What's your favorite retailer to shop for beauty products in person?

What’s your favorite retailer to shop for beauty products in person? Why do you prefer one over another? Share!

Nordstrom, because there’s enough variety that I don’t get overwhelmed, and since I have a credit card with them, I get the rewards.

Thanks to reader Toni for today’s question idea 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.
Melinda Avatar

I buy most of my beauty products in person, because I hate exchanging stuff. I would say Sephora is my fave (the girls there know me by name..and a lot about me..lol), but also Nordstrom to get MAC.

Gaiya Avatar

Sephora. I like that I can swatch and play around with products without talking to an associate first. I always feel bad when an associate spends time with me but I end up not buying anything. Also, I know what I like so if the associate tries to recommend something I don’t like, it just becomes an awkward situation. Besides that, I enjoy the 100/500 point perks and the ability to return products whenever without a receipt is heavenly since I lose receipts all the time haha. I enjoy the luxurious makeup selection and I’m lucky both sephora locations near me have pretty nice staff.

Mariella Avatar

Gaiya, they’ve recently changed their return policy, at least here in Canada. Now, you need to have a receipt (perhaps only if you want your money back; they might give a store credit if you don’t have a receipt but I’m not sure of that). I can understand now that more stores are carrying the same brands (Shoppers Drug Mart here in Canada has Benefit, Stila, Smashbox, etc. so conceivably, someone could purchase there, get all the Optimum points – far better value than Sephora’s VIB points – then return the item to Sephora without a receipt but still get to keep their Optimum points….). Anyway, start holding on to those receipts!

Shelley Avatar

Oh that is so not cool!! Buying items from one store and returning it to another just so you can maintain points. That’s called committing return fraud and its situations like this that make for tougher return policies for everyone. Its this kinda of stuff that is part of the reason that us consumers are shafted with price increases. 🙁

Janelle Avatar

Sephora has changed their policy somewhat on returns. It’s best to return with a receipt, if you don’t they have to take your drivers license/id/passport and scan your information into a 3rd party database, and if you do too many return without receipts, you will get flagged and then after you will no longer we allowed to return without receipts. They are about to implement a system where they can look up products purchased on your BI card or debit/credit card if you don’t have a receipt as well, so you can get your money back and not a store credit (returns without receipts)

keg Avatar

Yep! -at Sephora no one really bothers you if you want to experiment! They have a decent return policy and a lot of high end products which I appreciate. There is one located in a mall 5 minutes from my house.

Stacey Avatar

All of them except for Sephora… Each store carries a unique brand such as Saks for DnG, Neiman Marcus for Tom Ford, Macys for Urban Decay, Barneys for Surratt. Nordstrom for Mario Badescu. I will give these stores my money…..anywhere but Sephora. Here I am testing the Loubatin (sp) nail polish. He tells me to go across the aisle to test. There is nothing special across the way. My favorite of all time was I’Magnin in San Francisco.

Elizabeth Avatar

I agree with you Stacy about I. Magnin. Sad about their demise. What is your issue with Sephora? And I love, love, love Nordstrom. More than once did I have to return a lipstick because it looked great under store lighting, but horrific in daylight. I usually buy Guerlain lipsticks so at $30-40 a pop, mistakes are costly!

Shelley Avatar

You just brought back awesome memories of I.Magnin. They had a store in my hometown of Santa Barbara. Its where my mom had me fitted for my junior high graduation dress and she picked out a pair of low heel Ferragamo’s. Its also where I played with Guerlain Meteorites with my best friend and little did we know then just how awesome they really are.

Sharona Avatar

I like Nordstrom too. I’m biased though, as I work there(not in cosmetics!) But everyone is so friendly and most of them do a great job with helping one try new stuff!

Lizzi Avatar

Can’t ever go wrong with Sephora. I like Nordstroms too but I feel like they pressure their customers. Sephora is completely relaxed and doesn’t pressure.

Sylirael Avatar

Probably Smith and Caughey’s now (kind of like our equivalent of Nordstrom – upmarket department store), because the Farmers in our area closed. I like it for the variety of high end stuff, and there are pharmacies nearby for the drugstore stuff. Since large Farmers stores do both ends of the spectrum, they’re technically better though.

Ryou Avatar

I honestly can’t say, since I tend to prefer shopping online (social anxiety kind of does that). Probably drugstore that has testers, because then I’d be left alone to play around for the most part, instead of having to interact with people who just really want to sell something.

