ULTA-mate Disappointment: Why Sephora Is STILL My Number 1 Beauty BFF

Published on July 20, 2013 by   ·   No Comments

0 Sephora StorefrontGo ahead, call me a Sephora snob.  I can take it.

Now, I’m pretty much a whore when it comes to makeup – I’ll try a little bit of everything.  Which is why Sephora is such a great place: they carry a ton of great brands as well as their own line, and you can get a sample of just about anything in the store.  My great disappointment is that the nearest full-size Sephora is in the Cities.  Living in Tittyfuck Nowhere, North Dakota I have to rely on the interwebs and the smaller Sephora Inside JC Penney located in Fargo (and occasionally Bismarck, when the ho hits the road!) for my beauty fix.  At least that’s what I thought.

As I was preparing to go to Minneapolis to perform at the BECAUSE 2013 cabaret, I mentioned to Tina (the event’s coordinator) how excited I was to get to a full-sized Sephora.  She agreed that Sephora was great, but that I should also try ULTA.  I don’t know how, but I had never heard of ULTA before; then, the next time I was in Fargo, I discovered that they had a great big ULTA right on 13th Ave.  How could I not have known?!

0 Ulta StorefrontWhen I first visited the ULTA store, I was impressed with their selection.  Because they have a ton of room, they were able to carry some full product lines that Sephora Inside JC Penney can only carry part of.  There were a few brands that I noticed that aren’t available in Fargo’s SIJCP, but none that really made me have to buy them.  Even the one called Butter, which is tough for a big girl like me to resist!  I also appreciated the fact that they carry NYX, one of my favorite bargain brands.  They do great stuff at great prices, and it’s nice to be able to just pick up a piece or two without having to place an online order.  And although this really doesn’t do anything for me, they do have a very large selection of hair care items and tools, as well as a salon.  They also have a pretty good selection of nail polishes and accessories, though again this isn’t that big of a deal for me as I hardly wear nails at shows (though maybe I should start – I keep seeing fabulous nail looks that I LOVE!).

So the store didn’t blow me away, but I did start getting their emails and I noticed that they tended to have more sales and promotions than Sephora did.  To test it out, I decided to take part in one to see how the online shopping experience was handled.  That’s where everything started to go south.

MascaraI had been waiting for a promotion that I just couldn’t resist: on my lunch break from work, I came home to find an email offering a 6 piece deluxe-sample-size collection of mascaras valued at $40 that was free with a $40 purchase.  I was pretty excited about this: because I don’t use mascaras that often, I often end up throwing away full size mascaras before they are empty because they get old.  Sample and deluxe sample sizes are perfect, and this collection offered some great brands that I was very interested in trying.  The catch was that the promotion was only good for four hours, 10 am to 2 pm and I was running out of lunch break.  So I headed to the ULTA site, found a few things quickly that added up to $40 and attempted to place my order.  First I added the gift collection to my cart.  Then I went to add the other products.  When I added the first other product, it did add to the cart but it dropped the gift collection.  So I went back to add the gift collection, and this time it cleared the cart entirely.  Starting to get frustrated, I went back to my email and clicked back into the gift collection page from there.  This time when I tried to add it, I got a generic “We’re just touching up” page stating that they were having site issues.

If I took much longer, I was going to be late coming back from lunch, so I fired off a quick email to ULTA customer service detailing the exact problems I was having with the website, the products and free gift collection I was trying to order, and asking for more info about how I could still take part in this promotion despite their site issues since I wouldn’t get home from work until after the Customer Servicepromotion deadline had passed.  When I returned home, I didn’t have a response from their customer service department, but I did have another general email from ULTA saying that the promo had been extended.  So the original end time was 2 pm, and I was home by 5:30; this suggested to me that I wasn’t the only one who experienced this problem and that they had adequate supplies to extend the promo.  When I went to the site to place my order, I was told that the free gift collection was out of stock.

At this point I emailed ULTA’s customer service again and told them that I was unhappy with the service and the communication I was receiving (or not receiving, as the case may be).  As someone who has worked some form of customer service myself for almost 20 years, I realize that things can and do happen, but I know that businesses that value customer service and customer loyalty take seriously the responsibility of addressing negative experiences and doing what they can to make them right.  That was not the type of experience I received from ULTA.

Later that night, I received two emails from ULTA customer service responding to my two emails.  The first one said that the promo was out of stock and there was nothing they could do about it.  The representative didn’t acknowledge the problems with the website, didn’t offer any sort of alternative fix to the problem, anything.  It was “That’s the way it is, and that’s that.”  The second response, to my later email after the promotion was extended but still came up as out of stock, also did not acknowledge my frustration at being told the promotion was being extended when they clearly did not have stock to cover it, did not offer any sort of alternative promotion, or anything else besides a very general “Sorry for any inconvenience.”  I have never worked a customer service position where this sort of vague answer that in no way addresses the customer’s stated concerns was acceptable; I would never treat a customer this way in my job, and I don’t appreciate it when I have customer concerns.

Bad-vs-good-customer-serviceSo does Sephora have customer service that measures up?  Absolutely.  My orders from Sephora have been mostly smooth, but if there is a problem they are quick to address it and all of the representatives I’ve worked with have been super polite and really put in the effort to answering your questions and addressing your concerns.  On one order, I bought one of the OCC lip tar and polish collections featuring Willam, and the polish bottle somehow got broken in the packing or shipping process.  When I called customer service, they had a new collection out to me that same day, with the same expedited shipping my original order had, and though I was more than willing to send the original item back they didn’t require me to do so.  They also threw in a free sample in the box that I hadn’t requested.  Not only did they address my concern, but they did little extras to ensure that I had a great experience.

And that is why Sephora is still my main beauty BFF, and ULTA was ULTA-mately disappointing.

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