What Difference Between Sephora and Ulta?

Diving into the beauty realm cannot be complete without an analysis of some of the leading beauty stores. However, in the process, confusion blends in, and it becomes tough one deciding where to shop. Two of these beauty product retailers are Sephora and Ulta.

Despite being in the same retailing line, the two have identifying and distinct characteristics that make them unique. They are competitors, and one would want to invest in reading about their striking differences if they are always confused about which is which.

What is Sephora?

Sephora is a multinational chain of stores that deals with personal care and beauty products. Founded back in 1969 in Limoges, the Paris based outlet features nearly 300 different brands. This is in addition to its private-label that features products made by the company and bears its name.

Read too: Sephora Coupon code

In 1993, Dominique Mandonnaud acquired Sephora and merged it with his perfume chain but using the Sephora brand. Dominique went ahead to found and implemented Sephora’s “assisted self-service” which improved the sales experience. This saw customers get the rare opportunity of trying products in-store before buying them.

Also read: Sephora Competitors

It was later to be sold to LVMH in July 1997. It is then that it expanded worldwide bolstered Sephora’s product offerings expand it to offer cosmetic and beauty products.

Sephora’s Major Brands

Sephora features a myriad of beauty products. These include

  • Make Up for Ever
  • NARS Cosmetics
  • Lancôme Cosmetics
  • Anastasia Beverly Hills
  • Benefit Cosmetics
  • Urban Decay
  • Too Faced Cosmetics
  • First Aid Beauty, among others.
Difference Between Sephora and Ulta.

What is Ulta?

Operating as Ulta Beauty Inc. and formerly known as Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance Inc., Ulta is a United States chain of beauty stores. Headquartered in Bolingbrook, Illinois, Ulta Beauty stocks skincare and cosmetic brands, hair care products, and men’s and women’s fragrances.

Ulta Beauty was born in 1989 by a former Osco Drug, Inc. employee who had a vision for a new concept of offering both lower- and higher-end products in retail. He was later joined by his former colleagues and together they raised $11.5 million to boost the venture capital. That led to the official launch of Ulta Beauty in 1990.

As of 2017, Ulta Beauty had stock in over 20,000 products. As of August 4th, 2018. it believed to have had 1,124 stores in the District of Columbia as well as in 49 American States.

Ulta’s Major Products:

Ulta stocks among them are fragrances, nail, hair, and skin products, and makeup. It also has bath products and drugstore cosmetics.

Difference Between Sephora and Ulta

Listed below are the striking differences between the Sephora and Ulta:

Year of founding

Sephora was founded in 1969 in Limoges France, while Ulta was born in 1989 and formally launched in 1990 by Richard E. George.


Sephora is headquartered in Paris, France while, Ulta has its headquarters in Bolingbrook, Illinois, U.S.

Sephora Products and Brands Vs. Ulta Products and Brands:

Sephora’s brand includes:

  1. Make Up for Ever
  2. NARS Cosmetics
  3. Lancôme Cosmetics
  4. Anastasia Beverly Hills
  5. Benefit Cosmetics
  6. Urban Decay
  7. Too Faced Cosmetics
  8. First Aid Beauty.

 Ulta also stocks beauty products, but their majored line includes hair care and skincare products, nail products, makeup, and fragrances for men and women.

Sephora’s collection includes over 300 brands and over 17,000 products, while Ulta’s collection includes over 500 brands and over 20,000 products.


Sephora is a multinational retailer with a presence in different countries across the globe. As of 2017, Sephora had 2,300 stores across 33 countries. Ulta, on the other hand, is a U.S.-based retailer with 1,107 (as of 2018) stores in 49 American states as well as in the District of Columbia.

Stocking Strategy:

While Ulta focuses on stocking both the luxury and affordable drugstore brands, Sephora only focused on luxury brands.

Sephora Vs. Ulta: Comparison Table

Different Between Sephora And Ulta

Summary of Sephora Vs. Ulta

The battle of the beauty products retailers continues growing. The different retailers are doing their best to keep their customers and earn new ones. This has seen each invest differently and in varied approaches to ensure they reach their goals. All these strategies make sharp distinctions between them and can easily help one conclude how Sephora is different from Ulta and vice versa.

Sephora Vs. ULTA: What are the differences between the two beauty retailers?

