Beauty buffs know all the places to go and grab their favorite products. But between the vast number of stores to shop at, Sephora and Ulta are by far the fan favorites. To the naked eye these stores may seem very similar to one another, but when you look a little closer, one may just outdo the other. Let’s get into it.
The contrast between these stores is nothing as dramatic as the cool cologne dark where’s-my-flashlight of Hollister compared to the bright fluorescent lights of GAP Kids, but there is still an obvious difference. When walking into Ulta, you are greeted by bright fresh colors of orange and white. High ceilings and organized aisles give customers easy access to graze the shelves. Sephora on the other hand is a little more edgy and boutique-esque. Dimmed lights and bumping music surround customers for a chill yet exciting experience. Their rather high-end experience provides sleek clean black shelving of beauty products.
The longstanding difference between Ulta and Sephora are the brands and products each carry. Sephora has been around longer than Ulta and is known as the original beauty store, carrying high end products. Brands like NARS, Fenty, Hourglass, CHANEL, and Dior line the shelves of the 706 Sephora stores in the United States. These high-end products are accompanied by middle-higher class products such as Urban Decay, Too Faced, Herbivore, Clinique, Benefit, and Sephora’s own line of products, SEPHORA COLLECTION. To give some perspective between the high-end luxury items and the middle-higher end products, CHANEL foundations cost between $50-$135 while Urban Decay foundations cost between $36-$40. Stores will also sometimes cohort with brands and be the only retailer to sell a certain product. As of right now, Ulta is the only in-store retailer carrying Tarte’s Shape Tape concealer—quite the deal considering it is the #1 selling concealer in America, selling one concealer every 20 seconds. Both retailers crush the higher-end/luxury makeup game, but Ulta pulls ahead with their assortment of drugstore brands. Ulta carries all the brands you can purchase at Sephora AND all the brands you can purchase at Target, Walgreens, CVS, etc. The variety available at Ulta can make it an easy one step shopping trip for beauty buffs on a budget.
Products & Amenities
Sephora and Ulta are majorly advertised in the media as makeup stores when they have MUCH more than just makeup. Nail care, hair care, skincare, fragrances, beauty tools/brushes, gift sets, and makeup are ALL available at both retailers. However, the extent of how many products they carry differs. Ulta’s hair care section stretches aisles and aisles containing a range of price points—from a $19.99 Conair to a $399.99 Dyson hair dryer. Sephora’s collection is much smaller with a generally higher price point—their cheapest full-size dryer selling for $105 compared to Ulta’s $19.99 dryer. This higher priced, smaller product selection is consistent for all beauty products at Sephora compared to Ulta due to Ulta’s choice of carrying both low-high end products—this is not necessarily bad to Sephora, just the nature of carrying higher end products!
BOTH Sephora and Ulta have beauty services inside their stores. Sephora offers both makeup application/makeover services and beauty classes—you can even book your reservations online! Ulta offers services from their Brow Bar (from Benefit Cosmetics), The Salon (from Ulta Beauty), and Skin Bar (from Dermalogica). For a full beauty makeover, Ulta takes the cake, but if you’re just looking for some makeup skills and a makeup application, Sephora is just as good a pick.
Rewards programs can make or break where shoppers go to pick up their favorite products. Rewards points rack up quick so buyers want their points to take them far. Sephora’s Beauty Insider program gives members 1 point for every 1 dollar spent. Ulta’s reward program works the same way. However, Sephora’s program results in free gifts/samples while Ulta’s program gives members discounts. The more you spend at each store the more dramatic the rewards. Sephora’s regular rewards program is the Beauty Insider. Customers who spend more than $350/year are promoted to the VIB program while those who spend more than $1000/year are part of the VIB Rouge program which also grants them impressive rewards along with free 2-day shipping for online purchases. Ulta’s Platinum reward members who spend $450/year receive 25% more points per purchase while Diamond member who spend $1,200/year receive 50% more points per purchase, exclusive event invites, a $25 beauty service reward card, and free shipping on order of $25 and up.
Depending on whether customers want free products to sample or want to gain points to get discounts on products they’ve been loyal to for years, will decide which retailer gives them the best gain.
These two competing retailers both offer impressive services, rewards programs, brands, ambiances, and much more. Where customers shop depends on their needs, so both Sephora and Ulta are superb choices for all beauty buffs.