Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Let's Talk About Sephora

This wouldn't be the first time I'm kvetching about Sephora. Maybe it's my fault for still occasionally shopping there, because it certainly looks like the company has lost interest in me as a costumer. I can still remember that ten years ago Sephora was a lot more fabulous. The stores (at least the ones I frequented in NYC and NJ) were better maintained, the brands offered were more interesting and even the perfume selection was better- more prestige/luxury houses, less mass market. They used to offer the entire range of Cartier perfumes, for example, not just the latest/bigger sellers. There was more Chanel (including makeup!) and Guerlain parfum extraits- can you imagine buying L'Heure Bleue at a Sephora store today?

There were also smaller high quality makeup brands that weren't necessarily geared towards teenagers. I first discovered Skin by Alison Raffaele at Sephora. The same goes for Paula Dorf makeup, Becca Cosmetics and Anna Sui nail polish. All of them are no longer available there, and the bad news keep coming: Both Cargo and Laura Geller makeup brands are being withdrawn from Sephora. You'd be able to find them on QVC, but seriously, I'm not a fan.

But beyond the kiddy brands, the disappearance of old favorites and the clueless SAs (what else is new?), the biggest turn off is the state of the makeup displays. It's the same in every store I visited over the last year or so, from Paramus to the brand new store on Times Square. Testers are broken, missing and dirty. The general feel is that you're going to get a serious case of cooties if you touch anything there, and that, my dear LVMH friends, is the total opposite of luxury.

Photo by me.


  1. I totally agree! I know another blogger who recently expressed the same impressions. Sephora has seriously slipped. As you said, the stores are dirty, the offerings are often "late" or boring, and the SAs are clueless.

    I wish I were fabulously rich; I'd launch the competition. That's probably the only thing that will shake them up.

  2. Oh Lordy yes. There is nothing of interest to me anymore, nothing.
    Testers are MIA or contaminated. I wouldn't touch them. I get more satisfaction cruising the isles of Target. I might add that I buy higher end and difficult to find lines such as Edward Bess, YSL, and Lipstick Queen. Thrill is in the find and I no longer get thrills from Sephora.

  3. Yes, the Sephora of 10+ years ago is long gone and I am too. I used to live a block from a Sephora years ago~ great treasures like Paul & Joe and the others you mentioned. They carried the complete line of Annick Goutal, not just the mass appealing Petite Cherie. Helmut Lang, Jil Sander, the Guerlains...ah the Guerlains!
    If I happen to stop in now, it's wall to wall teenagers (my baby sitting $ probably would not have covered a Sephora haul). I'm wondering if Sephora dug their own graves, and ours, by having to pull in the reins on their return policy b/c they have decided they have decided to market so heavily to this age bracket. What was to lose? Wear an eyeshadow for a few weeks- tire of it and return it?
    And the SAs, not just at Sephora, but lately- everywhere...there doesn't seem to be much knowledge of product at all. Most seem bored and uninterested, even the ones who work on commission!
    I'm not feeling any love for any dept store, high end or Sephora, lately. It's just one more reason to shop online for what I want, when I want, for the brands I want. Sorry for the rant, but Sephora has been on my mind lately and I'm glad I'm the only person who feels this way. I thought I was just getting "old".

  4. Yep. I can totally relate to what you mean. Sephora is not as fun an experience as it was..should i say..back in the day. I have been to the new one in Time Square and i must say i was not impressed. the inside seemed kind of gloomy dark and i walked out with purchasing only one item. I haven't been to the one in Paramus in ages. The last one i went to was on Madison Ave 42nd street. Not so great either. Not well kept up either.

    Which has lead me to do almost all of my cosmetic shopping online. "sigh" :-(

  5. This is going to make me sound a little crazy I know, but if I want to go to Sephora I go right when it opens in the morning so that I'm the first one there and typically have the place mostly to myself. I've found the stores to be much cleaner at this time and it also means that the managers (or someone who actually knows what they're talking about) is free to answer my questions. I've got to say though, I was in a Sephora in France this past summer, and they have it down pat! Pristine store, friendly knowledgeable staff and more brands than I could imagine! I'm saving up for my next trip already!

