My Thoughts on Sephora

Recently, I’ve become rather disenchanted with this once-wondrous store.  A year ago, Sephora was the pinnacle of quality, class, and accessibility for makeup and skincare; now, it’s begun to pander more to the casual consumer, lowering its quality and exclusivity in exchange for cheaper pricing and flashier displays.

Back then, I would walk into Sephora, and feel privileged.  The salespeople were always well groomed and looked flawless (a must for someone who represents a beauty corporation), and spanned a great range of ages, which I appreciated.  They were always very pleasant, and seemed more wanting to genuinely help than just make a sale.  Asking for a sample was easy and painless, and more often than not, I was offered a freebie or tester even when I just idly mused over a product.  When I had questions, someone in the store always had the right answer, and tailored their response and advice to my needs.  Getting color-matched was a breeze, and I rarely returned anything.

Every single product was of superior quality and was obviously selected to fit the brand’s image.  Packaging looked and felt expensive (even on Sephora’s own housebrand), and I took some pride in displaying anything I bought there on my cabinet as opposed to drugstore products which go in the drawers.  Not to say that I couldn’t simply have purchased these brands from the parent company.  But there was a simple pleasure in being able to walk into a single store and be surrounded by a complete range of products that all radiate elegance.

And the store itself was almost medi-grade clean.  It seemed as if every day, someone had wiped off the tops of the lipsticks, droppered a bit of alcohol onto the eyeshadows, and washed the sample brushes.  The mini trash bins always seemed freshly emptied; the tester tools were always well stocked.

Now, I walk into Sephora, and feel assaulted.  Harsh fluorescent lighting that I’m sure is custom-made refracts off the various bottles, jewels, and spilled glitter, making one’s skin look a thousand times worse than it does anywhere else (a clever marketing ploy, but not one I appreciate).  I’m always having to hunt down a tester tool receptacle, only to find it devoid of lip gloss doe foot sponges or disposable mascara wands, and must constantly be on the watch for stray trash (sticky disposables, dirty tissues, used makeup remover wipes) on the floor (at least they aimed in the direction of the bin.)  Some vile, synthetic scent that I suppose was meant to resemble vanilla is pumped through the air vents, spilling out in a noxious cloud that makes it difficult to test all but the most potent fragrances, and frankly, sets me in the beginning stages of a migraine.

A too-chipper painted lady greets me at the door, asking if I’ve heard of some promotion or other and shoving a flyer that I’ve already gotten in their newsletter into my hand.  When I actually am in need of assistance, looking around the store is like seeing double.  Nearly every saleswoman looks exactly the same: white, mid-twenties, heavy foundation, eyeshadow to the browbone, and too long nails.  Occasionally I see the one older woman (who I extremely like) lingering in the skincare section in the back, though these encounters are rare.  The younger tarts now employed here really don’t seem to know much beyond whether a product is “pretty” or “totally hot on me”.  I’ll ask for a product recommendation for oily skin, and they hand me something whose primary ingredient is hyalluronic acid; I ask where a certain brush is located, and they say they don’t even carry it (it takes me less than a minute of searching to find it).  I no longer even attempt to ask for shade recommendations after I was twice paired with a foundation that was not off by just a shade (which is completely understandable, due to those awful lights), but was the completely wrong undertone and either two shades too light or four shades too dark (I wish I was joking.)

And the products… Where did my beloved elegance go?  While many of the same products I used to lavish in are still there, the displays they reside on are punctuated garishly by cheaper, flashier containers.  This… “extravagance”, comes at a cost though: quality.  Sephora’s own house brand has taken to this trend and splashed color on many of its products, trying to lure in the less sophisticated market with bright packaging and lower price points.  Case-in-point: the new Hello Kitty line.  Honestly, the packaging is shiny and supposed to be cute, but the quality of the products housed inside would fail to impress even in a drugstore setting.  And really.  Has anyone else tried the new I.T. line of brushes?  They shed terribly, lose pigment when washed, don’t distribute product evenly, and are just plain scratchy.  But, hey!  They’re pretty!

I don’t know.  I still shop there, but I’m turning more and more to online retailers and professional supply companies to fill my kit.  I’m still glad for the accessibility and the ability to be to able to nab a tester or a swatch of a product before purchasing.  I guess I’m just disappointed.  My previously exclusive makeup haven has now been installed with a gift shop and fluorescent lighting, and done away with the quiet elegance and sense of exclusivity.  Heavy sigh, lights down.

