Do you prefer beauty counters inside department stores (like Macy's, Nordstrom) or large beauty retailers (like Sephora, Ulta)?

Do you prefer beauty counters inside department stores (like Macy’s, Nordstrom) or large beauty retailers (like Sephora, Ulta)? Why?

It’s easier for me to process counters than it is Sephora, but you are more easily left alone (if you’re just browsing) at a larger retailer. I also like that at counters a lot of the product is hard for customers to access, so things tend to stay untouched as they should be. If I want too buy something specific, beauty counters, and if I’m just browsing, spaces like Sephora are nice.

Do you have a question idea? Submit yours here.


Comments that do not adhere to our comment policy may be removed. Discussion and debate are highly encouraged but we expect community members to participate respectfully. Please keep discussion on-topic, and if you have general feedback, a product review request, an off-topic question, or need technical support, please contact us!

Please help us streamline the comments' section and be more efficient: double-check the post above for more basic information like pricing, availability, and so on to make sure your question wasn't answered already. Comments alerting us to typos or small errors in the post are appreciated (!) but will typically be removed after errors are fixed (unless a response is needed).

We appreciate enthusiasm for new releases but ask readers to please hold questions regarding if/when a review will be posted as we can't commit to or guarantee product reviews. We don't want to set expectations and then disappoint readers as even products that are swatched don't always end up being reviewed due to time constraints and changes in priorities! Thank you for understanding!

Comments on this post are closed.
Kristine Avatar

Definitely counters, especially Nordstrom ones. I feel like the sales associates at counters know their products a lot better and are more help when you are looking for something specific. I like Sephora too, but I feel like their associates focus on one or two brands too much (ex. MUFE and Bare MInerals!!) and don’t know anything about their other brands.

Terri Avatar

Generally I like self service because first of all you don’t have a push SA trying to sell you stuff you don’t need (probably goes back to my late teens when I was shy and clueless and felt badly that I couldn’t afford to buy everything they were telling me I “had” to have. I like having everything out displayed so I can take my time and help myself to swatching, although those testers at Sephora are getting grosser by the day….shudder!!!

I also like self service shoe shopping as well. Clearly I don’t like having to track down SA’s and waiting for my products. I must have been a princess in a former life! 🙂

stacey Avatar

This a is no-brainer for me. I started wearing and buying makeup way before Sephora and Ulta existed. And I will continue to buy from Macys, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks and any major dept. store. Why? When the Mac Marilyn collection returned to Macy’s, the customer service was awesome. The online person on the phone, the Macys MAC person both helped me get hard to get products. I got my online order on time. Sephora, YOU, never again. It takes foreverrrrrr for Sephora to send me my online order. Sephora SA are snarky and looks at me like I was going to steal. Even Ulta is better…just there was a Ulta closer by. I even order from Selfridges in London and I live in the USA….that service was spectacular. Sephora, you can take all of your Disney products and whatever you sell someone else…left a bad taste in my mouth.

Marina Avatar

Sephora hands down, maybe because my Sephora is extremely well stocked, I’ve never had any trouble finding anything specific. The only problem for me is that it doesn’t sell Armani products, so I have to go to either Nordstrom or Neiman, well Nordstrom, as I learned from experience that the MUAs at my Neiman are pushy and not very polite.

But, in general, unless I want to swatch the product or pay cash, I shop at Amazon or the online version of Sephora.

Amanda R Avatar

I definitely prefer large beauty retailers because I almost always prefer to be left alone while shopping. Perusing through beauty products is entertaining if I can do it leisurely, but at counters I always feel pressure to get what I need (or consult with the sales associate) and get out.

Erin Avatar

Depends on the makeup brand. I guess nordstrom, best customer servise, even if they mess up were your package is being sent(and someone steals it), they fix it.
For convenience Macy’s. Haven’t bought makeup in the highend stores yet, i’ve read you don’t get ignored for looking young(*cough*Mac**cough).

Liz Avatar

In general I prefer counters in department stores. They usually carry more products of certain brands . I have found that Sephora’s in store selection of Bobbi Brown is dismal. If I’m in the mood to browse and not exactly sure what I’m looking for, I will go to Sephora.

