Rant & Rave: Beauty Retailers

Tell us what you love and hate about...

Beauty Retailers

I love how much variety is available online, and since I don’t mind purchasing blind or online, I also like how a lot of products release online faster than in stores. A lot of retailers could stand to improve their reward/loyalty programs–there are a lot of choices to purchase from, so it makes me less loyal without something extra to keep me purchasing more from one place. I think the only retailer that does a really good job with their reward program is Ulta.

— Christine

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I love the variety offered and the ability to return products that don’t work out. I dislike when ingredients are not disclosed; Ulta is the best one in disclosing ingredients.

I greatly dislike Sephora’s reward program — I’m unable to snap up the higher-point offerings that seem to be online for only a few minutes, and many of the products offered in its lower-point rewards promos are ones that I can’t use. I really like Ulta’s reward program because I’m able to choose to cash in my reward points on whatever product I want.

Ulta indeed is better at including ingredients for products than Sephora does (I don’t understand why they do for some products and not for others) but they too often copy and paste wrong ingredient list. I’ve seen completely different products under same brand have same ingredient list and seen people think Ulta is buying their Korean brands from untrustworthy sources because they had the wrong ingredient list, until the Korean company confirmed they are directly supplying Ulta but they just put the wrong ingredients.

Yeah, that’s why I read the list on the box, without opening the box, then Cosdna the product. If it’s not up yet, I check suspicious ingredients. Happened today and will lead to a go back…in fact, I think all 3 will go back. S had no chem sunscreens listed on an EL foundation. Oops, their bad. But it can go back without the box being opened, so it can be sold. Read everything critically. Return responsibly. Hey, I’d do the same on K skincare…like Ulta’s better…but that goof surprises me. Ulta hasn’t gotten to ingredients on MAC yet, still, I think.

Ulta’s rewards program is definitely better than Sephora’s (I don’t shop any other beauty retailers). However, Sephora wins hands down in terms of online and in store customer service, shipping time and cost, and the stock they have online and in stores. I only really shop at Ulta when I have point bonuses or am planning on making a large enough purchase for free shipping and a significant amount of points, I never shop in store anymore.

The only retailers (minus brand websites) I buy from are Ulta and Sephora. Ulta has much superior reward system. I heard people saying Ulta rewards are crappy because you get $3 for every $100 spent, but those people aren’t realizing the plethora of point multipliers they give out. I collected 2500 points (which equals $142.50) with the last $700 I spent because I make all my big purchases when they do 3x, 5x, 10x events. Sephora system is just annoying because the samples you get are tiny and so many of the bigger rewards are “experience” when all I’m interested in are products. Also stop with water bottle/yoga mat sorta rewards! I only buy from Sephora when it’s products not sold at Ulta now.

You don’t want to get me started on a rant about retailers. Some have been so bad I doubt you have enough data to handle it all (nor are there enough hours in the day to write it all out). LOL
I agree with you completely on the reward programs!

I’m so conflicted about retailers. Sephora and Ulta are my top two. I like the Ulta rewards program better but their shipping and customer service is so terrible that for “prestige” brands, I use Sephora almost exclusively, and go to Ulta for drugstore brands. I’ve had VIB Rouge for a few years (I put in orders for my mom and step sisters a lot which helps me get there!) and I really appreciate the free shipping reward. If they switched to more of an Ulta-style rewards program otherwise, it’d be amazing. I also use Bed Bath and Beyond (in store) for drugstore so I don’t end up using Ulta all that much, despite the good rewards program.

The only downside to Ulta’s drugstore section is that some of the products can be a lot cheaper at Target or (the dreaded) Walmart, such as Revlon Super Lustrous lipstick, which is only $4.99 at those two store, but $8.49 at Ulta. Those are regular, everyday prices…pretty big difference.

I totally agree. That’s yet another reason I almost never shop at Ulta. There’s a Bed Bath and Beyond literally next door so I usually just buy there or at Target. I really only go to Ulta for one certain Ulta brand bath product I use or if I have a particularly exciting coupon.