Sadra Avatar

I like Neiman Marcus and Barney’s because when I shop for beauty in department stores I’m all about the perfume. I go to sniff the new releases (as well as the old standards) for hours.
Some Saks stores have a wealth of perfumes – some are almost a museum for Guerlain and to a certain extent Chanel, and in the Saks at Bal Harbour Miami I was even able to find that elusive unicorn, the Cartier Les Heures de Parfum collection, but in general NM and Barney’s have the widest selection of perfume brands.

KaseyCannuck Avatar

Sephora and MAC, because I can swatch before buying. The one thing I don’t like about Sephora is that they don’t stock all of their products in the store, and I don’t like going to the department store counters for swatching because I find that the SAs like to hover and push for a sale.
For drug store items I prefer the grocery store because the prices are about two-thirds what the drug store charges.

Staci Avatar

I would have to say Ulta. I can drive an hour from home and be at an Ulta, so it’s doable for me. There’s a JC Penny Sephora three hours from me, but it’s not like a full store. Locally I have drugstores, a Clinique counter, Lancome counter, and Estee Lauder counter. To me, Ulta is so much better than that. Most of my shopping is done on line.

Danika m Wilson Avatar

I used to only shop at sephora, but my friend took me to ulta and I love it. I’m glad I can shop the drugstore brands that I love and get the high brands that I love as well.

Mariella Avatar

No question it’s Sephora because of the variety of brands they carry – many of which just aren’t readily available (or available at all) elsewhere in Canada. The staff in the 2 stores where I shop (and others I’ve visited while travelling) are all friendly and helpful and their sampling policy makes it easy to try before I buy, thereby avoiding costly mistakes.

Jade Avatar

I live in Australia so my answer is obviously going to be tailored to the retailers that we have here! I always enjoy going to Kit Cosmetics, their aesthetic is geared towards my age group (I’m 25) and the staff are really helpful without being pushy. I enjoy Myer also, they’ve kept their counters modern and the staff are pleasant. David Jones I don’t love, their staff aren’t fantastic and can be pushy. Mecca Cosmetica is my least favourite, their staff are really pushy and often quite ignorant. I had one staff member who was absolutely convinced that Hourglass didn’t have a lipgloss shade called Canvas, and of course I’d seen it online! The next week it popped up in store. It’s a shame as it’s the only retailer here which carries NARS.

Genevieve Avatar

I live in Australia too and what you have said above is so true. I wish we had a Sephora in Melbourne, but we don’t. I go to Priceline (it is like your drugstore places in USA) and Chemist Warehouse to trial some products. Otherwise we have to go to Myer/David Jones. Both of these places are hideously expensive. Mecca is VERY snobby and their products are out of date. I had an issue with one staffer there who told me that Stilla did not make a mint eyeshadow (it’s called Cha Cha).

Emy Avatar

Online shopping, I’d say Nordstrom, but in person, it has to be Sephora for me, simply because it’s the closest to my house. That being said, if Nordstrom were closer, I’m sure I’d be there much more often!

PJ Avatar

Nordstrom for me too. (WC is my fave) Unfortunately, Macy’s is nearest to me, but it doesn’t get the collections in a timely fashion, so I end up ordering online!

CeliaV Avatar

Definitely also Nordstrom. Wonderfully curated selection, most of my favorite brands, getting amazing points on my Nordstrom credit card (LOVE their cash rewards!), and most importantly my favorite sales associates with lots of knowledge and ideas. Plus the Nordstrom events are always fun and make for great hauls.

Zainab Avatar

Mecca Cosmetica I guess, because I shop there the most, though I like the local MAC counter too, and I enjoy shopping at Inglot when I can get to one. I can’t think of anywhere where I’ve had a bad experience actually.

Samantha Avatar

I almost exclusively shop online, but I do go to the MAC store if I have Back 2 MAC containers or if there are products I want that sold out online. In fact, I went to MAC Thursday for RHPS products that sold out too fast online and yesterday to take 12 empty containers (I got Spice it up! and Pervette). If I go into Sephora, I get way too overwhelmed by the large selection of products and trying to remember reviews of products.