  1. #1 by Kathleen on February 11, 2011 - 19:14

    Sam, I totally hear you! I’ve been feeling pretty disappointed in Sephora lately too but I haven’t been able to articulate why as precisely as you have here. 😦

  2. #2 by Megan on February 11, 2011 - 23:45


    Well said. I have been increasingly disillusioned with the teenage-aimed product lines like Kat Von D, Tarina Tarantino, and now Hello Kitty. The packaging is cute, but gimmicky, and it covers up for substandard product.

    I wish I could take pictures of the salespeople at my local Sephora and post them. I won’t call them makeup artists. Let’s see: The twenty-something peroxide blonde with matte magenta lipstick, caked-on powder foundation, and electric blue cat eyes. With clumpy, smearing brown-black mascara. Then there’s the girl who wears no makeup at all and doesn’t blow-dry her hair. The tanorexic old lady who likes blush waaaay too much. I could go on. Forget getting color matches or even color advice–these people are trained to sell the products corporate tells them to push. Getting spot makeovers or artists to try products on you? No way you’re getting that without an appointment, and even then, I wouldn’t have somewhere you need to be afterward. At least not without a stop to wash your face. How does a company expect to portray itself as a beauty retailer with faces such as these representing it?

    (I suppose the answer to that, based on established beauty lines hiring clowns to sell makeup at their counters, is “successfully.” Sigh.)

    Sum it up like this: When I was pregnant with my son and staying home, my husband suggested trying for part-time work at Sephora for the interest in makeup and the employee discount. When I asked for an application, the first question the manager asked me was, “Do you have experience in retail?”. When I said that yes, I did–but I also had experience in doing makeup and knew several of their lines well–the follow-up was, “When was your retail experience?”.


    • #3 by finallyindigo on February 12, 2011 - 00:01

      I’m so glad I’m not the only who who sees this. It really is a sad thing. I used to treat going to Sephora as a fun, slightly extravagant excursion, and one in which I’d probably return home with a product or two that was recommended because it *worked*, not because it had a high price point. Now, it’s like going on a safari to see the porn-star-faced she-beasts and the one token racial minority girl who’s a bit too smiley.

      One of the last times I asked for help, I was still into powder foundation (so you *know* that this was a while ago), but told the salesgirl specifically that I couldn’t use Bare Minerals because I’m allergic to bismuth oxychloride. She gave a confused look, scurried off, and came back with not just BM foundation, but BM foundation in a shade three shades darker than my skin. She told me that BM doesn’t contain bismuth oxychloride because BM is all natural and just minerals (…really?) and quickly buffed some into my face before I could protest. I looked like a monster. Oh, and it itched.

      That’s really disappointing/insightful about your job interview. IT’s stuff like that that is ruining this business. Pushing sales via commissions rather than giving the customer a personalised experience, and one in which they’re being helped by someone who knows even the basics (shade matching, undertones, complementary pairing, basic skincare ingredients…)…. I can’t even tell you the last time I was offered a sample of a product without having to nearly beg for it. Sad.

      It’s a bit funny, but I’ve stepped in once or twice when a salesgirl was helping a customer and told her that she was downright wrong. It’s one thing to recommend a wrong shade, but another to recommend a really expensive skincare product that could actually do a bit of harm if used on the wrong skin type, just to help reach your quota…

      • #4 by Megan on February 12, 2011 - 13:30

        I could keep talking about this for awhile, but it’s nothing that we don’t know already. I do wish I knew whether the staff worked on commission or just got flat salary. I am inclined to think salary, just based on the lack of knowledge and care.

        I am glad someone else noticed the lighting, because I thought it had to be me, and (therefore) I must be crazy. It’s harsher than even normal fluorescents.

        I will say that the phrase “porn-star-faced she-beasts” just made my afternoon.