Speaking of retailers being stingy and complicated with rewards, there was this today from Sephora. Their points are worth much anyway, and now I don’t care at all.

Hi Linda,

We want to let you know that we’ve updated our Beauty Insider Terms and Conditions.

If you don’t make a purchase, earn points, or redeem points, your Beauty Insider points will now expire after 18 months. As an active Beauty Insider member, these changes do not currently affect you. Don’t worry—should you become inactive in 2018 we will provide you with multiple reminders before your points expire if you are subscribed to our emails.

Coming from the other side, as in working at a beauty retailer, it really irks me how returns are handled. I get it that customers nowadays want to try out things at home rather than at the store but make-up isn’t like clothes where, after you tried it, it just goes back into retail. Waste really is a big issue as it is, we shouldn’t be adding to that just because of make-up. Just my 2cents.

Waste really is a huge issue! Several years ago I returned something to a MAC counter which I rarely do (I think this was my one and only time). Once I found out the returned products are tossed in a bin to be discarded I have thought many, many times before purchasing! I refuse to add to that kind of waste.

I also despise the waste. The brand I worked for either threw items in the trash or sent them back to the company to be disposed. Very rarely did an employee get to take home a returned product. So wasteful and disgusting.

One of my rants would be that they don’t carry the entire line of a given product (at Sephora, the MUFE eyeshadows – perhaps 1/3 of them aren’t available in-store and the same is true with Antastasia’s eyeshadows). I prefer shopping in person and I don’t like buying sight unseen because I often end up with so many products that are virtually identical if I can’t see and compare for myself (there are 2 other MUFE bronzey brown eyeshadows I’ve considered ordering but I fear they’re almost identical to Reptile as well as others I have). I agree that they could and should offer more in terms of loyalty rewards/GWPs (department stores do this and, in Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart has an awesome loyalty reward system but in my small city, even the better stores carry limited luxury brands – no Dior in easy reach of me, for example). My rave, of course, would be the wide range of brands in one location, the opportunity to try, have samples, etc. and the (sometimes) knowledgeable sales people.

Compare and contrast the shades on this site! But, iirc, Reptile is an A+. Why I should remember that, when I don’t want it baffles me. Spent too many hours on Christine’s mufe as swatch page, sorted by editor’s highest rating!

I do compare items on this site – why would you assume I don’t? Nevertheless, I still prefer seeing items for myself and so it’s irksome that retailers will have a limited selection from a brand’s line. It’s not like eyeshadows take up a whole lot of room….

Shannon, did you know that EVERY Thursday is Seniors’ Day? If you mom is even in her 50’s, chances are they’ll give her the discount – 20% off anything that’s not on sale (and, of course, that includes all their high end cosmetics, skin care and perfumes). If she uses her Optimum card (the points card, doesn’t have to be a credit card tied to Optimum points) she’ll get the 20% off. It’s funny to think that I (and others, I’m sure) get all excited about Sephora’s 20% off twice a year but at Shoppers, it’s every Thursday!

Although Ulta does, indeed, have many rewards to offer its customers, I find that there is quite a bit of “Fine print”, making it rather difficult, at times, for consumers to actually benefit from these perks.

I think I am missing something about Ulta and their rewards. I get the $3.50 coupons but then I can’t use them on “prestige” items which are the name brand makeup that I want. What else does Ulta have for rewards besides coupons you can only use on things you can get at the drug store? Am I missing something that makes it the best?

I think Ulta coupons are different than the points. Coupons can’t be used on many high end products, but money earned from points you’ve accumulated can be cashed in when you’re at the register. Sometimes I have to ask how many points I have when they ring up my sale and they’ll tell me I can take a few dollars off my purchase by redeeming them.

Make sure you are using the Ulta loyalty card. Then you build actual cash in your account to use on future purchases versus amassing points at Sephora to use on samples. Surprising how much cash you can accumulate, especially when buying the more expensive prestige makeup.

