The Sephora versus Ulta comparison pops up all the time, and people always ask me which one is better. A true beauty product lover can tell you that is a loaded question. There are pros and cons to everything, because nothing is all good or all evil. They have a lot in common, but they have a lot of differences as well. While I understand some shoppers feel an affinity toward their favorite stores and try to reward those stores with their loyalty, my mindset is different. Odds are yours is as well. How do I know you are not blindly loyal to a specific store? If you were, you would probably not finish reading this. You’d already know which store you prefer. Besides, many of you are likely deal shoppers. Deal shoppers, like myself, are loyal to the deal, not a store. If they can get $10 off a product somewhere else, they will.
I have one timeline where I list all major: Promotions, Sales, Deals, GWP, Promo Codes, and Events. Those who want to see an overall idea of what to expect this year should stop by. See all Sephora offers on the calendar. You can also visit my Sephora retailer page to see active and upcoming offers of all types.
I have one timeline where I list all major: deals, coupons, GWP, Sales, promotions, and Events. Those who want to see an overall idea of what to expect this year should stop by. See all Ulta Beauty offers on the calendar. You can also visit my Ulta retailer page to see active and upcoming offers of all types.
The biggest difference between Sephora and Ulta is in their Rewards programs.
Most stores have rewards programs. These programs reward loyalty. The first thing I recommend is sign up for the rewards program at the store you’re shopping with. If you shop without a rewards program, you are missing deals and in some cases losing money. My husband does not want to get tracked, so he is okay with walking away from money. A deal shopper he is not! You will get promotional emails on offers, mailers, birthday offers, points to redeem, and more when you have a membership to these free programs. Those who refuse to sign up can hope they stumble upon the deal or even get access to it (some offers are only for members).
When it comes to the rewards program, the Sephora Beauty Insider Program pales in comparison to the UltaMate Rewards Program at Ulta. That makes it easy for me to say I prefer Ulta’s program over Sephora’s. This is mainly based on the strength of the points earned under the program. You can only redeem points for specific products Sephora places in the Rewards Bazaar. The top-tier, Rouge, can redeem $2500 points for a $100 gift card, but fewer points gets you more at Ulta and any tier at Ulta can cash in for maximum value. There is a way to maximize the Beauty Insider Program, which I go into in Tips For Getting the Best Deal at Sephora. No matter how great of a deal you snag, the rewards program is still inferior overall. Of course, getting a great GWP or discount can make up for what you miss on rewards.
Spend nothing to become a Beauty Insider and get: 1 point per dollar spent, a free birthday gift, point multipliers (during promotions), special BI events, free beauty classes with select purchases, a $15 off $75 promo code for Christmas, special promotion codes for BI clients, access to certain items before the public, a 10% discount on anything during Chic Week, and more. See 2019 Beauty Insider Exclusive Promotions.
Spend $350 a year to reach VIB and get: 1.25 points per dollar spent, all perks BI clients get, a chance to get 250 rewards points in place of the birthday gift, free shipping with a $35 purchase (if that is the welcome gift they select), select full-size products from the Rewards Bazaar, 20% off during the November VIB sale, increased point multipliers over BI clients (during select promotions), 500 points for qualifying (if that is the welcome gift they select), two free makeover (if that is the welcome gift they select), special VIB events, an extra $5 off ($20 total) the BI Christmas promo amount, special promotion codes for VIB clients, an extra 5% discount (15% total) for Spring Bonus, access to certain items before BI clients, and more. Sephora advertises handpicked gifts. See 2019 VIB Exclusive Promotions.
Spend $1000 a year to reach Rouge and get: 1.5 points per dollar spent, all the perks BI clients get, all perks VIB clients get, a chance to redeem 2500 points for a $100 gift card, access to Rouge Only products, free shipping on every order (free Flash if that is the welcome gift they select), free makeovers (plus 4 to hand out to others, if that is the welcome gift they select), special Rouge events, increased point multipliers over VIB clients(during select promotions), an extra $5 off ($25 total) the VIB Christmas promo amount, special promotion codes for Rouge clients, 750 points when they qualify (if that is the welcome gift they select), access to certain items before VIB clients, and more. Read articlesregarding VIB Rouge Qualification. Read articles about VIB Rouge events. See 2019 VIB Rouge Exclusive Promotions.
