This Is Why I Don’t Spend More Money At Sephora

The Sephora Beauty Insider Sweepstakes is an even less attractive “reward” than the usual collection of sad samples.

I post a lot about Ulta (this post about getting the most out of your Ultamate Rewards membership is one of my most popular ever), and occasionally people ask why I prefer it to Sephora. I feel like it’s not really a fair comparison, but it’s a reasonable question since I do spend significantly more money at Ulta than I do at Sephora, even on brands that Sephora also carries. Here’s why.

Sephora Vs. Ulta

First things first: I don’t not like Sephora. I love Sephora. I’ve been shopping at Sephora since 2002 and I think I’ve been a Sephora Beauty Insider pretty much since the program started. Once upon a time, I was very Sephora brand-loyal, largely because it was where I tried and bought my first prestige makeup. It was also a great place to kill a Saturday afternoon when I was 25 and single and living in New York.

Sephora Grand Opening
Proof that I don’t hate Sephora: A blurry photo from the grand opening of the first store in Alaska

Over the years, though, I’ve gravitated toward Ulta for a few reasons. Variety, first of all. Especially as drugstore brands have raised the bar, I’ve gone from wearing all high-end makeup to a mix of prestige and drugstore brands, and I like being able to shop them all in one place. Ulta also has a better selection of salon-brand nail products, and they carry products that my husband and kids like, so I can do all of our bath and body shopping in one place.

The biggest factor, though (one that has made me remain loyal in the face of evidence that Ulta has probably been quietly reshelving returned product for years), is the rewards program.

I’ve already spelled out my love for Ultamate Rewards (for real, go read that post if you want to know how I make the system work for me). I haven’t talked a lot about why I let my Sephora V.I.B. status lapse long ago.

Sephora Beauty Insider Rewards Are Not Good

Like Ulta, Sephora has a rewards program that’s built on a basic system of 1 point earned per dollar spent. Unlike Ulta, where you can earn (significant amounts of) store credit, Sephora limits the rewards for its loyalty members. Instead of redeeming points for credit, you redeem them in the “Rewards Bazaar” for… well, for samples, mostly. (Search “Sephora rewards” on Reddit if you’d like to go down a rabbit hole of Beauty Insider frustration about the rewards.)

100-point Sephora Beauty Insider reward

For example, right now I have 673 Sephora Beauty Insider points. I could redeem them for any of a variety of what you might call “deluxe” samples — a three-day supply of skin vitamins, a .07 oz Sephora brand liquid lipstick, a mini mascara, a 5 mL moisture cream — or random gift items (a glitter picture frame, a cup for holding makeup brushes). Or I could spend another $77 and put all my points toward this Narciso Rodriguez gift-with-purchase-style tote bag… except no, I couldn’t, because it’s sold out, which happens pretty frequently with higher point value items.

750-point Sephora Beauty Insider Reward

If you make it to Sephora’s Rouge tier by spending $1,000+ in a year, you can redeem 2,500 points for a $100 store credit, but the “Rouge Reward” is limited in quantity, is only released twice a week, and sells out quickly. (Or so I’ve read. I can’t testify to the experience personally because Rouge launched around the same time I started spending less at Sephora, so I’ve never qualified.)

1500-point Sephora Beauty Insider reward

For comparison’s sake, I currently have 3,317 Ultamate Rewards points, which I can redeem for $184 in free product at Ulta at any time because my points never expire. I’m leaning toward a new flat iron to go with the blow dryer and curling iron that I also paid for with Ultamate Rewards points. And depending on when I shop, I can often count on a deluxe sample set or other gift with purchase for free — no points necessary.

The Sephora Beauty Insider Sweeps

The reason I’m thinking about this question today — and writing this blog post — is the Sephora Beauty Insider Sweeps.

I’ve been hoping for a long time that Sephora would find a way to revamp the Beauty Insider program to make it more like Ulta’s. Instead, they’ve come up with a way to get people to just hand their points back with nothing in return.

Sephora now has something called the Beauty Insider Sweeps, which they introduced last year. Currently they’re giving away nine $25,000 prizes. You enter by redeeming 150 Beauty Insider points.