True. But see below/above for how the purchase pioints add up. I got a free mod ren and Aurora palette by saving Ulta points=dollars off. Muse has a post on it, but I’m not sure how to intragoogle it on her site. There are plenty of hair products…hair does not seem to be two tier…and bath products to use the 3.50 coupons on, Mo. and Ulta has become a far bigger player in ‘prestige’ than they used to be. If you have a fave UD or EL foundation, and order it from Ulta, the points = $ earned by that purchase are added to your account. You can use those dollars on abh, Nars, Lorac, anybody. Btw, Ulta has completely different Tarte products than Sephora. I’m a convert.

Ohhhh I didn’t know how that worked. Hmmm they are opening an Ulta here in MN at the Mall of America aka My Second Home so I’ll give the loyalty program a try. Thanks

I always order online and have for years – I feel very good about my purchases because I have your reviews to go by! It means so much. Thank you for all that you do for us Christine!

I agree. I think Ulta has by far the best loyalty program. I will go out of my way to buy from them over any other retailer because of it.

Sephora has the worst. I don’t even bother with them anymore.

No question that Ulta offers the most products in one place of any cosmetics retailer. But they have the WORST customer service, at least in my area, of any retail store with whom I do business. Their employees are disengaged, arrogant and unwelcoming. Love the products, hate the experience!

I agree with you on this. They constantly follow you around and are so rude. I try to avoid going to that store (only shop online when buying from Ulta)

I have the opposite (equally unpleasant) problem at my Ulta. The staff is either nowhere to be found or very cold when I dare ask for help like I’m inconveniencing them (they usually just hang out by the salon section and chat). I’ve actually had staff roll their eyes and audibly groan at me on multiple occasions.

I get it, retail jobs are HARD. I had one for five years, but if I ever socialized on the clock, rolled my eyes, or condescended to a customer, I’d get fired. It’s the same thing at MAC too. I have no idea what someone would have to do to get fired there.

I must be some sort of anomaly. I don’t have problems with Ulta shipping or customer service at all. Most of my packages arrive in 3 days. I agree about the rewards program being superior; I only go to Sephora for things I can’t get in Ulta. just recently redeemed points for $125 off. Got Naked Heat for free!!

I suppose I’m very lucky with the MUAs at my Ulta(Happy Valley location in Phoenix). All are very friendly and always helpful, never pushy to make a sale.

What I love about retailers like Sephora and Ulta is having so many great brands in one place. I also like that Ulta sells drugstore brands as well as high-end brands. It’s a great store to browse. I go to Sephora mostly for KvD. Love the return policies for both. I return products very rarely, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Both Sephora and Ulta need better trained employees, though. They’re generally a lot nicer at Ulta, but I don’t like the way certain Ulta salespeople seem to be assigned to sell specific brands. I recently had a saleswoman tell me how much she hates ABH Brow Wiz, which I love, and talked me into buying a different brand (which I wound up exchanging the next day for Brow Wiz). And they definitely need to bring in more people at the registers when the lines get long.

At Sephora, they almost seem to be trained to ignore some people and fawn over others. I haven’t figured out what it is about me they don’t like. My makeup is always done nicely and I don’t dress sloppy. Maybe they aren’t interested in helping the over 40s? In any case, I’ve gone to Sephora with my mind set to purchase something, but was not able to get the help I needed, and walked out empty-handed. For example, one time I told the saleswoman that I needed help finding a good eyeliner and she literally pointed to a brand on the other side of the store and that was it. I walked out.

I have same experience with Ulta and Sephora! Sephora people tend to be more knowledgeable and helpful IF they help me, a lot of times I just get ignored. Ulta people tend to be friendlier, but they’re just not knowledgeable about products and, like you said, assigned to certain products. I had a Benefit person tell me I should buy Benefit’s spot treatment over Clinique because while Clinique has other ingredients, Benefit has only salicylic acid, which is, plain wrong and she was looking at the “active ingredients” ?. Ever since then, I don’t ask for recommendations from Ulta employees.