Eileen Avatar

Nordstrom without a doubt. They carry a large variety of mid to high-end brands, the SA’s are happy to help you with lines other than their own, they’re typically generous with samples, they have great customer service, they have free shipping/returns, they participate in Ebates, and I love getting Nordstrom notes 🙂

fuji Avatar

Sephora, since it’s the only one we have in my city. The closest Nordstorm is 4-hour-drive away from me. But when I do get close to one, I do shop in Nordstorm to try out and buy mostly mid to high-end skincare stuff. Sephora is more suitable for playing with colors, in my opinion.

Aline Avatar

I go to Sephora because I like the brands they carry and most of the time, (definitely not always), I get good service. They don’t bug me too much when I go in there for 45 minutes at a time. The Ulta where I live are terrible. There is constant staff turnover, so no one knows what they have in stock, they got rid of LORAC, and their testers are gross as all get out or missing and never replaced. The drugstore side is more expensive than Target, so I only go there for nail polish and hair care.

Lulle Avatar

Hard to say, because I really don’t shop in person more – I do almost all my shopping online, except for drugstore stuff.
I used to go to Sephora but I stopped buying from them completely 6 months ago after an incident that their customer service refused to resolve.
Very recently a new sales rep has taken over the Dior counter in a Neiman Marcus near me, and she’s absolutely great, so I now enjoy going there to see the new products and try them on.

Donna Avatar

Sephora overall and Nordstrom for MAC products. Our SFA seems to always be out of stock of the shades I want. I would shop at ULTA more, but our nearest one is horrible about re-stocking and my trip is usually wasted.

Lori P Avatar

It has to be Sephora, the SA’s know me by name and leave me alone most of the time (which I like). I don’t have a Nordstrom’s anywhere near me and Dillards and Macys tend to ignore you when you need something.

Judy H. Avatar

I really don’t have any large department stores near me. There is a small Macy’s with a very small, beauty department, it probably only carries three lines. There is a tiny Sephora pocket store inside of a small JCPenney store, an Ulta and the Target, Wal Mart, Walgreen trio. To be honest, I don’t care for any of them. The Macy’s has such a limited selection, they don’t even carry all of the products in a particular line. The Sephora is about as big as my bedroom and the sales persons swarm around you like flies. I have never once been able to just look through that little room and see what they have without having a salesperson first, jump at me and then stay lasered in on me the entire time. Failing all of this, I guess that brings me to Ulta, which is so-so and Target. Shopping for makeup is a process I dread. There is a major city about 120 miles away where I can and do shop for makeup, but I’m not inclined to crawl into the car at the drop of a hat and drive for 1 1/2 hours to get a lipstick!

Sarah Avatar

I live in Canada so I usually shop at Sephora, because of the large collection they have. Sometimes I may go to a Shoppers Drug Mart for skincare stuff because of the points.

Cat Avatar

When we lived seven minutes from a mall in Arizona, I used to shop at Dillard’s — but I only felt comfortable at the Chanel counter so I didn’t experiment with other brands. I only went into the Sephora located in that same mall twice, and quickly left. Something about the lighting and floor plan made being in that store uncomfortable for me.

Now that we are living back in our small, coastal town in the central part of Cali, I have to drive thirty minutes north or south before reaching a major shopping area. I’ve gone to Macy’s to buy MAC once (I only own two MAC products) and it was a pleasant experience so I’ll probably be returning. However, most of my shopping is done at Sephora, either online or in-store. I love the Sephora near us. It has a great set-up, friendly employees, and (unless the music is up too loud) a comfortable atmosphere. I’ll also shop at Nordstrom (online) a few times a year for cosmetics that aren’t available elsewhere.

shelley Avatar

Bluemercury for skincare, Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier. The staff is very informative and well versed on the product lines plus I love it when I walk in and they greet by name. Followed by Sephora and Nordstrom for the points. I also discovered SpaceNK and love them for skincare as well.

Maggie Avatar

Sephora, Ulta, CVS, and Target. I live near the latter three so I shop in person there the most–the locations I frequent have friendly staff. Target tends to be clean and have decent all-around prices so I go there when I can’t wait for a sale. CVS has a great rewards/coupon program so I can stack coupons for a sweet deal on things that can wait–and the staff at mine is super nice–even the one’s who aren’t beauty junkies. The Ulta staff will happily recommend products at different price points and plus, there are always coupons. I’ve been lucky enough to have mostly great experiences at all the Sephora locations I’ve been in–everyone I’ve encountered has been nice.