When it comes to the rewards program, the UltaMate Rewards Program at Ulta destroys the Beauty Insider Program at Sephora. When the program gets maximized to its fullest potential, no retailer in the beauty industry can compete with Ulta. I go into great detail on how to maximize the program in Earning and Redeeming Points. That makes it easy for me to say I prefer Ulta’s program over Sephora’s. This is mainly based on the strength of the points earned under the program. You can redeem points for any product or service you choose at Ulta. For 2000 points, you get $125 to buy anything Ulta carries (other than gift cards). Knowing how often Ulta does point multipliers and shopping under them makes hitting 2000 points multiple times a year possible. There are so many promotions that happen at Ulta every year. Read Tips For Getting the Best Deal at Ulta to get great deals while maximizing the rewards program. Ulta encourages deal stacking.
Earn 1 point for every dollar spent, a birthday gift, 2x points during your birth month, 5x points during your anniversary week, 20% off prestige coupons, special point multipliers, and more. Cash points in for a credit to use on anything. The more you bank the more valuable the points are. Points expire one year after the quarter you earn them in at this level. See all 2019 UltaMate Rewards Perks.
Spend $450 a year and get upgraded to Platinum. Your Platinum membership is valid from the date you earn it through the end of the following year. Points do not expire while you’re in Platinum status. You get all UltaMate Rewards perks plus extra Platinum Perks, including 1.25 points per dollar spent, a $10 birthday coupon, and exclusive Platinum Offers. See all 2019 Platinum Perks.
Spend $1200 a year and get upgraded to Diamond. Your Diamond membership is valid from the date you earn it through the end of the following year. You get all Platinum Perks plus extra Diamond Perks, including 1.5 points per dollar spent, free shipping with a $25 purchase, and a free $25 reward card annually good toward beauty services (which comes inside the Diamond Rewards Qualification Gift). Read more about the Diamond Program. See all 2019 Diamond Perks.
Where the Rewards Programs Have Flaws and Benefits
The barriers to entry for each tier are lower at Sephora. It only takes $350 to reach VIB where it takes $450 to reach Platinum. That extra $100 could mean making the next tier or missing it for some shoppers, so Sephora rewards members sooner. For the top-tier at Sephora, it takes $1000 where it takes $1200 at Ulta. While Ulta offers services (brow, hair, skin) Sephora does not, it does not help members hit the next tier when they get those services elsewhere. Spending $1000 a year is easier than $1200.
Once a member hits Rouge at Sephora, they get free shipping on every purchase. It takes a $25 minimum purchase to get free shipping on a Diamond account at Ulta. While I do not do it often, there are times I want or need something cheap without a trip to the store. I place those orders with Sephora, because I will not pay $5.95 to Ulta to ship an order under $25. This comes in handy when you realize you need cotton at the last-minute or see something in the sale section for $15 and do not want to purchase something you do not really want for $10 just to qualify for free shipping.
There is not really a big difference between the VIB and Rouge tiers (although the August 2018 discount gave us more for the first time). I’d like to see the Rouge benefits step up. Ulta offers monthly GWP codes for free products to Diamond members and frequent multipliers where Diamond members get more than Platinum members, so I feel it does more to differentiate between the tiers than Sephora does. You get more benefits when your tier is higher. For those who shop at both stores but cannot meet the ($2200) $1200 at Ulta and the $1000 at Sephora to maintain the top tiers at both, I would suggest going ($1550) $1200 Diamond at Ulta and VIB at $350 Sephora. You can also get a lot of great deals for ($800) $450 Platinum at Ulta and $350 VIB at Sephora.
A lot of promotions at Sephora and Ulta are similar. They seem so different, but when you beak them down, you’ll see all the similarities.