While department stores are seeing a steady decline, the beauty industry is in the midst of a boom. Spending on makeup and personal care is growing more quickly globally through social media, digital marketing, and technology. Sephora and ULTA are the top two beauty retailers that are in the midst of growth, and competition between the two areas fierce as ever.

Does the ultimate beauty question remain the same: Sephora vs. ULTA?

“Social media is shaping consumer behavior. Scrolling through Instagram, the pictures and videos bring things to life in a super absorbable way. [Consumers] go to Instagram for beauty inspiration and to learn how to wear this or do that. They relate visually, and they are getting a sense of urgency,” said Shelley Haus, vice president of brand marketing at Ulta Beauty.

In the beauty retail realm, Sephora and ULTA reign as queen cosmetic retailers. Both Sephora and ULTA shine in the selection, services, and in-store experience, and both reward devotees with free products, rewards, and other perks. Below is a breakdown of Sephora vs. ULTA and what both retailers are doing to be successful powerhouses in the beauty sphere!

Sephora vs. ULTA: Beauty Retailer Overview

Sephora: It may be obvious, but Sephora didn’t become one of the best beauty retailers without good reason. Inside the store, get yourself a makeover with one of the artists and take the products home with you, sign up for the VIB program to earn points for each dollar spent (which turns into product rewards) and online enjoy three free samples of your choice with each purchase. It’s a one-stop-shop for beauty.

ULTA: When you need a professional-grade beauty product (whether it be hair, makeup, or skincare related), you’d be hard-pressed not to find it at ULTA. With both drugstore items and prestige products at affordable prices, ULTA has easily made a name for itself.

Sephora Marketing Strategy

Sephora’s current marketing strategy is focusing on a combination of their online and in-store experiences and promoting brand engagement through social, mobile, and web platforms.

Through market research, Sephora discovered that their customers use their smartphones when shopping at brick-and-mortar locations. The retailer took this information and developed the Sephora to Go mobile app, which provides consumers with a mobile experience catered to their needs.

Photo via Sephora To Go

Another strategy Sephora utilizes is through product reviews. Sephora analyzed their customer feedback and product reviews and realized that a common pain-point for their consumer was purchasing a product that wasn’t the right fit for them and cause unwanted frustrations. Therefore to help solve this problem, Sephora created a variety of online content to help educate shoppers to make better purchasing decisions.

ULTA Marketing Strategy

ULTA is the only beauty retailer that delivers products across all price points, bringing together the prestige and general brand names.

Using the data collected from its loyalty program, ULTA offers insights to its brand partners. Dave Kimbell, ULTA’s chief merchandising and marketing officer, says he can educate these brands on what strategy worked best. For example, which email performed best, how customers interact and respond to mobile messaging, and what products are doing well or not selling.

Another big part of ULTA’s growth strategy is focusing on Ultimate Rewards, its loyalty program. This program has over 23 million active members.

There are three parts to the loyalty program:

Engagement: Ultimate Rewards is easy to use. With every purchase, members earn points that can be used as cash. And there are no blackout date restrictions limiting customers.

Content: Ulta sends Ultimate Rewards members magazines filled with new products, usage tips, and beauty trends.

Perks: Loyalty members get special perks like birthday gifts, event invitations, and early access.

SEPHORA Product Selection

Sephora’s inventory includes makeup, skincare, fragrance, hair care, and tools from indie, classic, up-and-coming luxury manufactories. Sephora also peddles its house line, Sephora Collection, which includes high-quality products at more modest price points than many of its high-end brands.
Number of Brands: more than 300.
Number of Products: over 17,000.

ULTA Product Selection

While Sephora focuses on luxury brands, ULTA embraces both the upscale and the affordable. Their brands range from high-end, such as MAC Cosmetics and Clinique, to drugstore brands such as Maybelline and Neutrogena. Additionally, as ULTA has an on-site salon, the retailer can offer hair care from salon-exclusive manufacturers such as Matrix and Redken. ULTA also offers its product line, which includes makeup, skincare, and bath and body products.
Number of Brands: over 500.
Number of Products: more than 20,000.

SEPHORA In-Store Experience

Sephora made a huge splash in the beauty world by moving makeup from behind the counter onto the floor for customers to try. It is also staffed with ‘beauty advisors’ that offer guidance to consumers on what products will work best for them. Sampling is a big part of Sephora’s business model; all stores allow shoppers to try products before making a purchase. Sephora also offers custom makeovers and group classes.

