Ulta vs Sephora – The Best Beauty Retail Store

Ulta vs Sephora Logos
Ulta and Sephora are no doubt two of the best beauty retail stores around. We compared the two to find out which offers the best overall beauty shopping experience. After a thorough examination of each’s in-store experience, online presence, and rewards system, Sephora came out on top. Read on to find out why Sephora is the best beauty retail store to shop at.

The beauty industry inspires women to express themselves every day and feel confident in their own skin. Beauty products give women the chance to look (or smell) the way they want through different products. From hair care, skin care, cosmetics, to perfumes and deodorants; the industry focuses on expressing everyone’s individual beauty.

When it comes to shopping for beauty products, two major stores tend to come to mind: Ulta and Sephora. They both emphasize inspiration as a core value to celebrate the beauty within everyone. But have you ever wondered what the differences are between these two stores? That is what we are here to do today; a one on one battle evaluating these key retail stores – in-store experience, online presence, reward systems, and other key details. Make sure to read along before you head out on your next makeup shopping spree.

About Ulta and Sephora

Ulta and Sephora are two top beauty retailers in the U.S. Sephora sells luxury beauty brands along with emerging ones. Sephora has a high track record for building emerging brands and engaging consumers in trying new products. On the other hand, Ulta has a mix of luxury brands and budget drugstore brands (such as Revlon or NYX Cosmetics). Ulta tends to focus more on a wider variety of brands ranging from both less expensive to more high-end products. In a study about the foot traffic in these retail stores, from Cuebiq shared with Retail Dive, Sephora has footfall traffic that beats Ulta more than 2 to 1. Sephora appeals to a younger crowd of the 18-24 and 25-34 demographic, while Ulta’s demographic is more the 45+ age.

Ulta Beauty Gift Card
  • ULTA eGift Cards are redeemable for merchandise and services in all ULTA locations in the United States and at ulta.com.
  • Redemption Instore and Online
  • A Giftcard is the perfect gift that always fits -for Birthdays, Anniversary, Thank Yous or any special celebration.
Sephora Gift Card
  • Sephora offers a vast and diverse selection of prestige beauty products online and in our 250 stores nationwide.
  • From classic brands like Clinique, Bare Essentials, Dior and Philosophy to hard-to-find brands like MAKE UP FOR EVER and Fresh, you have easy access to over 13,000 products and more than 200 brands.
  • Card is redeemable for merchandise sold at Sephora stores, on online, or at Sephora inside JCPenney stores.

In-Store Comparison

Inside Sephora

Ulta

Ulta’s atmosphere is nothing short of bright and florescent. As you head towards the back of the store, you will see the different hair care, skincare and other drugstore products. Now depending on how big of a hole you want to burn in your wallet… you may want to be cautious on which side of the store you are shopping on. One side leans more towards budget and drugstore makeup, while the other half of the store focuses on luxury products. Thankfully, the store is scattered with a variety of sales (just keep your eyes peeled!)

One thing we love about Ulta is their diverse range of products. As beauty products go, it is more of a ‘one stop shop’. You can pick up all your makeup necessities, along with regular drugstore products, WHILE getting rewards on all of them.

When visiting Ulta, popular and new items tend to be sold out more. This can be frustrating if you are visiting the store for specific popular items. They are more comparable to a department store, with the options to buy luxury and budget beauty products. The staff is extremely friendly, yet we only saw a few of them when shopping in-store.

Sephora

When walking into Sephora, it really feels like you are walking into a more high-end beauty store. The walls and displays are framed with a modern black and white vibe (see photo above). For those of you who are more aware of beauty brands, Sephora has a larger variety of high-end makeup brands, and each display is uniquely styled to match the brand.

Sephora’s main displays focuses on their luxury makeup brands, with the perfumes lining the side of the store and skincare more towards the back. They also have displays of their most popular products in the center of the store. These displays break up beauty products by type and popularity (most popular mascaras, eyeliners, face primers etc.). We always found this helpful when shopping for new products.

On top of the modern interior design and upbeat music, their employees are extremely knowledgeable about a wide range of products. Sephora tends to be a much more hands-on experience with different services such as ‘color matching’, a tool that helps you find the perfect foundation color.

If you’re on the fence about a certain product… you’re in luck. One of the best parts about Sephora is the opportunity to get samples of products when you visit the store. This is great for testing out new products to make sure that you absolutely love it (before spending a large amount of money on it).

Sephora’s prices tend to be higher than Ulta’s. Individual products range from about $25-$100 on average. Their branded products are the cheapest makeup items in the store.

Winner:

Hmmm… this is a tough call. We’re going to declare Sephora as the winner for In-Store comparison. If you’re looking for more luxury makeup products, we recommend visiting Sephora. The opportunity to sample products before purchasing can’t be beat.

The atmosphere in Sephora is more expressive and fitting when shopping for makeup. If you’re shopping for more drugstore makeup and beauty products, it might make more sense to head to Target to do toiletries and budget product shopping. We personally enjoy the Sephora shopping experience.

Online/Website Comparison

Both beauty sites have different online quizzes to assist in the buying process. These can be extremely helpful in giving guidance on your foundation shade or what type of brushes you need.

