Sephora vs Ulta: Which Is Your Favorite?

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Sephora Vs Ulta

I spend a lot of time in both stores. And for the longest time, I was truly a Sephora girl. But lately it seems like I'm having a more positive shopping experience in Ulta. So I'm curious. Which one do you prefer? Here are my thoughts, based on the locations I frequent. What are yours?

Sephora Pros:
  • Carries a wide variety of prestige product.
  • Most employees either love makeup or are makeup artists.
  • Displays are kept neat and clean.
  • Employees are very knowledgeable about most products.
  • Fairly fast shipping.
  • Will check in the back for additional stock.
  • Will make samples of anything.
  • Great return policy.
  • Will scan bar codes from phone.
  • Convenient alcohol for testing and makeup remover.

Sephora Cons:
  • Often sold out and not replenished quickly.
  • No sales, unless clearance.
  • No discounts on products, unless reduced to clearance or during VIB quarterly (?) events.
  • VIB benefits are rarely worth redeeming.

Ulta Pros:
  • Carries a variety of prestige and mass market products.
  • Often carries Too Faced and Urban Decay releases on shelves before Sephora.
  • Offers discounts (almost) weekly on non-prestige items.
  • Rewards club quickly adds up to redeem for money off of ALL PRODUCTS.
  • Has monthly sales.
  • Most displays are kept neat.

Ulta Cons:

  • Generally will not check in back for additional stock (perhaps they have no back stock?).
  • S L O W shipping.
  • Employees seem to be more retail-oriented and less makeup-oriented.
  • Will not make samples (unless you provide container).
  • Return policy requires receipt (customer service can look up and email to you, but is not helpful if you are AT the store, as it needs to be printed out). UPDATE! This policy has changed!
  • Will NOT scan bar codes for sales, coupons or discounts from phone. Everything MUST be printed  (not very green, Ulta!). UPDATE! This policy has changed!
  • Does not have convenient testing stations. No testing stations for mass market products.

Which is your favorite? What do you love or hate about each store? Vote for your favorite in the comments!



  1. I worked at Ulta for a while and we were told no samples of any kind. Their philosophy then (this was about 6 years ago) was that people just want the samples and won't come back to buy. If the customer brought a container for a sample we were told to give a minimal amount.

    Since I was hired as a prestige employee/makeup artist we were told not to help with the mass market products. I always felt that the customer came first and I'd help them but the store managers didn't look kindly on it.

    Returning at Sephora is a breeze but Ulta gives you a hard time. You need to have your receipt and it needs to be within 30 days no matter what they tell you. Granted things change and each store is different but the ones in my area all had those rules then.

    In the last few years Ulta has come a long way with brands. They've added a lot of prestige brands that were requested by customers so that means they are listening at least.

    If I had a choice I'd pick Sephora but I like shopping at Ulta too.

  2. I like them both but my my issue with Sephora is that every single one I have ever been in is dimly lit, enough so that being able to really see what the colors of a make up look like can be difficult. Ulta is bigger, more spacious and brightly lit. I've never had to return anything at either so I don't know what the customer service is like.

  3. This is a Tough one, I had simply like Ulta before because of the Sales, the fact that they have both High-end & Drugstore stuff. Sephora and Ulta both send samples when you order online, but ONLY Sephora lets you specifically choose which is a Bummer on the Ulta side of the spectrum, but Sephora has some beauty exclusives You Just Can't Pass by sometimes. I Have More Sephoras Near Me Than Ulta which is also disappointing, that's why I just order Stuff from Ulta online sometimes. With These 2 Contenders it's always gonna be hard for me to choose.

  4. Interesting discussion! :) Personally, I am going to have to go with Sephora. While I do like that Ulta carries both drugstore and prestige brands, and that they have a wider variety, brand-wise, of nail polish than Sephora, I like that you're able to test out more products in Sephora.

    I also have the opposite opinion on the rewards programs, haha. I've been part of both, and while not all of Sephora's rewards have appealed to me, I like that you can carry a points balance. It's nice that Ulta offers a list of products to pick from, but I've found that their quarterly(? It's been awhile since I've gotten a catalog!) rewards are both less intriguing to me and that they expire before I get around to redeeming them. As a result, I hardly even consider purchasing prestige products at Ulta.