Last year, Sephora implemented the “New Sephora Experience,” introducing advanced tech to select stores to help make shopping more intuitive and engaged. New ‘Beauty Hub’ features include a digital workstation where consumers can watch video tutorials and touch-screen kiosks that help shoppers find the right match for concealer, foundation, lipstick, and skincare treatments.

Sephora In-store Experience
Photo via LVMH
Ulta In-Store Experience

One of ULTA’s main focuses over the last few years has been on improving the customer experience. It entices shoppers with free samples for both high-end and drugstore brands and invites shoppers to play with its hairdryers and electronic beauty tools. While shopping, customers can use the ULTA app to read reviews, receive suggestions, and add products to their favorites list.

ULTA sets itself apart with its full-service, in-store salons. ULTA salons offer a comprehensive range of hair, makeup, nails, and brow services, plus skin treatments from Dermalogica.

Ulta modern salon Difference Between Sephora and ulta
Photo via Modern Salon

The beauty world is ever-changing and it is crucial for retailers and brands to constantly stay proactive and innovative. However, Sephora and ULTA are succeeding in this through consumer research, technology, and by adding valuable and engaging elements to them in-store experiences.

Sephora and Ulta are often compared as two single-stop shops for all things beauty.
Actually, the stores are quite similar and both are great places to store all your maquillage, skin care and hair care products.
Where should you go for your next beauty trip? We break down everything, from membership programs to shipping costs, you need to know about both stores.

If you’re an avid shopper of all beauty stuff, you probably went to a Sephora or Ulta—perhaps both. Many people compare the two stores as one-stop shops for all things, from make-up, skin care, hair care and everything in between.

Sephora is known for selling more luxury beauty brands while Ulta has long been considered a pharmaceutical retailer. The truth is, these two shops are not so different. Both stores offer great shopping experiences through competitive rewards programs, a high selection of products and brands, beauty services, tips and more.

Where should you go to get what? We have covered membership programs, awards, product and brand selections, shopping methods and deciding what is best for you.

Selection of brands and products

Sephora has many brands, including its popular Sephora Collection in-house. Sephora Sephora

Both shops have a wide variety of products across all price ranges and when it comes to brand selection, there is a lot of overlap between them. Sephora generally stocks more high-end brands and Ulta more pharmaceutical options.

Sephora vs Ulta: Experience with online application

Sephora. Sephora. Online shoppers receive $50 or more for free shipping. Those who subscribe to the Flash Shipping program ($15 per year) will be sent free of charge for two days.

The application offers Sephora shoppers additional benefits including app-only specials, the ability to track your rewards points and loyalty status, new product releases and a digital trial feature, allowing you to see how you look in fake laughs and colors of your lipstick.

Ulta – This shop offers free shipping at more than $50. You’re going to pay $5.95 for standard shipping for other orders.

The Ulta app allows you to interface with the loyalty program of the shop, manage your desired list of products to buy, receive special offers and digitally try over 2,000 products.

Sephora vs. Ulta: loyalty programs and rewards

The loyalty program of Sephora is called Beauty Insider. You will earn one or more Beauty Insider points for every dollar spent. For select products, points can be redeemed online via the Rewards Bazaar or through the rewards display case at stores. Points expire if you have not worked for 18 months in earning or redeeming.

You will receive additional donations if you achieve a higher level of loyalty and a free gift every year on your birthday. Beauty insiders also have access to special events in the store. Those who reach the highest status (red) will receive a free Deluxe make-up overhaul without minimum purchase.

Ultamate Rewards.

Ultamate Rewards. The loyalty program of Ulta is called Ultamate Rewards. You’ll earn one rewards point for every dollar you spend. Points can be collected from the following point structure for future purchases:

100 points = 3 dollars off
250 points = 8 dollars off
500 points = 17.50 dollars off
750 points = 30 dollars off
1000 points = 50 dollars off
2000 points = 125 dollars off
You will earn more reward points per dollar with higher annual expenditure. For those at the core level, points expire one year after the date of their acquisition at the end of the quarter. However, points will never expire for those at higher levels in the program as long as that status is maintained.