Each store will let you return products less than 50% used if purchased within the previous 60 days. I hate the hassle of returning things, so I never do (unless it arrives damaged). For those who want to explore risk-free, this is a great benefit.
While you can find the occasional tester at a drugstore or department store, they are not as readily available elsewhere as they are at Sephora and Ulta. How many times have you wanted a palette until you swatched it only to find it is terrible? The ability to play with the products in store can help you make informed purchase decisions. It can save you money (if you do not bother with returns) or time and energy (if you can avoid the hassle of a return).
A Huge Selection Of Products
Both stores carry almost every beauty product you can think of. They also have many overlapping brands, like: Anastasia Beverly Hills, bareMinerals, beautyblender, Becca, boscia, Clinique, Cover Fx, DevaCurl, dpHUE, Estee Lauder, First Aid Beauty, Ghd, IT Cosmetics, Juicy Couture, Kate Somerville, Kopari, Lancome, Lavanila, Living Proof, Marc Jacobs, Murad, NARS, NUDESTIX, Nuface, Origins, Ouidad, philosophy, PETERTHOMASROTH, proactiv, Rosebud Perfume Co., Shiseido, Skin Laundry, Smashbox, St. Tropez, stila, T3, tarte, Too Cool For School, Too Faced, Tory Burch, Touch in Sol, Tweezerman, Urban Decay, Velour Lashes, versace, Vita Liberata, Winky Lux, Yves Saint Laurent, and more. Some of the more luxury brands like Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent only have fragrance at Ulta, but they also sell cosmetics at Sephora.
Holiday Advent Countdowns
Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday Promotions
What Sephora Has That Ulta Doesn’t
Sephora brings the high-end experience better than Ulta. It carries more luxury brands and focuses more on making you happy than giving you deals. Granted, deals make people like me happy.
I am in love with a lot of the Limited Edition Kits Sephora puts out. While there were a lot of misses with the pricing in 2018, that is not generally the case. Hopefully, Sephora reels the pricing back in, so I can purchase more kits this year. The only retailer that puts out comparable kits is Birchbox. Sephora offers more high-end brands but Birchbox will usually give a cheaper price or more full-size items. When Ulta does kits, they are almost always samples and very overpriced. Considering you can get so many of the samples Ulta places in its kits for free or in a GWP, I am never compelled to buy them. Paying a lot for samples is just not something I am willing to do. My favorites from the Sephora kits are usually the Give Me Some Lip, the Sun Safety Kit, the Give Me More Lip Kit, and the Superstars. It is easy for me to spend hundreds of dollars most years on these kits.
More High-End Brands
For people who almost exclusively use high-end makeup and skincare, it is easier to get everything from one store making the odds of leveling up to the next tier in the rewards program greater. It is also convenient to get everything you want or need in one trip to the store or online shopping session. While getting 10 packages is fun, and I’ve ordered from enough different places to receive a lot of packages at once, getting one is easier to manage and track. Plus, there is less waste in my recycling bin when I get more from one place.
Store Made Samples to Take Home
Sephora will even let you take some samples of the testers home (if you ask and the idea does not gross you out). This is a great idea for perfumes where people cannot stick their fingers in the tester but a horrible idea for a face cream in a jar (unless by some miracle you get to the tester when it is still new).
No Real Product Limitations on Its Sales
You cannot purchase a gift card on sale (for obvious reasons), customizable sets (where the discount for customizing is usually greater than the percentage off you’d get under the event anyway), Play!, Flash, gift wrap, taxes, shipping & handling, too many of a certain product at once (trying to stop resellers), promotions for the Ordinary (which is already cheap for a Sephora brand). This basically means every product sold in store or online (the subscription is a different animal) other than ones offered by the Ordinary gets included in the sale. Not many stores can say that. This is the most recent article on Sephora Sales. I like to stock up during the sale or purchase things I cannot get from Ulta sooner (as it has sales more often).