    Thank you for writing about this topic! It's fun to read your opinion and the opinions of the people who respond :) .

  5. I'm in the minority, in that I prefer Ulta. They carry a much wider range of products ant their rewards are a great incentive to spend more. I find Sephora's rewards often insulting and rarely worth anything. I can get the same deluxe size samples for free elsewhere. I prefer Sephora for online shopping, it's just a better site to navigate.

  6. I'd always been a huge Sephora fan, but lately I seem to find myself at Ulta more and more often. I've never shopped online with Ulta, so I cannot compare the two stores in that respect. But I feel like the Ulta Rewards program is just so much better in that, as you point out, it's actual cash you can redeem on *anything.* And if you take advantage of those 3x bonus point deals from time to time, those points add up really quickly. I rarely see any rewards at Sephora that I want to cash my points in for. At this point, if both stores carry the same prestige item I want---and I don't need a sample or anything---then I either buy it at Ulta and get some $ knocked off by cashing in my rewards or I buy it at Ulta without a rewards discount simply so I can build up the points for a future $ savings. I really only go to Sephora for items Ulta doesn't carry. Also, my local Sephora has dim lighting and is cramped. Unless the place is near empty, it's really annoying to even browse there.

  7. If, on the *rare* occasion I need a sample (usually foundation), I'll get one at Sephora, but I'll buy from ULTA, if possible. The reward incentives are better at ULTA, but being a "newbie" (a store just opened at my local mall very recently), I haven't had the chance to redeem anything, *yet*.

    However, Sephora does carry brands ULTA doesn't, and vice-versa, so that will also factor into where I buy. I've recently become a huge fan of Real Tecniques brushes, so ULTA is my "go-to"; on the flipside, I'm a NARS addict, as well as Kat von D, so I *have* to buy those at Sephora. Luckily, we have ULTA, Sephora, *and* Sephora@JCP all in one mall!

  8. I'm not a fan of Ulta. Every store I've been in has been messy and had big holes in stock. I tried ordering from them and they cancelled my order without notifying me because they were out of stock. Plus, most of their sales specifically exclude the limited prestige brands and fragrances they carry. I do love their nail polish selection though.

  9. Sephora is my choice, by far. I love the brands they carry and the staff is great at my store. Not a huge fan of the sample program but every once and awhile they do a decent 500 point sample. Sephora may not have that many sales (VIB events) but when it does, EVERYTHING is included.I despise the fact that Ulta offers all these sales and when it comes down to it limits what is on sale. I remember the first time I went to order online, only $4.99 of my $125 order qualified for the discount. Needless to say I didn't order. Why bother? I have ordered from both and Sephora was much faster but I am close to their warehouse. If I need drugstore products then I order from They have great sales, offer drugstore dollars for future purchases, and I go through eBates for money back. They have unbelievable customer service to boot. So I really have no reason to go to or order from Ulta.

  10. You summed up the pros and cons very well. I totally agree with them.

    I love Sephora. I love the brands they carry. The sales associates have always been super helpful, their sampling program is wonderful and usually most everything is in stock...but their reward programs sucks. I am still not sure what benefit VIB is as I have reaped nothing from it for months. As for ordering on line, I like that you get samples plus deluxe ones for over $25.00 and they ship super fast. Ulta, on the other hand, the sales associates seem clueless for the most part. "I don't know" is an answer I get every time I go in. The store's stock always has big holes in it...but their reward program is pretty good. Coupons, sale and 3x points for cash to spend adds up quick. As for online, their shipping is slow but every few months they have awesome sample bags with a certain dollar amount spent. The last one was spend $35 and I got an awesome selection of samples including several deluxe. I will always place an order when these are available. I liked their month of make-up and month of hair too. There were some super bargains available.

  11. SEPHORA!! We're getting one in June, but as of this writing, they will ship my hearts desires to me and I do enjoy the points system. I like Ulta when I'm out of state and can go look, but they are often out of stock of half of everything I want to look at and no one seems to care. They won't ship half of what they have to me and for some reason, they never send me my rewards coupons. I've had a lot of problems with Ulta.