I mainly only shop at sephora because they have a vast variety of brands in one convenient place. I live in Canada so Ulta is a bit out of reach for me, although I’d love to shop there since I hear they have great rewards programs. I really dislike the rewards system at Sephora since they release such small amounts of it that it’s sold out by the same afternoon. Also their sample system are about 90% perfumes Which really doesn’t interest me much.

My one gripe is the online shopping. There are definitely pros about shopping online, but I wish retailers would have better quality photos of the products and more accurate colors of the actual swab of the product rather than a digital colored circle if they makes sense. Also better descriptions of finishes of let’s say a lipstick across the board. I really hope Canadian retailers like The Bay and Holt Renfrew would up their online shopping experience game.

Completely agree about the Ulta reward program! I try to shop in store or online at Ulta because of this! I also agree with you about new releases, it’s so much easier to get the new releases online! And even with shipping, they still come quicker than when they get released in store!

As many have stated, I prefer the Ulta rewards program over Sephora however, it really irks me that Ulta will not give you the gift with purchase or the $3.50 off coupon if you don’t mention it to them. When you do mention it they are often out of the GWP. The other day I was at Ulta and was trying to bring up the $3.50 coupon on my phone which was taking some time and another employee came over and she told the young lady behind the camera to just put it in and the first employee said that they can’t do that anymore. They don’t let them have the ads behind the counter to just ring up the coupon. I frequently have over 5,000 or more points at Sephora but rarely see anything that I would like to try.
On another note, I have been forced to order on-line more and more given that I live so far away from most retailers. I am finding that I am really enjoying the experience and have ordered from Italy, Australia, Korea and Japan. I have been lucky in that I have not been disappointed in anything that I have purchased. Reviews here have helped so much so thank you Christine.

Speaking of rewards programs: Sephora has recently changed the terms and conditions with their Beauty Insider program.

“If you don’t make a purchase, earn points, or redeem points, your Beauty Insider points will now expire after 18 months. As an active Beauty Insider member, these changes do not currently affect you. Don’t worry—should you become inactive in 2018 we will provide you with multiple reminders before your points expire if you are subscribed to our emails.”

I find it next to impossible to find interesting items with the big S rewards program to actually use my points. I’m sitting on about 20K points chipping away at it and then building back up. It’s tough to find quality reward offers. The attractive rewards or large point rewards are snapped up within seconds and the annual points promotion has the same non-accessibility issue. With this statement, I take issue with the program. Some value should be placed on the points to be applied to purchases. These ‘deluxe’ samples are a joke, toss aways at a Department Store.

The complaints here remind me why I do nearly all of my shopping at SpaceNK and Nordstrom. You get straight cash value for what you spend, the times points days, and plenty of sample/gwp options. I still buy some things at Sephora because of accessibility and exclusivity deals, but my pricey skincare and cosmetics purchases come from those two retailers these days.

This is the email I got from Sephora today. We definitely need an Ulta here in Canada!!

We want to let you know that we’ve updated our Beauty Insider Terms and Conditions.
If you don’t make a purchase, earn points, or redeem points, your Beauty Insider points will now expire after 18 months. As an active Beauty Insider member, these changes do not currently affect you. Don’t worry—should you become inactive in 2018 we will provide you with multiple reminders before your points expire if you are subscribed to our emails.

Only once have I exchanged 100 points for something that I really wanted. All the rest is available online or teeny weeny samples of stuff I don’t want…

Nordstrom has the best rewards program IF you have a Nordstrom Visa card. I’ve been a Nordie’s customer for 30 yrs. Their in store service and online service is excellent. The best return policy too. You get cash back rewards you can spend on anything (and those rewards do not expire.) I was a Nordie’s employee during my university years & they treat their employees well.

Sephora’s rewards program has devolved into practically nothing. Sephora here in India is horrid- outdated damaged products on shelves, crappy service, very few premium brands.

Inglot is always out of everything I want so I’ve given up shopping there.

I think I’ve been to an Ulta once like 15 yrs ago- guess I’ll have to stop by the next time I’m in the States!