Better In Person Shopping Experience
I’ve been into different Ulta and different Sephora stores all over. The staff at Sephora is consistently more helpful. Of course, there are exceptions, so I am not throwing shade at Ulta employees. My last trip to Ulta was very pleasant. A staff member even helped me take advantage of a deal I would have missed. That does not happen often, and she even did it with a smile. Sephora seems to put more emphasis on training its employees to ask questions to best help the customer where Ulta lets its employees wait for the customers to ask the questions. It also seems like you get more answers from Sephora employees and more uncertainty from Ulta employees.
If you know exactly what you want, this is not a big deal. Whenever I ask a Sephora employee if they have any products in the back, they immediately speak into their headsets and let someone know they are leaving the floor to check something for a customer. A minute or two later, they return with an answer. I’ve had Ulta employees disappear into the abyss, and I never see them again. Who knows what goes on when they get back there. The stock room is either disorganized, huge, or they take long on purpose to get off the floor a little longer. Who knows!
The stores are usually easier to navigate (they are smaller than Ulta, so that is a given). It just seems they have more consistent designs. I know the skincare, fragrance, hair products (back left), and Sephora Collection non-makeup items are always on the walls. The makeup is always in the center. Perfume and hair products are usually on the back wall with skincare on the left wall. You can find Sephora Collection brushes (back right) and some makeup overflow front right.
Faster Online Delivery
If I place a Sephora and Ulta order on the same day, I almost always get my Sephora packages first. Depending on what you order (nail polish and perfumes ship slowly) and your proximity to a hub, you might find a different experience. I know if I need something quickly, I have to pick it up in person or get it from Sephora. Ulta packages usually take one week to reach me, but they can take up to 10 days at times. I’ve never had a package from Sephora take 10 days to reach me. It rarely takes more than 4-5 days.
Unless you forget to add it or choose not to add it, you always get a gift with purchase when spending $25 or more online. This comes via a promo code. You also get 2 samples with every order. Ulta does not always have a freebie and eliminated samples last year. I like to collect samples for my foil challenge. If I see a promo for something I love or really want to try, I will order something from my favorites to get the free product. A good promo code is usually better than a discount. Say I am waiting for a discount to try a new product that retails for $40, but it pops up as a sample with a $25 purchase. I can purchase something I know I love at $25, try the product I otherwise would have spent $32 to $40 (from 0 to 20% off), and know when the sale comes around whether I want to buy the full-size.
This is $15, $20, or $25 off a $75 purchase based on rewards level. For Beauty Insider members, it is only 20% off if they spend right at $75. Spending even $1 more lowers it, so I recommend waiting for the 20% off prestige coupon at Ulta, which comes out right after this unless you need products Ulta does not carry, are spending exactly $75, or need that purchase to re-qualify for your Beauty Insider status level.
Sephora gives 20% off every item in the sale section the last week of the year. This is right after it dumps new items from the fall into it. I wish Ulta did this, but it does place a lot of holiday sets in the sale section for up to 50% off the day after Christmas.
Whether open or closed-door, Sephora has at least 2-3 events for its top-tier members. Ulta has never hosted any for Platinum members and has not hosted any for Diamond members (yet, but I hope that changes).
Select products get discounted up to 50% off for one-week. They usually return to full-price after the week wraps. While Ulta occasionally offers similar deals in the form of Hot Buys, the products rarely overlap. At times, the Daily Wow takes the place of the Weekly Wow.
What Ulta Has That Sephora Doesn’t
At first glance, it might appear Sephora has more unique promotions. I listed all the events Ultaa offers each year in one section though. Ulta events are frequent and unmatched by Sephora.
Mass Market Brands
It’s 2019. Most of us just want the best possible product we can afford. Even if we can afford high-end brands, we do not need to pay the high-end price if there is a drugstore product that gets the job done for less. The ability to purchase drugstore and high-end products in one place is genius. Ulta is a pioneer in that sense, because most stores have one or the other. You can grab some drugstore products on a shopping trip at Target or Walmart, but you can’t swatch them and you won’t get any rewards. Unless it is a very rare exception, you cannot get a GWP either. With all the BOGO offers, discounts and coupons, you might get a better deal at Ulta on these brands even before you factor in the rewards program.