  12. That is a tough question! I think Sephora is generally a prettier store-- a little neater, etc. Horrible lighting though! Very dim. Every Sephora I've ever been to in multiple states has the WORST customer service ever. I don't know if it's because I look like I know how to do makeup so they barely give me a greeting or they feel like they are just know-it-all snobs, but it's truly a shame. I also don't love their rewards. I like the product selection at Ulta--I can buy my favorite $25 dollar eyeshadow right next to a $6 mascara (which 9 times out of 10 work better than an expensive mascara, hands down). I agree that they have the market in better coupons and rewards also. The weekly coupons exclude most of the good stuff but I get those huge postcard coupons every quarter or so that are good on basically everything. I have noticed after living in different areas that the rewards programs are different. Where I am now it's straight money off, the other day I redeemed $23 worth of points!! It was amazing! Where I lived before it was pick from a list of set items, which is less exciting. I think the customer service for friendliness is better at Ulta, but I agree that a lot of the time their product knowledge isn't the best. I've figured out over the years who to ask based on what department they work in--some employees just do cashier/stocking work and are occasionally on the floor as back up, while others are considered "prestige" employees and are supposed to be more knowledgeable than the others. Usually they have a brush belt. Most drugstore brands don't provide testers, so that is more the manufacturer issue than an Ulta issue. And they DO have backstock, but from what I can tell it's mostly only for prestige items and less for mass products. I think the samples are almost a store-to-store deal. Where I am now, they will provide samples on just about anything prestige but a lot of times they are out of the sample containers. Another state I lived in was less willing to give samples but they would. I would say after really thinking about it I probably frequent Ulta more than Sephora for the above reasons. Sephora does carry some brands that I just can't get anywhere else conveniently where I live so I go in there for those things, but for the most part it's Ulta.

  13. The pro and con list, along with the comments says it all for me. So I'm cheating. I vote for Nordstrom. Fast free shipping, no hassle free returns, pick up in store options, better customer service. Sorry, I know they weren't a contender in this race. :).

    1. So funny you picked Nordies. If I'm shopping on-line, I love them. If I'm shopping in person, my Nordstrom has great service, but they never and I mean NEVER have anything in stock. It's a joke. I go to Nordstrom when looking at products and go to Macy's in the same mall to buy.

  14. I prefer Sephora to ULTA for prestige products, as much as I want to love ULTA. When I am buying department store makeup, I want to get it from Sephora, because they often have the brands I am looking for, compared to ULTA. Relatedly, in my experience, ULTA has reps for its various prestige products that try to push them on you, even if they're something that you know doesn't work for you. Sephora employees don't seem to have a particular brand loyalty, which is nice, because they will give you an honest opinion. They just seem more knowledgeable about their makeup overall.

    I like going to ULTA when I am in search of drugstore dupes. I can play with the prestige product and get a feel for it, then go to the drugstore section to find something similar. I do love the ULTA line of beauty products. They're much more affordable than Sephora's brushes or beauty, and they seem to be of comparable quality. ULTA has better hair and body product selections, and I think they have a more affordable line of polishes available. I am a cheap polish junkie, so as much as I love to ooh and ahh over the Dior polishes at Sephora, I'm not going to put out the cash for them, so I prefer ULTA for nail products. Sephora beats ULTA for prestige face skin care products, though. The staff back there are super knowledgeable and are always giving me samples of stuff to try -- offering, I don't even have to request! And Sephora returns are so much easier than ULTA returns. I hate that I have to print coupons for ULTA -- get with the program and have a smartphone app like everyone else!

    I suppose I go to ULTA because they have products I want, but I go to Sephora for the shopping experience.

  15. Since I usually buy online, I check Ulta first because of their awesome cash back rewards program and sales. Unfortunately, they usually don't have what I am looking for and Sephora does. If we are talking about in-store experiences, they are about the same. Both dimly lit, poor customer service, dirty, and under-stocked. If I had to choose based on location, it would be Ulta. If I had to choose based on customer service, it would be Sephora. Overall, I shop at Sephora more often so I guess Sephora wins.

