- Alyssa Powell/Business Insider
- As two one-stop shops for all things beauty, Sephora and Ulta are often compared.
- The stores are actually pretty similar and both are great places to stock up on all the makeup, skin-care, and hair-care products you need.
- Wondering where you should go for your next beauty haul? We break down everything you need to know about both stores, from membership programs to shipping costs.
If you’re an avid shopper of all things beauty, you’ve probably been to a Sephora or an Ulta – maybe even both. As one-stop shops for all things beauty, from makeup to skincare to hair care and everything in between, many people compare the two stores.
Sephora has a reputation of selling more luxury beauty brands, while Ulta has long been considered as a retailer of drugstore brands. The reality is that these two stores aren’t so different. With competitive rewards programs, strong selections of products and brands, beauty services, tips, and more, both stores offer great shopping experiences.
Wondering where you should go to get what? We’ve covered the membership programs, rewards, product and brand selections, ways to shop, and how to decide which is best to you.
Keep reading for a complete breakdown of what you can expect to find at Sephora and Ulta.
Brands and product selection
Both stores carry a wide range of products across all price ranges, and there is a lot of overlap between the two when it comes to brand selection. Generally, Sephora stocks more high-end brands and Ulta more drugstore options.
Sephora: Sephora carries hundreds of brands, along with its own private label. Sephora Collection, the store’s in-house line, offers affordable beauty products starting as low as $1. The store also stocks a host of mid-tier brands, as well as high-end ones like Dior, La Mer, and Chanel. Fenty Beauty, Huda Beauty, and Charlotte Tilbury are some of Sephora’s standout brands you can’t find at Ulta.
Ulta: Ulta Beauty Collection is the store’s in-house label offering affordable beauty products – prices start below $1 for a sheet mask – with everything from skincare to beauty tools. Like Sephora, you can find plenty of mid-tier brands, but what stands out about Ulta is its curation of budget beauty brands. NYX, e.l.f. Cosmetics, and L’Oréal are some of the drugstore brands you can’t find at Sephora.
- Ulta/ Facebook
Both stores offer membership programs that reward shoppers for spending with points programs, grant them special access to promotions, and more.
Sephora: Beauty Insider is Sephora’s membership program. There are three levels of membership: Beauty Insider, VIB, and VIB Rouge. Any shopper can become a Beauty Insider since there’s no minimum spend necessary. To become a VIB member, you must spend $350 a year, and to become a VIB Rouge member that number goes up to $1,000 a year.
Ulta: Ultamate Rewards is Ulta’s membership for loyal shoppers. There are three tiers of membership: member, platinum member, and diamond member. There is no minimum spend required to become a regular member. You must spend $450 a year to become a platinum member and $1,200 to become a diamond member.
Both the Beauty Insider and Ultamate Rewards programs offer great perks to shoppers, whether you’re spending lots of money at the store each year or none at all. Sephora offers its members more promotions, while Ulta offers more birthday perks, but ultimately both programs reward shoppers very similarly.
Sephora: There are many benefits of becoming a Beauty Insider. One of the most notable is the points system, which turns your spending into points that you can redeem at the Rewards Baazar in exchange for products. Here’s a rundown of the rewards you get, at every membership tier:
- Insider: 1 point for every $1 you spend, 2 free birthday gifts
- VIB: 1.25 points for every $1 you spend, 4 free birthday gifts, celebratory tier gift (500 points or 2 free makeovers)
- VIB Rouge: 1.5 points for every $1 you spend, 4 free birthday gifts, celebratory tier gift (750 points or 4 free makeovers), free standard shipping, access to exclusive events
Ulta: Ultamate Rewards members get lots of benefits that make future shopping hauls more affordable. Unlike Sephora where points are redeemed as products, at Ulta points are redeemed as cash discounts on future purposes. Here’s a breakdown of the rewards at every level:
- Member: 1 point for every $1 you spend, free birthday gift, double points during your birthday month
- Platinum: 1.25 points for every $1 you spend, free birthday gift, double points during your birthday month, $10 birthday coupon, points never expire
- Diamond: 1.5 points for every $1 you spend, free birthday gift, double points during your birthday month, $10 birthday coupon, points never expire, everyday free shipping on orders of $25 or more, annual $25 beauty service reward card
Ways to shop
Both Sephora and Ulta have nice, well-organized stores where you can find (and be tempted by) thousands of products on display. Both also offer pretty similar online shopping experiences as well, though Ulta offers an incredibly convenient in-store pickup option.
Sephora: Sephora’s shipping offering is pretty standard. If you spend $50 or more, you’re eligible for free, standard three-day shipping. For orders less than $50, this same shipping costs $5.95. To get two- or one-day shipping, you’ll pay $10.95 or $16.95, respectively. If you shop online at Sephora often, it may be worth it for you to enroll in its flash shipping program. It costs just $15 a year and gives you free shipping for the entire year, no minimums required.
Ulta: Ulta’s shipping rates and policies are pretty standard too. Regardless of how much you spend on your order, standard shipping costs $5.95 (3-8 business days), expedited shipping costs $9.95 (3-4 business days), and premium shipping costs $16.95 (2-3 business days).
If you want to avoid shipping costs and live close to an Ulta store location, use Ulta’s in-store pickup service. All you have to do is choose “Buy Online & Pick Up in Store” as your purchase option. When your order’s ready, you’ll get an email from Ulta – just head over to the chosen store with that email confirmation and an ID, and you’re good to go.
So, where should you go?
- Shutterstock/ scharfsinn
Truthfully, it’s up to you. You can’t go wrong shopping at Sephora or Ulta. For many shoppers, it’s a matter of what they know. For example, I grew up going to a local Sephora and got a Beauty Insider card at that time. It’s still worth it for me to shop there as I’ve accumulated points over the years and it’s proved to be a brand I can really trust. If you grew up going to an Ulta instead, you’d probably say the same about that brand.
Another factor in choosing where to shop is looking at what you want to buy. If e.l.f. Cosmetics is your favorite brand, go to Ulta – Sephora doesn’t stock the brand. If you love Charlotte Tilbury, you’ll want to go to Sephora, as Ulta doesn’t have it. Luckily, both Sephora and Ulta stock a number of popular beauty brands like Nars, Clinique, and Too Faced, among others – so if that’s what you need, you’re set wherever you go.