Rave: when there is a store to go to, then you can test/try out the products for yourself.
Quite often these stores have sales on either selected or the majority of their cosmetic and skincare ranges, which is great for your budget and you can stock up on essential items.
The MUA, can either be very helpful or ignore you completely. But if they are helpful, you can discover the product that suits you rather than the one you thought you needed.
Some of the budget beauty shops like Priceline here have upped the ante on rewards, which is great news. It’s amazing what a little competition will do.
Online beauty retailers are often cheaper that the store alternative and a lot of new products are added to their list quite quickly. Even so, here in Aus we just getting some of the US brands, but lots of their older stock.

Rant: Certainly, before online beauty retailing, Aussie women were getting totally ripped off re prices and the big HE brands hardly ever had a sale. We still don’t get your Sephora sales here. However things are slowly starting to change.
Also,more care needs to be taken when shipping fragile makeup, perfume etc items too.

” A lot of retailers could stand to improve their reward/loyalty programs–there are a lot of choices to purchase from, so it makes me less loyal without something extra to keep me purchasing more from one place. ”

My thoughts exactly!!! Even though I like Sephora a lot, Ulta’s rewards program is more versatile, and Nordstrom’s samples are top notch. Get competitive!

Rave: When you find a great MUA at a retailer, they’re worth their weight in gold! A few times a year the Boston Store has Goodwill Sale where cosmetics are 20% off and at other times, 10% off. My contacts at the Chanel and Bobbi Brown counters never steer me wrong and they’ll tell me what isn’t good, is a duplicate, may not be the best shade. My local Sephora has really good MUAs. Also appreciate that Macy’s is finally offering discounts on cosmetics and that their Plenti points can be used on cosmetics. Another rave for those stores that take back merchandise that is problematic without any hassle. Finally, to online and physical retailers that get it right: I’m thinking Beautylish and, in Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Nordstrom’s in both countries.

Rant: Brands that require postage paid to return or exchange an item. Boo! I wish CCOs would cultivate customer relationships vs. having to call to see if an extra discount is being offered or if a certain product is in stock. Slow shipping is another pet peeve. Finally, all the sampling at Sephora makes some products untouchable. I wish they found a way to have accessible sampling without it being a store where you wouldn’t want to try anything on.

Sephora just changed their beauty insider rules:
“We want to let you know that we’ve updated our Beauty Insider Terms and Conditions.

If you don’t make a purchase, earn points, or redeem points, your Beauty Insider points will now expire after 18 months. As an active Beauty Insider member, these changes do not currently affect you. Don’t worry—should you become inactive in 2018 we will provide you with multiple reminders before your points expire if you are subscribed to our emails.”
I replied to them that if they want people to use their points, they better start offering better items to use points on for the people that don’t have 20000 points and to up the sizes of their point perk items as most are the size of your pinky finger. For example a 500 point perk (you’ve spent $500 to acquire) you get 3 tubes of product that are 1/4 of an ounce each and one tube of .85 ounce-really I spent $500 and I get these minuscule tubes of products, not worth it.
I think their higher perks 5000, 20000-50000 are claimed by employees not customers-how does a person collect $50,000 worth of points? Something stinks over at Sephora.
Also their specials with codes-now they only let you use it once, if you make another purchase and choose the same code-it says “sorry you already redeemed this offer”
Basically I am getting fed up with their rules.
I am beginning to purchase my items directly from the brands that offer free shipping-Urban decay, Smashbox, etc. or I purchase at Nordstrom or Macys. I don’t shop at Ulta.