  16. I have been burned by Ulta. I am now stuck with a magazine subscription that they pushed and processed despite my refusals, and one that auto-renew despite having been canceled, at that.

    Not to mention their website basically refuses my transaction. Again, I don't trust them with my card number and really don't want to pay any Ulta transaction with anything but Paypal, but it just never works for me. It would just give me an error and say that the payment method isn't available. It's been doing that since day one, and while I found a workaround that worked for a while, it no longer work the moment they got rid of the "checkout with Paypal" button.

    It's a shame, because I generally like their promotions and love their product selection. But with that many misses, I'd much rather bite the bullet and go for Sephora. >:

  17. I have been in the beauty industy for almost 20 years. I like Sephora's selection of fragrances over Ulta, other than that, Ulta is better. They have a much larger selection of every type of beauty product. They also have a much better rewards program with points you can use on anything, they always have great promotions, and you can even combine discounts if you know how to work it (you can use vendor coupons on top of promo pricing and your rewards points!) Every Ulta I have been to lets me show them my coupons on my phone- no need to print! The staff is consistantly much less snobby at Ulta too. On a side note: The stores usually don't have a choice on what products will be excluded from coupons and discounts, it's almost always the vendor! Most "prestige" lines want to make sure their prices remain consistant no matter where you buy them. In regards to free samples; you must be very careful when dispensing into a secondary container. You don't know what that container has been exposed to. Many products a sold in containers that control the amount of light and air the product are exposed to. A product can begin to chemically alter in a little as an hour, rendering it ineffective, or in rare cases, harmful.

  18. I've been Sephora customer for about 4-5 years and never really gave Ulta a thought until recently. If I were to compare the two I would choose Sephora. Like said in the previous comments, Ulta won't easily give out samples to customers. One time I was looking around Sephora and found something I liked, I was tempted to buy it, but was scared that I would end up regretting it. A Sephora worker did not hesitate to give me a sample and said something along the lines of, "It's better to try it and see if you like it, rather than to come back disappointed and return the product." And in the end I really did like it and came back to buy the moisturizer. Yes, Sephora doesn't exactly have sales, but I would say that it is fair because majority of the time you get what you pay for. I've yet to be dissatisfied with a product from Sephora. As for Ulta, it's also a good place but unfortunately they don't have some of the skincare products that I use. But if you are looking for a more affordable deal on cosmetics then Ulta may be best for you. Other than that I still think Sephora is much better.

  19. I've shopped alot at both and think both have pros and cons. First thing I have to say is why don't either offer samples with purchases at stores. I buy strictly online now just because of the samples. Its a great way to test out products that cost $$$ without feeling bad if you don't like it. A sample is how I bought a $32 bottle of shampoo that I never in a million years would have justified prior. Back to Sephora vs Ulta. Sephora sales people love to put makeup on you if you like that. However they are usually just there to sell one line of makeup so if you want Dior and not Lancome they can't help you. They also never seem to have sales or coupons. Rewards never seem to mean much either. Ulta is where I've been purchasing from lately just for their sales and free things with online purchases. They love giving things away and I love that because I spend alot more when I've tried something. Ulta does lack in brands though so I still have to shop Sephora or Macy's for some things. Ulta rewards add up quick especially when they have point multiplier sales. And its for real money off your order not for some cheap sample Sephora has plenty of at the moment that you don't necessarily need but hey free is free right? So I vote Ulta.

  20. Sephora is always packed,and way too small. This is why i chose Ulta, its located right down the street from my house. I dont have to fight through mall traffic and herds of people trying on every single item int the store.