At least five times a year, Ulta sends 20% off prestige coupons to all UltaMate Rewards members. It does have more exclusions than a Sephora sale, but they are more frequent, still include most items, and are always 20% off for every rewards member. Sephora sales range from 10-20% off based on the tier and time of year.
Ulta always has a general coupon available. If you are making a drugstore or hair product purchase, there is a good chance you can use a coupon. I’ve dedicated an article to Everything You Need to Know About Ulta Coupons, because there are so many.
To redeem a brand specific offer at Sephora, you need a promo code. You can only use one promo code per order there. At Ulta, you add the offers to the cart from the GWP section. This means you can add as many as you qualify for and still use a coupon code. Unlike Sephora, you can also redeem most gifts in store. Just know what they are offering before you shop, because the employees cannot memorize all of them.
Between the Jumbo Love Liter Sale, Love Your Skin, Beauty Stars, 21 Days of Beauty, Spring Haul Savings, Gorgeous Hair, Summer Sale, Forever Fabulous, Platinum Appreciation 10x Points Day, Fall Haul Savings, Holiday Haul Savings, Cyber Fundays, Beauty Blitz, and Merry Monday Sale, the events keep coming all year. Every event brings nice savings opportunities. Between these events and the 20% off prestige coupons, you have more opportunities throughout the year to save at Ulta than you do at Sephora.
Select products get discounted up to 50% off fora limited time. They usually return to full-price after the promotion ends. While Sephora occasionally offers similar deals in the form of the Daily Wow or Weekly Wow, the deals rarely overlap.
Is Sephora or Ulta Better For What You Want
I really only cracked the surface, but I think the point came across. Get the best deal whenever and wherever you can. That is more important than determining which store I like better. Sometimes the best deal is a discount. Other times, it is a GWP you want. The best deal is point multipliers at times. Each store has exclusives you can only purchase from them. Load your cart and wait for the offer you want from either store if you do not need the item right away. Memorize when the deals and events repeat or follow blogs like mine to help you plan and budget. If you need something both stores carry and neither have a deal that interests you or they are about the same, look toward the future.
Buy from the one that will reward you the best. While that is usually Ulta, you might be close to redeeming a perk you want from Sephora or close to reaching the next rewards level for better benefits. You really can get great deals from both as long as you shop when the deals interest you. Ulta will typically save you more money (given the better rewards program, all the events, and how often it gives prestige coupons), but Sephora will give you a better shopping experience overall (whether in store or online, because even the Sephora site is more user friendly). You can also redeem points in the Rewards Bazaar at Sephora for experiences Ulta does not offer. I’ve seen some cool ones. Now, I just need to work harder on saving my Sephora points, so I can cash in for an experience.
What are your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of Sephora? Let me know below. Sephora does not inform any Beauty Insider of all promotions. It does list a great deal of them on its Beauty Offers page, but I list some it does not on my Sephora Deals Page. Between the ones it lists and the ones I list, you can catch most of them. Subscribe to emails to get targeted offers. If you’re spending over $25 online, there is always a promo code that you can apply. Most major events run on a set schedule, which is why I track them. See all Sephora articles. Read Tips For Getting the Best Deal When Shopping Sephora.
What are your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of Ulta? Let me know below. Targeted Offers are exclusive to UltaMate Rewards Members, so I do recommend joining. Whenever there is an exclusive or unique Ulta Beauty offer, I will note that above. An advanced breakdown on Earning and Redeeming Points can help you maximize the UltaMate Rewards Program. Coupons are almost always available. I go over all types of Ulta coupons and track 20% off prestige coupons. Remember to check my Ulta Deals page before placing an online order for possible exclusives and advice. There are always general and brand specific offers I do not list, so check the GWP section of the Ulta site as well. Ulta encourages deal stacking. Most major events run on a schedule, and I track each one. Read Tips For Getting the Best Deal at Ulta. See all Ulta articles. View my main page for the guide map to the site and deeper deal exploration.
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