Mariella Avatar

I don’t really have a preference. Once I decide I want something, I just want to be able to get it so it’s a matter of who has it and who has it in stock. What I like about Sephora and also the makeup section at Shoppers Drug Mart (large Canadian chain that has a high end makeup section in most of their stores) is that the sales assistants aren’t flogging just their own brand so if you’re looking for a concealer, for example, and the one you’ve been eyeing isn’t really working, they’ll show you products from other brands that might be more what you’re looking for or that they know, from experience with working with all their lines, is a really good product. With regard to Sephora, I also really love the chance to take home a sample….even most department stores don’t offer this, unless they have to have a prepackaged sample from the company (and I often think that many of these don’t make it to the potential customer!). With Shopper’s Drug Mart, I like the opportunity to accumulate points and also “purchase” products using my points (I got a Guerlain eye shadow quad for “free” this way).

ChristineV Avatar

Nordstroms is my fav. Sephora is too icky to actually try on makeup. The lighting, the garishness of the interior is really distracting. I wish they would redecorate to something toned down and welcoming.

zainab Avatar

I prefer shops like Sephora (although there is nothing quite like that where I live). I find at counters the sales assistants tend to talk me into buying stuff, or offer me other products than whatever I went in there for. And I just like browsing. I feel like I’m wasting someone’s time if I linger at a counter.

zainab Avatar

I prefer shops like Sephora (although there is nothing quite like that where I live). I find at counters the sales assistants tend to talk me into buying stuff, or offer me other products than whatever I went in there for. And I just like browsing. I feel like I’m wasting someone’s time if I linger at a counter.

Danielle Avatar

I definitely prefer Sephora or Ulta. I find that the makeup counters really stand over you and can be a bit more pushy. But I will go to a counter if I am looking for something specific.

patsyann Avatar

I am really on the “cusp” here as I come from the old days when you had to go to the department store counters because that was all we had except for the drugstore. I still do go…especially to Nordstroms…when I know what I want and I know they have it. But the convenience of the Sephora concept tempts me everytime. I love to browse and look at all the new products they have. I have found enormous differences amongst the individual stores, though. I, too, wish they would tone it down and do something about the harsh lighting and the music (too loud and distracting). I just have not warmed up to the Ultas. The one in my city is poorly stocked with empty shelves and tired looking testers. Also, they never know when or if they are getting anything back in stock. I just don’t bother with them anymore. Online works pretty well with Saks, Nordstroms and Sephora if you don’t mind the long wait for the packages.

Emily Avatar

I actually prefer larger retailers. Though I love makeup, and rarely go a day without wearing anything, I do kinda have the grungy, rocker chick thing going on. I find when I go to most makeup counters, I tend to get treated like crap, with the exception being the MAC counter. If I need something that I can only get at a makeup counter, I specifically plan to go and dress nicer than I normally would, just to be able to get decent service. The whole thing has really put a bad taste in my mouth for both consultants and makeup counters in general, so I tend to avoid them, either by shopping in large retail stores or online. Normally I prefer to give my business to brick and mortar retail locations, but if you’re going to treat paying customers like crap because of how they dress, you’re sure as heck not getting any business or commission from me, and I have no problem buying online instead.

Jenna Avatar

I prefer Sephora, where I am able to shop and test products at my leisure. I always get good customer service from their sales associates. I rarely shop at department store counters. I find that the sales people are more about meeting their sales goal than actually helping customers.

KaseyCannuck Avatar

I prefer browsing so stores like Sephora or even drugstores are my preference. The SA’s let me know they’re there if I need anything then leave me alone to wander at my leisure. My past experience at counters is that even after I say I’m just browsing, the SA is still lingering there, sometimes giving me the sales pitch on whatever it is I’m looking at. If I wanted to know more, I’d ask. I’ve walked out of stores, not just beauty stores, because of pushy or aggressive SA’s that hover around me like I’m a shoplifter or something.

Sarah Avatar

If I need help I like the beauty counters, for example when I wanted to be matched to a good foundation or contour powder. But normally I like to be left alone, and I prefer going to drugstores than Sephora because it is less crowded, also things are cheaper.

Lisa J Avatar

I prefer the self serve experience. I like to be able to browse and swatch to my heart’s content rather than have an SA who has commission on the mind following me around and watching my every move (not sure if Sephora employees work on commission, but they don’t hound you like the counters, in my experience.) Don’t mean to insult SAs (I used to work in retail, too…it’s not easy), but I prefer to take my time and play a bit. And I can walk away without making a purchase and not feel a slight twinge of guilt about it.

I’ve had some not so pleasant experiences with SAs in the past who thought they knew more about my skin or beauty likes then I did and it has put me off from the whole thing. I have in recent years however learned to appreciate the help I receive at Nordstrom beauty counters, though. Regardless of the brand, the SAs there tend to be more approachable and knowledgeable about the products and seem to enjoy showing you around. I don’t get the sense that they’re thinking “hurry up lady, just buy something already!”. If I want to just swatch away, they let me and sometimes even join in…LOL!