  21. I like Sephora, but I feel a bit awkward shopping there just because I'm not a big make-up/beauty girl (I usually just shop Target for shampoos, skincare, and body wash). Plus, the nearest Sephora is 25 minutes away - and that's a JCP Sephora (the only other one, a true Sephora store, is 45 minutes away!). I agree that they seem to have very little of the items in stock whenever I go to either one, and maybe it's just me but I feel like Sephora employees are a little unfriendly like I don't belong there with my au naturel face and all. However, they do have some brands that Ulta doesn't, but I have to do some research on those products to make sure that's what I want to buy (like I said, the 2 Sephoras are pretty far). But honestly, after reading some articles about the expiration dates for makeup, I'm leaning towards the drugstore/cheaper kinds just because I don't wear makeup often and would be a waste for me to pay $$$ for something I'm only going to use occasionally. Ulta, on the other hand, is less than 5 minutes from my house. I love the coupons and monthly/weekly sales they have, and the store tends to be pretty tidy. I can't really say much about their shipping since I've never bought anything online (when they're down the road from my house). The only problem I've encountered is that a lot of the nail polishes I want to buy are out of stock, but I was recently told they get shipments in every Monday, so that's good to know. It might be helpful for you to ask when their next shipment is if you notice something you want is out of stock. I have also found a bunch of nail polishes on clearance (I'm a big nail polish hoarder) like OPI and Essie for under $5! They're usually the limited edition kinds, but a lot of the colors are exactly the same as the originals. I don't recall Sephora ever doing any sales or sell clearance items, and I think that's a bummer. I will agree to a lot of the commenters stating that Sephora is dim-lit. The Ulta here is bright and well-lit, and I find the employees are very helpful and friendly. Also, I want to mention that Ulta does in fact scan coupons off your phone! I have done that many times already, and they match the sale prices online to the prices in store (but usually it's an automatic price adjustment when you pay up front even if there aren't any signs stating the sale price...which can be annoying at times). Just make sure you talk with an employee about the online sale price (make sure it doesn't say "online only"). So all in all I vote Ulta.

  22. I currently work for Ulta and some of the cons are not true. We do have back stock for some items however most products are on the shelves or drawers. Prestige products are mostly kept in back stock though. We can do returns for more the 30 days. Policy is actually 60 days but we can do it for longer upon manager approval. I did one just the other day that was more then 60 days without a receipt. Which brings me into that you can return without a receipt as long as you have the card you used or if you are an ulta rewards member.

  23. Oh! AND Ulta will scan off the phone or will type in the SKU if your phone won't scan. I scan many of phones a day.

  24. If something is almost ALWAYS on sale at ULTA then it isn't on sale at all. That is just the price with a sale sign slapped on it to make you THINK you are getting a value. I also find that Ultas are generally dirty, disorganized and have weak customer service. Fully agree on the lighting issues in Sephora. They are different price point stores as well. You can't expect Sephora quality product for Ulta prices. Dior is not Revlon.

  25. I'm a little bit biased right now because the town I'm currently living in ONLY has an Ulta, & it's only been open a couple months so it's probably unusually nice. So far, I really like it there - I like that they have a rewards system that is very straight forward. You buy stuff & you earn points that equal cash to spend however you like - it's not complicated or tricky, which I appreciate. I also like that they have quarterly coupons that you can use on everything including prestige brands. I actually just bought the Lorac Pro 2 palette with mine!

    The one thing that I really HATEHATEHATE about Ulta is that they have employees that rep particular brands and are always trying to get you to buy from that brand even if that's not what you want. It makes me not trust the employees because I don't feel like they're trying to help me find something that really works for my skin type and tone, but that they're just trying to sell something for their own benefit.

    I've only been into Sephora a handful of times and I'm generally really uncomfortable in that store. I love makeup, but I rarely splurge on high end products, & I feel like I'm judged hard when I tell them I'm just looking. I would have to agree on the lighting & lack of space issue that others have mentioned, especially in the JCP stores. The stand-alone ones are generally pretty well lit and more spacious.

  26. I neither dislike or like Ulta, but I can absolutely say I HATE Sephora to the core. Why? Because apparently I shop too much (VIB member), and so they have banned me from their online website. I was literally banned for handing too much money over to Sephora. Customer service for this problem was horrible as well.

