle of another one of our products. You might want to try pairing EyeLite along with our C-Cream, infused with Vitamin C. We are hearing great feedback from customers who use EyeLite to target puffiness and fine lines under the eyes. When used along with our C-Cream, many customers report an improvement in dark circles over time.

Why would I want a second product from a company whose initial product did not do what it promised? Also, creams containing Vitamin C make my face sting. Becky here has no way to know this, but marketing-speak is going to make me more hostile, not less. My politeness was running low, but was not completely gone:

Thank you again, but vitamin C doesn’t work for my skin, alas. Really, it doesn’t matter to me! If there’s something at stake with the workings of your job here, I’ll take a refund, but I’m genuinely fine with the situation as it stands.

Is that all? No, reader, that is not all:

You’re welcome, Katharine! I’m so sorry to hear that your experience with Vitamin C is that it simply doesn’t work for you. It sounds like you’ve tried other brands. Just so you know, we use a type of vitamin C called Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate (SAP) and many other companies use a different type of vitamin C called L-ascorbic acid. We opted for SAP as it is known for being as effective as L-ascorbic acid while also being much more gentle and stable. However, if you haven’t tried a vitamin C product that uses L-ascorbic acid, you may want to consider checking it out.
In your previous email you mentioned updating your review. I typically wouldn’t ask, however, since you offered I wanted to let you know that Amazon considers a 2-star rating to be a very negative shopping experience, and for a small company like ours a review like this has a huge impact. While I would never ask you to remove or change your review, if you’d like to upgrade your rating to reflect your experience with us as a company, I would be grateful.

A-ha.

I don’t blame Becky for this request. What I blame is the new normal for retail. Before the internet, this interaction would never have taken place. I would’ve had to spread the word among my friends that EyeLite didn’t work, or, if I was especially persnickety, I would’ve written a letter to the company and asked for my money back. And it would’ve been reasonable for the company to ignore me altogether. I am a single persnickety lady, in a vast sea of customers with whispering, meaningless voices.

Now, though, every consumer has a voice, and free access to outlets where they can scream and shout. In the best-case scenario, this leads to more corporate accountability, greater transparency, better products, greater safety. In reality, it leads to wheedling nonsense like the emails I fielded from Becky. I didn’t see any reason not to post my truth about EyeLite in an Amazon review, because I thought it might help women like me not waste $30 on goop that didn’t work as advertised. The unintended consequence of this transparency is that the company felt obligated to fix the problem.

That’s where we are in terms of business transparency — because I wrote an honest review, Becky was pinged to fix the problem. So, after no-thanksing her twice, I changed my review to three stars. I heard no more from her.

But not all disappointing transactions are solvable problems. Sometimes a product doesn’t work, and there’s no way to generate more business or goodwill from that unfortunate experience, no way to reverse or alter the effect of the product not working. Sometimes a bad review is deserved. I have no interest in driving EyeLite’s makers out of business, but I also have no interest in changing a review of a non-working product from negative to positive just because of Amazon’s policies or the friendliness of a customer service rep.

Yet that’s where we are in terms of business transparency — because I wrote an honest review, Becky was pinged to fix the problem. So, after no-thanks-ing her twice, I changed my review to three stars. I heard no more from her.

I still have some goop left in the EyeLite bottle. I keep using it, because I hate throwing out skincare products half-full. And because hope springs eternal. Maybe, if I use it for eight months instead of six, it actually will work to take my dark circles away.

… but probably not.