While $50 will get you free shipping on both sites, Sephora offers 2 free samples with every online order (a huge plus in our book).

One thing we prefer on Ulta’s website is their list of deals available online along with all products on sale. This is called their ‘Buy more Save more’ section, including buy one get one 50% off and other purchasing deals. If you’re someone who tends to buy the same products in bulk, it might be worth checking out this page frequently to see when your products are on sale.

Winner:

We’re calling this one a tie! With equal shipping costs and beauty tips/quizzes, both sites make it easy for you to shop a wide-variety of products.

Ulta Beauty Gift Card
  • ULTA eGift Cards are redeemable for merchandise and services in all ULTA locations in the United States and at ulta.com.
  • Redemption Instore and Online
  • A Giftcard is the perfect gift that always fits -for Birthdays, Anniversary, Thank Yous or any special celebration.

Reward Systems

Sephora

Sephora has 3 different insider rewards programs, dependent on how much you spend. The basic level is free, the VIB membership is for those who spend $350 on Sephora ever year, and the Rouge membership is for those who spend $1000 at Sephora yearly. The benefits of the higher tiered program include more points per dollar spent, larger birthday gifts, free shipping, and early access to new products.

Sephora’s Basic Beauty Insider program provides 1 point for every $1 dollar spent, along with 2 birthday gifts on the month of your birthday. They just updated their program in August 2018 to have more options when redeeming your points. Beauty Insiders can redeem their rewards points for luxury brand samples. New rewards are released every Tuesday and Thursday. Some examples of current rewards include BECCA cosmetic exclusive products and NARS famous Laguna bronzing powder.

Ulta

Similar to Sephora, Ulta also has 3 different reward programs. Their higher tiered memberships include more points per dollar spent, $10 birthday coupon, and free shipping.

Ulta’s basic level reward system is also 1 point for every $1 spent. What is better about this system is the ability to exchange your points for dollars off your next purchase. These deals range from 100 points = $3 off to 2000 points = $125 off. These benefits are much more appealing to most beauty shoppers. There are also decent promotions to get 2x or 3x the points at different times during the calendar year.

Winner:

Although Sephora offers some cool sample products as rewards, the majority of us can agree that we would rather get discounts off products we are already purchasing. Ulta takes the win on this one, their rewards program is much more… well, rewarding.

The Best Beauty Retail Store

Sephora Logo

The experience of shopping for beauty products can be just as fun as actually buying the products. For this reason alone, we are going to have to vote Sephora the overall winner of this beauty retailer competition. Like we mentioned earlier, if you’re looking for budget makeup products, it’s easy to head to a drugstore or Target. When shopping for higher end products, it’s more fun to sample new products and enjoy shopping around.

Sephora tends to give more of an expressive and enjoyable makeup shopping experience. From the store environment, to the educated employees… it’s easy to spend hours shopping in Sephora. Both stores have their own redeeming qualities that depend on what type of shopper you are. Some people are focused on budget, while others love to use the beauty industry as an expressive outlet. Try them both, and see which one best suits you.

Sephora Gift Card
  • Sephora offers a vast and diverse selection of prestige beauty products online and in our 250 stores nationwide.
  • From classic brands like Clinique, Bare Essentials, Dior and Philosophy to hard-to-find brands like MAKE UP FOR EVER and Fresh, you have easy access to over 13,000 products and more than 200 brands.
  • Card is redeemable for merchandise sold at Sephora stores, on online, or at Sephora inside JCPenney stores.

Tips for Shopping for Beauty Products

makeup on table

Conduct Research Online

Online research before shopping can be extremely helpful, search for ‘top ten foundations’ or other articles that narrow down brands for you.

Talk to Store Employees

Ask employees for their favorite products. They are experts in this field, so might as well see what they like.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Samples

Ask for samples, it can never hurt to try out a product before buying the full size.

Remember That Things Can Be Returned

If you don’t like a product you just bought, return it! Both Sephora and Ulta have great return policies if you are not 100% satisfied. Make sure to return the product with their time limit (usually 30-60 days after purchase)

Don’t Trash Receipts

Always keep the receipts of your products just in case you need to return it.

Online Reviews Are Your Best Friend

Read online reviews about products, this can give some insight into what others think about the product.

Break Your Routine Occasionally

Try new products, it can never hurt to experiment with new beauty products, you might just find a new favorite!

Final Thoughts

When choosing a store that offers the best experience for shopping beauty products, you can’t go wrong with Sephora. Although Ulta has a slightly better rewards program, Sephora tops Ulta with a better online and in-store experience with the best products you won’t find at Ulta.

Sephora Gift Card
  • Sephora offers a vast and diverse selection of prestige beauty products online and in our 250 stores nationwide.
  • From classic brands like Clinique, Bare Essentials, Dior and Philosophy to hard-to-find brands like MAKE UP FOR EVER and Fresh, you have easy access to over 13,000 products and more than 200 brands.
  • Card is redeemable for merchandise sold at Sephora stores, on online, or at Sephora inside JCPenney stores.