I’m not a huge fan of department stores–boxed products are located behind the counter so I have to keep asking SA’s to dig out different products in packaging so I can look at the ingredient listings and expiration. I prefer how Sephora and Ulta have their products already out on the floor so I can check the packaging to see where it was made, the ingredients list, etc.

Quinctia Avatar

I like Ulta for having both drugstore and higher end products, plus some basic skin and hair care…if I get a decent coupon, I can pick up some necessities and treat myself. They’ve got a really good rewards program.

However, the Sephora in the JcP by me has a couple really nice SAs that work there, so I enjoy stopping by. If nothing else, I do buy my mascara there lately, and I like to raid their clearance section.

Aaaaand, the Meijer by me magically gets almost every drugstore LE display AND gets them out before anyone else, so I always cruise through the beauty section when I’m buying groceries. Just in case. 😉

Rachel R. Avatar

Sephora, hands down. You can test everything out. My local one is clean and organized, and has a door on the outside of the mall with nearby parking. The staff are super-nice, knowledgeable, plentiful, and not at all pushy.

I detest shopping in person at department stores at the malls. First, the constant attempts at perfume spritzes. If I can find a salesperson at a counter (usually they are understaffed or not to be found), they are busy, pushy, or try to get me to buy things unrelated to what I’m there for. The more upscale ones rather not waste their time on you if you don’t look like you’re well off enough to drop a sizable bundle of cash, and most of them don’t try to hide it. Ugh!

Patricia Avatar

I live in Australia and we don’t have too much variety for makeup here in Canberra. I usually go to David Jones for convenience (I work at a counter there) and CC points, Mecca Cosmetica for NARS but they can be a bit pushy, and then Priceline because they leave me alone to browse the skincare aisles. I don’t go to Myer as often due to previous experiences and the layout is confusing, but I’ll go to the MAC counter when I need new brushes and to check out the new collections.

Marina Avatar

Oh, if we are talking about online retailers, Beauty.com, Beautylish, BeautyBar.com and the Net-A-Porter are my online favorites (among with Sephora). Beautylish and Net-A-Porter because the have a pretty good selection of stuff I don’t find most places and Beauty.com and BeautyBar because they always have some sort of a discount. Amazon is also great for discounted merchandise.:)

Maddie Avatar

Definitely Sephora, because you can play with any and everything and take home a sample of pretty much anything, or Barneys for the customer service which is flawless. I like Ulta for the rewards program, but I hate that they don’t make samples which is critical for skincare and base products like primer and foundation.

Heather F. Avatar

Sephora! Love their product assortment, love the SAs, love the ability to swatch or sample just about everything.

Ulta is my least favorite. Every single time I’ve walked into Ulta (I’ve visited maybe a half-dozen different locations) a sales associates has drawn attention to my perceived flaws in an effort to sell me something to fix it. “What can I help you find? A new foundation, maybe?” is an unwelcome reminder that I’m dealing with a nasty breakout that day; while a strong, repeated suggestion that I might enjoy a visit to the Benefit Brow Bar is kind of aggressive. Yes, I have unruly brows. No, you may not tweeze them into submission–I like them strong! (The worst was probably when one offered to show me how to use a new contouring shade to “make your nose look less huge.” Um… excuse me?) I don’t understand why they’d want a customer to associate their store with feeling inadequate or embarrassed or uncomfortable–why would anyone willingly go back to a place that reminds them of junior high P.E.? I go to Ulta only if I need something there that I can’t get at Sephora or online, and I never walk in on impulse.

I feel like Sephora SA’s are either super chill (“Can I help you find something?” “Nope, just wanted to swatch this palette against my skintone.” “Sounds good, let me know if you need anything”) or really good about highlighting one of my strengths in order to make a sale (“Your green eyes are gorgeous! We have a new plum-toned shadow palette if you want to play them up!” “I’m so jealous of your lip shape! Have you thought about using a bright lipstick to draw attention to them?”). Even though I know they’re just trying to make a sale, I still associate Sephora with feeing good about myself–and usually leave with a product I *want* to use rather than one I feel I *have* to use to be less fugly, (or whatever the Ulta SA’s are trying to accomplish). : )

Dawn Peterson Avatar

Ulta is my absolute favorite for three important reasons – a mix of high end and drugstore choices, because certain things (like mascara) don’t need to be expensive to be great,constant sales and coupons that make shopping there feel thrifty even if I do make some more expensive choices, and the fact that it’s a mile from my home and I don’t have to go through the hassle of going to the mall.

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!