While many retailers struggle, beauty stores seem to be doing just fine and in the case of Ulta Beauty, keep expanding with 100 new stores opened in 2018. We visitedand in Newport Beach and decided to compare the two to discover which one is more versatile and why.
What does Ulta do stay relevant?
Ulta is definitely not struggling; the retailer is renovating old stores, expanding existing ones, and adding new ones. What makes Ulta work is the variety of brands and prices.
You can find over 500 brands of products that range from $3 to $100 and fit every budget, from luxury to drugstore staples. Sephora carries about half as much.
Another brilliant marketing strategy is uniting a beauty salon, a store, and a drugstore under one roof and competing with all of them, while other beauty suppliers have a much narrower scope of operations. Such model works for budgeting teens that make up the majority of shoppers.
Another good variable that works for Ulta is the fact that most of their stores are located in suburban strip malls instead of closed malls that are experiencing decrease of traffic due to e-commerce.
Where does Sephora stand in this race to the top?
Sephora understands the disadvantage of its locations and is moving out of shopping malls and opening smaller stores called Sephora Studios. Sephora definitely has an edge when it comes to more exclusive brands and new releases. The retailer also organizes programs like Sephora Accelerate for beauty startups, but still caters to clientele with deeper pockets.
- 80% OFF Latest Beauty Deals
- Free Shipping on $50+ Order
- $25 & Under Deals
To compare the two stores side by side we visited both of them in Newport Beach and made some conclusions
We started with Ulta and enjoyed our experience as soon as we stepped inside. The store was bright and employees were very cheery. High end cosmetic were located on one side and drugstore brands on the other, so we knew where to head right away. Another thing we liked is various discounts and sales bins all over the store. Right at the front of the store customers can see a bin with 5 products for $10, making the beginning of shopping successful right away.
As we headed towards the more affordable side, we found a wide selection of products from most popular cosmetics brands, such as NYX, Maybelline, Clinique, and Revolution Beauty. We even found a display of ColourPop from Los Angeles that used to be online only.
There was an entire section dedicated to Ulta brand only with “Buy One, Get One 50% Off” and most items for $25 and under. We were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of bath products, body scrubs, and face masks, and many other beauty items and needs.
Across the aisle we saw more expensive selection, starting with designer perfumes. High-end cosmetics included offers from MAC, Urban Decay, Too Faced, and Benefit Brow Bar. These products were priced at $25 to $200, while in the other side of the store we could find products for around $20. Ulta definitely had something for everyone and didn’t require an extra trip to a drug store for razors.
We also found a clearance section, where some digging was required, but the deals were as good as 70% off.
Ulta had some skincare products for all types of complexion and all budgets. There were stations for trying the products all over the store. One of the biggest areas was for hair care products, ranging from drugstore shampoos to high end styling tools. Fashionistas could enjoy a huge variety of hair color kits. The salon at the back of the store did hair, styling, nails, brow services, make up, and skincare.
What was our Sephora experience?
Sephora was just next door from Ulta and we paid it a visit.
The first impression included quietness and a lot more subtle color combinations. The bubbliness of Ulta was replaced by black and white walls with color from bright displays. The store was organized by brands, but there was no cheaper side like Ulta had.
Some brands at Sephora were not available at Ulta, such as Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, Pat McGraw Labs, and Kat Von D, giving it a competitive advantage when budget is not the main factor. Luxury brands at both stores have similar prices and similar displays. Sephora definitely won with variety of high-end cosmetics when compared with Ulta.
The prices were definitely higher at Sephora, from perfume at $200 to $100 skincare for just a few ounces. The only consolation was Sephora’s own brand, which was the cheapest option at the store, but still a lot more expensive than Ulta private label. Sephora’s brand featured a nicer display and more choices than Ulta’s.
Sephora had lots and lots of perfume, but almost nothing below $60. There was a beauty study at Sephora for makeovers, but a lot smaller than the complete salon at Ulta.
Skincare station offered mini-facials and lots of samples, a lot more than Ulta. Some amazing products were $40 for less than 3oz, which was quite disappointing.
Sephora had way fewer hair care products and tools than Ulta with its entire section devoted to it.
Both stores had similar rewards programs with Sephora advertising it more. Both stores give 1 point for $1 spent with Sephora letting customers cash the rewards in travel size samples and skincare products. Ulta lets points to be cashed and applied to purchases, not products.
In conclusion, Ulta appeals to more people because it carries products for lower, intermediate, and high prices catering to a wider range of customers and budgets. Sephora sells luxury products and does not offer many discounts. Overall we found Ulta more affordable and more down to Earth.