  6. You ladies are right about the decline of Sephora in the USA. Out here in California I find the same problems: testers MIA, dirty displays, plethora of teen oriented products, poor selection of fragrances, and a lot of standard department store fare. It's still a great place for younger girls who are just getting started with make-up to come and play, but they're usually the ones who leave things in such a mess. It's too bad really because I loved the original concept.

  7. It all comes down to money, if I can be so frank.

    They have an interest in keeping brands that perform well, or that are "house" brands (LVMH-owned). Niche brands that don't pull in the money but take up floor space get booted eventually. (The Cargo thing I still don't get, since that brand is a great performer.)

    The messiness is also reflective of the bottom-line. Labour budgets are directly tied to sales - it's one of the most controllable expenditures, so if you're looking to balance your budget at the end of the day, staff is the first thing you're going to cut. What that means is less people to do the same amount of upkeep. Not gonna happen. (Testers are also a controllable cost - they won't reorder if budget is an issue.)

    I can't compare what it was like 10 years ago, though.

  8. Clueless SAs -- amen to that sister. They know embarassing little about perfume and I hate them always trying to sell me.

  9. Also, my favorite recent encounter with an SA began with them trying to tell me about their "new scents." I had to correct her and tell her "new" was not six months and two seasons behind.

  10. I say: forget brick n' mortar perfume shopping in general. In the US anyway. It has become nothing more than an irritating experience, with all the problems mentioned here, especially the ignorant SA's flitting around me trying to sell me dreck.

    A smiling UPS guy delivers a box to my porch. I open it at my leisure and spray as much as I like, in my own home. That's worth the $6 or so that the shipping costs.

    Like most American cities, we don't have a boutique perfume store here, just the mainstreams. And the teenaged girls can have them IMHO.

  11. I'd ask for some empathy towards the SAs - if they come across as clueless, trust me, it has little enough to do with them.

    Sephora is run for business, not art. You can luck out and come across people who are talented artists and truly passionate about the products and the ingredients. More often than not, those people eventually move on to more productive careers. That leaves nice, enthusiastic ladies and gentleman who know as much as they are trained on - and that's where it can be really hit and miss.

    Sometimes the training itself really sucks. I've heard some reps say the most ludicrous and untruthful things, and have been told to shut up and let them speak when I've tried the raise a critical question.

    Sometimes it, again, comes down to money - as in, there is not enough labour to spare enough people to cover the sales floor while others get their training. So you might get just a handful getting the training, and then it gets passed on piecemeal.

    The girls I've worked with have all been lovely and intelligent and passionate, but they can only work with what they are given.

  12. Brava!! I hope someone from Sephora reads this. I first met Sephora in 98 in Europe and I was so excited to see them here in America. Since then...they have disappointed me continuously. I miss the educated SA's of the past.

  13. I live in Athens,Greece, the Sephoras that I frequent (about 5 in total) are totally different, if I compare between them. It totally depends on where I go, the SA's have either very little knowledge of the products they carry or almost none, some shops are cleaner than others and testers are hit and miss (if they actually have them). We might get a few bits and bobs of different brands, such as Urban Decay or Benefit, but not much else.

    I had e-mailed Sephora Greece about their Sephora by OPI line and was told that we would get the line in the winter, I went to a Sephora in November and the SA I asked hadn't a clue about what I was talking about (it's not been released in Europe yet, I've checked online). More exclusive lines, such as NARS, Givenchy and Shu Uemura are not in Sephora, I go to other beauty shops to find them.

    Your post just shows me that Sephora's slow, but steady downwards spiral, is not only were I shop, it's an all-over phenomenon.

  14. Couldn't agree more about Sephora stores. My only purchases with them are online. Space NK and Blue Mercury fill my boutique beauty needs when I want to browse in person. There is a BM location in Princeton; Gaia, have you been?