I do almost all my beauty shopping at Ulta, with a detour to Macy’s every so often. I only go to Sephora if I want something Ulta doesn’t carry. Ulta’s rewards program is great for me, because I’m able to use my points AS DOLLARS for anything in the store. I’m sorry, but I don’t want a bunch of old, crappy samples of products I would be unlikely to ever purchase. I like choosing my rewards for myself! And I’m not sure about other Ultas – I have 2 in my immediate area, and I always get more customer service than I want, if you know what I mean. And ordering on line – let me tell you about my last experience with Ulta. I placed a fairly good-sized order – about 300 dollars’ worth – with my most recent 20% off coupon. When the package came, I was totally shocked. The box was mangled – ripped open on top and poorly retaped – and the ulta label had been cut off the original box, cardboard and all, and was taped to the box. And – all but one item was gone. Weird!! I immediately called customer service and told them what happened. By that evening I had gotten an email stating that my entire order was being replaced, and I would receive an email when the package shipped – which I got the next day. I received my order 4 days later, and was more than satisfied. I will always shop at Ulta. From remarks I’ve read here, I may have to check out Nordstrom’s as well.

I think Ulta has a better loyalty program, but they have other problems that overshadow it in my opinion. I love the 21 days of beauty and try to purchase then, but this past year I was unable to purchase anything online from them. I called and was told my address wasn’t exactly the same (with punctuation and capitalization) as my credit card information. It was bs, I had both saved from previous orders. The same thing happened to my mom’s account as well. I contacted them on Facebook as the call center was closed and I got so much run-around. I still can’t order online because I was told that I don’t live in the US, which I do, I have an Ulta 10 minutes from my house. It is just so frustrating and I’ve seen many others have the same problem. They were told to just shop in-store, but many of their deals are online only. So, even though they have a great rewards program I tend to shop at Sephora because it is so much easier and has free shipping!

I don’t know much about rewards programs from individual brands, so I can’t say where they stack up.

Ulta far surpasses Sephora. Sorry in advance for the length of this! I was loyal to Sephora but after being rouge for two years I didn’t feel it was worth it. I don’t mean for that to come off rude, I just mean it in a business sense that you should make people want to be rouge and create an incentive for people. Which Sephora does not ! In Sephora You receive 1 20% off coupon a year, and 15% In The spring, yes that’s nice but everyone gets 15%, I’m not mad lol everyone who spends money there deserves that discount! TBut when your spending more than a thousand a year you should be given a little more percentage, something! then they send out a $20.00 of a $50.00 purchase. That’s cool but I spend enough why do I have to spend $30 to receive a discount? Ulta has won my heart! They send out a 20% off coupon at least once every few months that you can use on drugstore and high end, last week they offered 20 percent off plus 3x the points! . Not only on makeup but everything in the store! In the in between months they send a 20% off on drugstore. Ulta also offers the credit card, yes not an ideal credit card. However if you know you will buy makeup/hair care/skin care it can be worth it. I buy my products on the card during the month and pay it off each month. When you use the card you earn more points. Ulta offers 2,3,4,5 and 10x points very frequently! Not to mention you can track your spending. You accrue points like crazy!!! Platinum members only hve to spend $500 unlike Sephoras $1000. I just shopped on their 10x point day. I purchased 200 dollars worth of goods, and received $125. 00 off my next purchase! Thats amazing! The return policy is good, I have never had an issue. Yes, it’s not as fancy as Sephora and you may not get all warm and fuzzy when your in the store but it’s practical at ulta and they actual reward you for shopping. They have free gifts ALL the time, they send out free sample bags and all kinds of goodies! They also do 21 days of beauty twice a year! It’s like Christmas in September. Too faced blushes for $10 last year and free shipping all month on anything! Yes shipping can be slower customer service isn’t the best. Sephora is feeling the heat, they just offered 4x the points on everything same time ulta was offering their coupon. They should improve it for their loyal customers. People want to shop there! Yes we are not “owed” anything but in 2017 there are a million options, and places to shop that will reward loyalty. If they want to keep up and remain at the top they should get rid of the free makeover with a purchase and the rewards Bazaar that’s filled with all sold out items all the time! They release rewards Tuesday and Thursday between 9-5pm, who has time to keep refreshing for a reward all day? It’s insulting to assume people have that kind of time. They already shopped at your store , now they have to stalk your rewards for 16 hours a week lol it’s a joke! Sephora please offer people more sales/coupons/deluxe samples/ and money off purchases. Sorry this was so long!

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