Retail Therapy

THE SUCCESS of the five-year- old mail-order company, Cosmetics To Go, can in part be attributed to the close relationship it has with its customers. Their comments - good and bad - appear next to the goods in the teenage comic-style catalogue that is its trademark.

The managing director of Cosmetics To Go is Mark Constantine, an ex-Body Shop supplier, who has brought much the same ethos to his new business. CTG sells own-label, non-animal-tested toiletries to the Body Shop end of the market. The company is entirely ethically correct, giving full lists of ingredients on every package.

It has established a strong, informal rapport with its customers; 400,000 copies of the new 11th edition are currently winging their way around the country. They include not just customer remarks, but also photographs that reflect the company's young age profile. Many comments were responses to 100,000 questionnaires sent out to gauge the success or failure of the goods. An impressive 10 per cent responded.

Mark Constantine explained that criticism would not necessarily mean an item was withdrawn. If it provoked a reaction the company would continue to sell it. 'One of our customers said a soap was 'deplorable', so we went for that.' Sure enough, Wavy Davy ( pounds 3.60), a surreal blue soap in the shape of a dolphin, appears in the latest catalogue with an apology to its detractor.

A similar relationship has developed around the best-selling chocolate bubble bath Saucery ( pounds 4.20, 200ml), which equal numbers of customers love and hate. This also applies to the Knights in White Chocolate solid massage bar, made of cocoa butter and white chocolate which melts on contact with the skin ( pounds 3.10, 35g).

Some original ideas work well, such as a low-activity shampoo for soft water ( pounds 3.50 for 250ml) and a similar product for hard-water areas. The Speciality Skin Protector stick of oils and waxes for extreme conditions has been tested by explorers at the North Pole ( pounds 4.20, 5g).

The Fridge range is an interesting concept of natural and fresh preparations that you literally keep in the fridge. They do not contain preservatives and so have limited shelf lives, typically three to six weeks.

Some products are instant hits, such as the best-selling Bath Bombs, fruit-shaped bath salts that fizz noisily and scent the room ( pounds 3.50).

Buying CTG cosmetics can be hit and miss. Less than inspiring is the Violet Nights range - indeed, Aunty Vi's Cream talc ( pounds 6.50, 200ml) described as 'the height of indulgence . . . light and fluffy' is a ghastly mixture, best described as crude.

For a Cosmetics To Go catalogue, telephone 0800 373 366. Postage and packaging are included in the price for delivery of goods in the UK. For telephone orders, delivery is generally within seven days.