Still, being able to go into a Sephora or Ulta and explore on my own is a joy for me and my favorite way to purchase beauty products.

Montréalaise Avatar

It depends. If I know in advance exactly what I want, I’ll go to a department store counter because they do have a complete selection of a brand’s products. However, if I’m only browsing – say, I want to see what’s new, or I’m not sure what product is best for me, I’ll go to Sephora where I can take my time testing products without a pushy SA breathing down my neck. I hate the feeling of having someone hover over me, since I like to take my time before making a decision. A pet peeve of mine is when I am looking at, say the new spring collection, and the SA informs me that “This is our new spring collection!” Thank you, I know how to read (sorry for the snark).

Alice Avatar

I buy most of my makeup at either Sephora or Nordstrom (in store and online), sometimes Macys. I love that both Sephora and Nordstrom have great return policies, unlike Macys, where I was treated rudely because I was returning a Chanel mascara that made my eyes water. I do find that Sephora SAs are more approachable, and they also know many of the brands and can recommend products from different lines. In dept. stores, the SAs are very loyal to their brand, so it’s more difficult to get an unbiased opinion. I’m also a bit ‘unusual’ looking, in terms of style, and find that I’m often treated with a certain dismissiveness or ignored altogether in dept. stores, which is unfortunate as I am a 37 year old woman with a willingness to spend my money on their products. I have never had that experience at Sephora, in fact I’ve always found the staff very warm and helpful.

VickyM Avatar

We don´t have any of the stores listed, but basically all the HE makeup is inside of large shopping malls, and divided in o counters. I personally like that since it means I can do other things at the mall after shopping something related to beauty, I think it´s better than being on a retailer that has only makeup and nothing else.

Denise B. Avatar

I definitely prefer the large beauty retailers. First of all, I usually know exactly what I want before I even go in. I don’t need or want help. I like the rewards points programs at ULTA and Sephora. And when I’m just in a browsing mood, I like having so many brands all in one place.

Jackie Avatar

Sephora, no question. Most of my beauty purchases are pre-planned… I know exactly which products and colors I want, so I don’t want or need a “helpful” (high-pressure) salesperson.

mizlottie Avatar

Nordstroms, you get great help there and the sales associates are actually trained by the brands they represent. Sephora is so badly lit and the pounding techno music grates on my nerves after a while. I also don’t think their sales associates know the product all that well, they’re usually kind of young and dingie. I’m middle aged and need better help than they provide.

Patsy Desautel Avatar

Well, locally I have to go to all of them depending on what brand I’m trying to buy (ie . Macy’s for MAC, Ulta for NYX, etc.). However, I do feel Sephora has the best service and I love that they let me play with everything. I can do my full face of makeup there, don’t worry I sanitize, LOL!!! Ulta is disorganized and they ‘hover’! Macy’s is kind of rude, like they think I’m not going to buy enough for them.

KT Avatar

I will NEVER buy anything from Sephora again. I recently had a horrid experience at a store, where they totally screwed up, and I ended up paying for it. Long story short, they should have returned my money, but insisted they would only give me a gift card. They didn’t have what I ended up needing, so I needed my money returned so I could buy it elsewhere. A store associate had screwed up previously, so they wouldn’t refund my cash. I was so angry I called customer service. The man listened to my story, apologized profusely, promised me they would get my cash to me ASAP, and that a regional director would contact me soon to discuss options. That was over 3 weeks ago, and I neve heard anything. I canceled my emails from Sephora, cut up my VIB card, and gave the worthless gift card away. I will never, ever give them a penny more of my money, nor will any of my friends or family after I told themmy story.
I couldn’t care less either, as everything I have wanted since then I have found either at dept. stores or for much cheaper on eBay. Too bad for Sephora, bc I spend a TON on makeup and beauty lol!

Lauren Avatar

I work for a department store in the cosmetics department so I am TERRIBLY partial to department stores for our service. We are highly trained on our products and depending on the sales associate, you can usually find some REALLY great makeup artists at counters. However, because I am so knowledgeable I tend to go to Sephora or Ulta so I don’t have to be bothered by anyone. I hate having to go into the whole “I’m a makeup artist and I work for ____ brand” so people at counters don’t try to waste their time on me — I know what I want and don’t need help.

We try to approve comments within 24 hours (and reply to them within 72 hours) but can sometimes get behind and appreciate your patience! 🙂 If you have general feedback, product review requests, off-topic questions, or need technical support, please contact us directly. Thank you for your patience!