  3. #5 by molly on February 13, 2011 - 01:30

    I actually beg to disagree about the service – the ladies at my local Sephora usually tend to be estheticians – experienced, wised, and not pushy at all. One of them told me that they do not work on commission though, in reply to a previous comment. They have been very helpful in finding me a skincare regimen that’s suitable for my skin, while supplying informative anecdotes and witty humor as well. While some of them sport very “loud” eye makeup, they’re usually as sweet as the natural-look-loving ladies and there’s a good balance of people sporting “party-makeup” as well as “day-wear” makeup.

    However, about the products – I do agree that the selection has been tackier and cheaper these days. A lot of the quality products found online aren’t available in store where I live, even though we live in a respectably sized suburban area. I want the old products back! And the online special deals in store!

    • #6 by finallyindigo on February 13, 2011 - 09:44

      Well, you’re lucky in that regard! I bet the girls at my store don’t even know what an esthetician is (let alone having them try to spell that). It’s just what I’ve seen at the various Sephora’s I’ve been to, but I’m glad that someone doesn’t have to go through the same thing I do with them! 🙂

  4. #7 by Trish on February 14, 2011 - 00:00

    I couldn’t agree more with this post! I’m scared to get any color matching because of the lighting. The sales associates have caked on makeup and rarely offer to help with anything unless I look completely lost and confused. I wish I could get my goodies online, but I can’t touch the actual product before getting it. =o(

  5. #8 by Maggie on February 18, 2011 - 13:09

    I guess I’m one of the lucky ones – my local Sephora is wonderful. The employees span a huge range of ages, skin tones, and styles, and they’re all really knowledgeable and friendly (and all hate the new Hello Kitty line, which definitely gives points in their favor in my book). The store is generally very clean and free of horrible synthetic vanilla scents 🙂 I’ve been in other Sephora stores, though, and I know exactly the phenomenon you’re talking about. I’m moving to another state in a few weeks and I’m going to miss my lovely Sephora!

  6. #9 by dancing oranges on February 19, 2011 - 22:16

    From my past experiences, the people that work there seem to be so life-less its horrible. I ask about something and their not enthusiastic about it answering it or recommending all other options. or they run away in hopes that someone else will help out. I usually end up having to online information hunting before going in, cause who knows what they’ll recommend. :/ i also find that some of them aren’t that well acquainted with other lines at all. i think ive only had 1 somewhat good experience with them :/

  7. #10 by mulberrytea on February 20, 2011 - 00:05

    I completely agree with your comments! I live in NYC, and the Sephoras that I frequent (both Times Square locations, Union Square location) are all exactly as you described.

    I just went in there today to ask for another YSL foundation sample after explaining the problems I had with other shades. When I asked for their recommendations, the sales staff had no idea and I just had to pick one on my own. All this after standing around for ten minutes just to get someone’s attention and after several attempts to flag someone down. Then when I asked for a sample, the lady seemed incredulous that I would want a sample to take home instead of smearing it on my face right there and deciding to buy. Ridiculous! She didn’t even remember to give me a sample bag.

    Meanwhile the products that I want (more YSL, Fresh, etc) are constantly out of stock for months at a time, and they keep bringing in useless new lines. Ugh. And they don’t even carry the Shu Uemura eyelash curler.

    I only go there for convenience, samples, and a good return policy, but I am probably going to start visiting department store makeup counters more often.

    I’m glad to hear that you have noticed all these things and that so many other people all feel the same way!

  8. #11 by ashley on February 20, 2011 - 19:19

    @Mulberrytea- Shu Uemura decided to pull there products from the stores. You can find it online now at their website. Its not sephoras fault, its the actual brand.

    I work for sephora and personally love my store. I loved it before I worked there as well. The lighting sucks but there is nothing we can do about it. Hello Kitty is a horrible brand and i wish we didnt have “little girl play makeup” at the store. But we do 😦

    Also each store has different budgets to work with. Some stores have a cleaning team that comes in every morning or night to deep clean. other stores like mine, dont. Which means we as in ( 2-4 people) stay almost 2 hours after closing to restock and clean. We do our best but its a makeup store and people are just down right rude and dont care if they make a mess simply because they dont have to clean it up. On a slow day there are usually either 1 or 2 people in color, 4-5 on a busy saturday. Honestly there will never be enough pay roll to have people for every client. We try our hardest to multi client and move around and make sure everyone is ok, but it gets pretty tricky somtimes. To answer the question we get hourly rate, not commision based.