  27. I had almost always been an ULTA shopper and I am a platinum member now. I like their sales and product variety but I feel like the employees at the store can be snobbish. I tried making a return the other day for a bronzer that didn't work for me and the lady helping me looks to me and says 'You know we have testers in here for a reason'. Well sometimes things look different in store lighting and when you go home it appears different in natural light. Plus people put their fingers in testers to swatch them and i avoid putting that on my skin. I have had issues with returns not because I didn't have a receipt but because of remarks like this. Although I do agree that it might be something specific to the Ulta store near me. Their customer service really needs a makeover.
    I shop at Sephora almost exclusively now and I find the store employees to be generally very nice helping me sample stuff before I buy it. I have an olive skin tone and a lot of times things appear different in the pan and different on my skin. In fact they always recommend sampling thinga and help me with it, which by the way has never happened at Ulta. I am a VIB Rouge member and I get discounts on products even fragrances!! Ulta coupons NEVER work on fragrances. I am a very satisfied customer of Sephora and I think it will continue for years. Adios Ulta!

  28. I've been banned from Sephora's online site for shopping too much as well. I liked Sephora's online shopping experience better prior to being banned, lots of good samples and deluxe items with your purchase. Ulta doesn't offer that. Ulta's online shipping takes forever. I'm waiting on a $200 purchase for 15 days now, still won't be delivered for 5 more. I'm starting to use the actual prestige line I want's actual website at this point, but I guess my vote would be Ulta.

  29. I would definitely choose Ulta. They certainly have their issues but they will work to make it right. Ask and you shall receive! Their email is They have refunded shipping costs, awarded me gift cards for inconvenience, added upwards of 400 points to my account because of website issues, and even resent samples that were forgotten. I am a loyal Platinum member now because I know that if I have a problem, they will help me out. I get so many sales on their website too - there's almost always a free gift with purchase. For example last week I spent 50$ online and got 5 items. A Bare Minerals fit and fabulous 5 piece makeup set (2$ with the giftcard they sent me and a coupon), Marc Jacobs perfume (40$ with the coupon), a white bath robe as a GWP, a huge bottle of hair mask from Eva NYC (9$ with coupon), a bottle of volumizing spray as a GWP, and then I had free shipping and used some points to cover tax! I ended up spending fifty bucks for all that, when the Daisy Daydream was 52$ to begin with! All in all a great value.
    My email is if anyone wants more tips on saving !!

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  31. Sephora has nicer brands, but having to redeem $100 dollars worth of points for a small sample sized item I wasn't even looking for or intending to buy is annoying. With Ulta I can redeem my points for something I feel I actually need and want to buy for my beauty stash. It's just dumb how you have to pick from options that you may not even really feel you need. And the rewards program is awful. I'm a VIB and I don't get any discounts I feel like. And the workers are all snobs even though they "work" there. I know you don't make that much money honey to be acting like that! It's laughable. Ulta wins! And Ulta has a credit card unlike Sephora, with even more perks!

  32. Sephora! I have shopped at Sephora for quite some time, online and in store. In store, it's pretty crammed but employees seem nice and friendly. Every Sephora I've ever been to, I've been greated when I enter and they ask me if everything is ok or I need any help. They have seen me looking at products and give me samples. They are pretty good at color matching also. Online, i get evething shipped pretty quickly and they package everything very well for shipping, which I love. I have never received anything broken. Overall I enjoy shopping there. Ulta on the other hand, I have shopped at a local store once. Was not greeted when I walked in, employee just looked at me and turned around. I din't really like that they did not have much prestige products. I was in the store for about an hour and nodody approached me if I needed any help finding a product or needed to be color matched or anything like that. I bought 2 products that I am really enjoying at the moment, but I don't think I will go back.

  33. Thanks for online ordering system for takeaway giving the wonderful information. it is useful

  34. I currently work at Ulta in prestige, we are not allowed to give samples and i get that because you can test a product out in the store and even if you buy it and don't like it you can bring it back within 30 days with a recipe OR your rewards account and there will br no problems. Also, we DO have a back stock and if an employee tells you different you need to find a manager and tell them because as an employee at Ulta we are told from the beginning to always check for the customer. I love working at Ulta, that treat me amazing. Also, i know tons about all of the products in my store, i do have favorites, but i know how to take what customers want and apply it to the right product. Ultra forever.

  35. we also constantly have sales and GWP's and our point system is way better.

  36. Hi, just wanted to say, I enjoyed this article. It was practical.
    Keep on posting!


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