  15. Oh, I agree. I visited one of the newest locations, 42nd Street just off Times Square, last night. Even since its opening a few months ago, it had declined. My biggest complaint: the perfume section is smaller than ever, and quite a few testers are missing/stolen. (Then, I tried to exchange a defective Sephora-brand makeup tool (wihout a receipt, mea culpa), and was treated like a criminal. *sigh*) Oh, and does the music always need to be turned up to such a high volume? There were so few people in the store that it seemed even louder than ever.

  16. Sephora has testers? You wouldn't know it from shopping in the one closest to me. The SAs there are very sweet, but they have very little knowledge - I think Maggie is correct that it's a lack of training.

    What a shame! I used to love shopping there and sent many friends there back in the day. And I don't find most department store around here much better. I walked into Macys twice in the last month only to find no one, absolutely no one at the perfume counter. And no one available either - I asked. And they wonder why business is bad.

  17. The ones in Paris are still nice, but I avoid the ones here in the USA. Dirty and always out of stock.

  18. I worked at a Sephora over the holidays, and most of the griping here is totally justified I will say. Managers were only interested in the employees "providing customer service" (aka pestering people every two minutes, "Can I help you find anything?"). Stocking was definitely not a priority, and "cleaning" at night was laughably perfunctory. We emptied garbage cans, vacuumed, MAYBE cleaned the mirrors (I swear I was the only person who ever did that), and then got shooed out early because our labor hurt their sales goals. The perfume selection was simply a joke, entirely mainstream and boring, but, and this is the depressing part, that was really all people wanted. Although this is a midwestern city, not NYC, but still. I couldn't get anyone interested in that wasn't a clean skin scent or a fruity floral. Sooooo many requests for Juicy Couture and Harajuku Girls (VOMIT!).

    About the SA's: They didn't bother to train the seasonal employees, including me, at all, just threw us right in. It was embarrassing to have to tell people that I wasn't sure which product would be best, or that I needed to check with a manager. In fact, it often seemed that not even the regular staff had any formal training, simply a working knowledge of the products, (of course with notable exceptions.) I was more worried about the fact that half of the ladies who worked there were downright rude, and would frequently carry on long conversations with no regards for customers or employees approaching to ask questions. (Again, there were definitely exceptions! I'd try wandering around and see if you can't find the knowledgeable/friendly SA who's working that day.)

    However, in Sephora's defense, stop for a moment and think about how many brands and products they carry. Yeah, the YSL SA at Barney's is more knowledgeable, but she only has to know YSL, that's it! My store carried at least 20 brands of makeup, not to mention 6 or 7 haircare lines and more skincare than you could shake a stick at. Please understand if an SA doesn't know about the silica levels of a given eyeshadow off the top of their head.

    Also, from what I understand, no Sephora regular employees make commission, but I could be wrong.

  19. You would think LVMH is aware of the ongoing issues with Sephora, but keep in mind they are dealing with declining revenue (give or take 6% depending on the category).

    I'm personally freaked out by the testers but I do hazard a visit now and then.

  20. We appreciate the feedback you all have shared in regards to your experiences at our Sephora stores. As a company we strive to provide our clients with the best products and service, and we are sorry to hear about your experience.

    We have forwarded your posts to the appropriate contact within the Sephora stores organization so they can do their best to address your concerns. Please do not hesitate to send additional feedback or suggestions for brands you would like to see directly to [email protected].

    We hope that you will shop with us again to give us the opportunity to show you the kind of experience we strive to offer all of our valued clients.

    Best regards,
    Sephora Client Services

  21. Hello everyone!!! try shopping the department stores they have a staff, customer service, and cleanliness! I would not touch a Sephora tester if you paid me or let the 16 year olds touch my face! Try an upscale retailer same price better service.

  22. Disgusted! I received "Sephora VivaBox" for Christmas. It's a sampler of high end fragrances w a gift certificate included for full size choice of sampled fragrances. Sounds good? Well, I thought so too. Until I tried to redeem @ Sephora store in JCPenny's. Was told to take it to store where it was purchased 1.5 hours away from me! Is that about stupid or what? Any brains behind the business? And this is CUSTOMER SERVICE?! What an insult! Bad, Bad, Sephora... bad press on the horizon for you!


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