    Also calling the girls there ” clowns” is down right rude. Everyone does there makeup different and they are allowed to do whatever. Nobody has the right to make fun of others based on their appearence. And mature clients love blush, that is a given. You can try to help them but they like to see it 🙂

    At my store we have a wide range of employees. But if you think about it most people who work in the malls are younger girls. Most mature women have kids or higher paying jobs because they have a family and a bigger obligation to make more money then what a makeup store pays you.

    To respond to Megan- Sephora usually hires for cash first. Most people do not get hired and go straight to color. They put you at cash to see if you can sell and be nice to people with a great personality. It is a priviledge to get moved from cash to color/skin. So you kinda have to “pay your dues” if you will before you move up. Which is why they ask for retail experience. It’s a business, and they have to make money. It would be awesome if we could just do makeovers all day but we can’t. You have to sell.

    Also corp doesnt tell us what brands to push. We sell what we have used and like, or whats the best seller. Products we feel actualy work and are great. I’m not going to sell you that high priced YSL foundation thats not really your color anyway just because I want to boost sales. Im also not going to sell you the Tanda light therapy for aging skin when there are tons of other products that will work better for less then half the price.

    Also I want to say that some sephora stores aren’t amazing, I will admit. but some are! So I hope everyone gives Sephora a shot. Each manager is different in how they run their store. At my store we give out samples like crazy! Out on the floor and then you get one at cash when you check out!

    Also my store does not pump any fumes through the vent. The surrounding 4 stores to mine do not do that either.

    • #12 by finallyindigo on February 20, 2011 - 22:45

      Hey Ashley,

      It’s awesome that you took the time to post that; it’s quite informative! I’ve only ever gotten to talk to a few girls I know who have previously worked there, and actually getting the run-down from a current employee was kinda, well, cool. 🙂

      Anywho, these are just my thoughts. They’re not meant to offend anyone, and only reflect my impressions of the Sephoras I’ve been to (mostly in RI, NH, MA, NY, and CA).

      Of course, none of us will really know what’s going on or why, because we don’t work there. It’s just my impressions and experiences as a consumer, many of which don’t have to do with the employees (moreso, the higher-ups) (eg. the chemical smell, the lighting, product choice, etc.).

      Anyway, I’m really glad that it sounds like some Sephoras are trying to maintain their previous standard of excellence (and that you’re lucky enough to work at one!), and I hope our divergence of opinions won’t keep you from reading on and commenting on other posts (I really liked this comment-very insider-informative!!)


  9. #13 by zari on February 20, 2011 - 19:38

    @Ashley—thank you! that’s all i got to say bc all these other comments this girls sound so bitter as if they got fired from sephora, or maybe they afford it…whatever the situation is, it does not justify they judging sephora. Jst bc their sephora may not have what they want does not mean you can judge ALL Sephora. If you got a problem with Sephora, keep to yourself bc no one needs to hear your bitterness!

  10. #14 by Victoria on August 9, 2011 - 00:48

    I couldn’t agree more! The last time I went to Sephora it was a nightmare. I was asked whether I’d heard about their sale 8 times within the first ten minutes, and constantly assaulted by “Oh, that would look great on you…” or “that is so your color” comments no matter what I was looking at! Then, when I asked one of the salesperson’s opinions on which shade of powder to get since one that matches me can be tricky to find (I live in Alaska and I’m anemic, so I’m very, very pale) she pointed me to this awful orange color. Then she insisted it would “look great on me” even though it was at least 5 shades to dark, packed with glitter, and looked liked it belonged on a Jersey Shore cast member. I was ready to pull my hair out! To make matters worse, I was looking at shadows after that when one of the ladies came up to me and said ‘let me see you’re eyes, I’ll help you pick out a color.’ I thought, sure, why not, a second opinion would be great and looked her in the eye. Now, I have a condition called heterochromia, which means on of my eyes is blue and one is green, which I’m totally confident with, this said I wasn’t to happy when she said “Oh my god! You’re eyes are so weird! Karen come see her eye’s, aren’t they weird!” My jaw hit the floor. I’m totally used to people making comments on my eyes colors, but this was so unprofessional and ridiculous. Needless to say I left after that without buying anything.

    You made a good point with the packaging thing too. I mean, why would anyone actually be compelled to buy something because it had Hello Kitty on it!?

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