Sephora Beauty Insider Sweeps

Yes, that’s right: For $150 worth of points, you get… a lottery ticket, basically. Incredibly, Sephora has managed to come up with a reward even less exciting than sample size products.

If the Beauty Insider Sweeps isn’t a desperate attempt to zero out points balances, it’s certainly marketed like one: The messages “You saved your points for this” and “The more you enter, the better your chances!” are prominently displayed on the contest page. (For the record, I didn’t save my points “for this.” I saved my points because there’s rarely anything worth trading them for.)

Sephora Beauty Insider sweeps
No. I really didn’t.

(As one savvy Redditor points out, you can enter without redeeming any points, a clause that is probably legally necessary to keep the giveaway from actually being a lottery.)

For what it’s worth, you can redeem 100 Ultamate Rewards points for $3 in store credit. It’s not $25,000, but it’s also not the nothing you’re likely to win in the Sephora Sweeps.

There’s A Reason They’re Called ‘Loyalty’ Programs

I know this post doesn’t come across as particularly complimentary to Sephora, and I feel like I should say that I don’t have any kind of axe to grind with the brand. I still shop there sometimes. There’s a Sephora at the mall near my house and I’ll pop in to see what’s new, or to pick up something I need right away and know they carry.

It’s not that the Sephora Beauty Insider program has turned me off from shopping at Sephora — it’s just that it doesn’t provide any incentive for me to pick Sephora over other retailers.

Ten years ago, when I was a V.I.B., it made sense to do most of my beauty shopping at Sephora. But the beauty industry has changed a lot since then. There are more independent sellers marketing directly over social media. There are more brands doing their own e-commerce. And there are more ways to stretch your dollar (which is something I think about now that I have a kid in private school). If there’s a product I know is available at Ulta, I’ll probably buy it at Ulta, because I earn meaningful loyalty rewards there. But if there’s a product I want at Sephora, I’m more likely to comparison shop, look for deals online, and seek it out at the best price, because ordering from Sephora specifically doesn’t provide me any special benefit.

I still enjoy shopping at Sephora, and I’m glad it’s there when I need it. When my trip to Alaska was extended last summer and I had to replenish my skincare products, you’d better believe I was thrilled to be able to quickly and easily pick up a Laneige travel set. My kid loves to go in and try on eye shadows. And if I ever have questions, the employees at my local Sephora tend to be more knowledgeable than the associates at Ulta.

Still, even if I buy something at Sephora, I almost never redeem my Beauty Insider points, because there’s almost never anything I want. I’m also not entirely sure why I should save them, because it seems unlikely there will ever be anything worth exchanging them for… but I’m certainly not going to just give them back to Sephora for a snowball’s chance to win some cash.

2 thoughts

  1. YES! This is exactly why I shop Ulta over Sephora. In my area, I can’t say whether Sephora associates are more knowledgeable, but I definitely find Ulta associates more approachable. I like and use mostly high-end products, but I also like some of the products from some drugstore lines, which I can pay a little more for at Ulta, because sometimes it’s worth the convenience of not having to drive to another store to pick up one item. I also feel comfortable enough to run into Ulta in workout clothes after hitting the gym, with no make up, to grab something. I feel judged in Sephora the moment I walk in, even if I’m dressed appropriately for “mall shopping”. But I’ve not shopped at these stores all over the country, so I only have my local stores to compare. I also love that the manager at our local Ulta hires male store associates who wear makeup. I like to support management that supports people being themselves. (Not saying that Sephora doesn’t; I’ve just never noticed this specific example at Sephora.) Being able to save up hundreds of Ultamate Rewards points for a rainy day, when I don’t feel like I should be spending money on myself but need a little pick-me-up, goes a long way in my decision of which store I frequent. I’ve walked away with an entire haul from Ulta, purchased with all points. I will say, I am not a fan of Ulta brand products. I don’t think their make up has as much pigment or staying power as some of the high end products. That said, Ulta brand is very affordable. Thanks for this post!

    1. Totally agree about Ulta brand makeup — it’s pretty meh. I buy the bath and shower gels on sale for my husband, though! And I will say that the employees working the Benefit Brow Bar are generally pretty knowledgeable, since they tend to be licensed estys.

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