Additional benefits of Ultamate Rewards include double points earned on your birthday month and a $10 birthday voucher every year. An annual $25 award card for beauty services is provided for those who achieve the highest level of loyalty (diamond).

Sephora vs. Ulta: Product cost discounts

Sephora is expensive. Sephora is known for its discounts and the chain seldom offers sales. Sephora frequently offers free gifts with the use of a promo code when shopping online. It is also famous for its sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It offers profound discounts on box sets and selects products.

Sephora has a reputation for being costly when it comes to product costs. The comparison between Sephora and Ulta yields identical prices, however. The reason why you can spend more on Sephora is that it offers no cheap alternative drugstores. Even its cheaper in-house brand, a $8 lipstick line, is still a bit cheaper than NYX and CoverGirl drug shops.

Ultimate cost.

Ulta often offers weekly coupons, which can be accessed on its website. The most common is $3.50 off a purchase of $15. There are also a lot of product specific coupons available in the “Offers” section of their website. Ulta offers brand-wide discounts during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and buy one, get an offer for many of its products.

With regards to product pricing, Ulta’s high-end brands are as expensive as Sephora’s products. Budget-oriented shoppers, however, could appreciate Ulta’s vouchers – and their choice of cheaper drugstores.

Sephora: Sephora has hundreds of brands and a private label of its own. The in-house Sephora Collection offers affordable beauty products starting at $1. The shop also contains a number of medium-sized brands and high-end brands such as Dior, La Mer and Chanel. Fenty Beauty, Huda Beauty and Charlotte Tilbury are some of the most outstanding brands of Sephora that you can’t find in Ulta.

Ulta: Ulta Beauty Collection is the in-house label that offers affordable beauty products — prices start at less than $1 per sheet mask — with all things from skincare to beauty tools. Like Sephora there are many mid-tier brands, but Ulta is characterized by its cure of budget beauty brands. NYX, e.l.f. Cosmetics, and L’Oréal are some of the pharmaceutical brands that can not be found at Sephora.


Some of the shades you can find right now in Ulta. Facebook / Ulta

Both shops offer membership programs that recompense shoppers for spending on points, give them special access to promotions and more.

Sephora: Sephora’s Beauty Insider is a membership program for Sephora. Three membership levels exist: Beauty Insider, VIB and VIB Rouge. Any shopper can be a Beauty Insider, as no minimum expenditure is needed. To be a VIB member, you must spend $350 per year, and this number goes up to $1,000 per year to become a VIB Rouge member.

Ulta: Ultamate Rewards is Ulta’s loyal shoppers membership. Three membership levels exist: member, platinum member and diamond member. No minimum expenditure is needed to become a regular member. You must spend $450 per year on platinum and $1,200 on diamond membership.

Program of Rewards

You can get a 500-point gift at Sephora right now. Sephora Sephora

Both the Beauty Insider and Ultamate Rewards programs offer shoppers great benefits, whether you spend a lot or not on the store every year. Sephora offers more promotions to its members, while Ulta offers more birthday benefits, but the two programs are ultimately very similar.

Sephora: The advantages of becoming a beauty insider are many. One of the most notable is the points system, which turns your expenditure into points you can pay for products at the Rewards Baazar. Here is a breakdown of the rewards you receive at each member level:

Insider: 1 point for every $1, 2 free birthday donations

VIB: 1.25 points for every $1 you spend, 4 free birthday gifts, tier gift to celebrate (500 points or 2 free makeovers)

Rouge VIB: 1.5 points for every $1 that you spend, 4 free birthday gifts, celebration gift (750 points or 4 free makeovers), free shipping standard, exclusive events access.

Ulta: Ultamate Rewards members get many advantages that make future shopping opportunities more affordable. In contrast to Sephora, points are redeemed as products, in Ulta points cash discounts are redeemed for future purposes. Here’s a breakdown at each level of the rewards:

Member: 1 point for every $1 you spend, free birthday presents, double dots during your month of birthday

Platinum: 1.25 points for each $1 spend, free birthday donation, double points for the month of your birthday, 10 $ birthday coupon, points that don’t expire

Diamond: 1.5 points for every $1, free birthday gift, double points for your birthday month, $10 birthday coupon, never expire points, free daytime shipment for $25 or more, annual $25 Beauty Service Reward Card.

Ulta’s store pickup makes it faster and more convenient to get what you need.



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