Everything you need to know next time you're shopping for makeup
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Many people would likely guess that makeup is non-returnable, especially if it’s opened and can’t go back on the shelves to be resold. So, it may come as a pleasant surprise that, thanks to Sephora’s generous return policy, you can return any new or gently used products for a full refund, so long as it’s in the time parameters—30 days, in most cases—that the store lists on its website. If you get a foundation home and realize it doesn’t match your skin tone once you’re out of the fluorescent store lighting, or if you add one too many things to your online cart, you can get your money back with minimal hassle—a quick return trip or by mailing the item back with the provided form.
But if you take too much advantage of that return policy, you could end up “blacklisted,” at least according to some shoppers who claim it has happened to them. Similar to Amazon, Sephora customers have come forward with stories of being banned from making future returns, with some even claiming to be barred from making future purchases. So, before you mass-order practically all 50 shades of Fenty foundation to find the one you want to keep, here’s what you need to know.
On a Reddit thread from February 2018, one befuddled Sephora customer posted an alleged screenshot from the company that stated that her return rate was “much higher than average” and not the “typical client experience” for Sephora. The Redditor claims that all of her returns (with the exception of maybe two in the last 30 or so years) were accompanied by receipts, though she neglected to say just how many purchases, of what value, or at what percentage she was buying and returning. Still, the alleged email said she may be barred from making future returns. Other shoppers echo the same frustration in the customer support section of Sephora’s website. What’s unclear, though, is how many returns are deemed acceptable before you enter a danger zone. (Curiously—or not—none of the complainants put hard numbers on their purchases and returns.) One customer in a Sephora community page said that an associate told her that only three returns are allowed within one year in the U.S., but Sephora’s website doesn’t back up this claim—and if it were true, there’d no doubt be an even bigger backlash than what we found on the internet.
According to a 2018 Wall Street Journal article, Sephora, along with about 34,000 other stores including Best Buy and Home Depot, uses a service called The Retail Equation (TRE), which monitors and scores customers’ shopping behavior—personal info that, in theory, the company will share with you upon request. To try to access this data, TRE suggests emailing its support staff with your name and phone number for a call-back. However, one customer commented on a thread that the call did not lead them any closer to answers regarding their stance with Sephora. And others complain of shady practices from TRE.
Regardless, TRE states that only about one percent of consumers are warned or denied by a retailer and it’s only after exhibiting behaviors that “mimic fraud or abuse” or that are “inconsistent with the retailer’s policy.” So while it’s unclear exactly how much is appropriate to return, we do know that most consumers are following the policies, or at least staying within the lines of acceptable purchase-and-return practices.
Assuming the threads detailing email interactions with Sephora are honest accounts, Sephora notifies customers via email once their account is flagged for “significant return behavior.” In the screenshot of the Reddit user’s email from Sephora, the company notifies the customer by saying, “Our records show an extremely high rate of merchandise returns associated with your Sephora account which may include purchases made at Sephora stores, Sephora.com, and/or Sephora inside JCPenney.” The email goes on to say that the “significant return behavior” limits the product selection for other customers and that the customer should be advised that if the behavior continues, Sephora “may decline any future return with or without a receipt at any Sephora location, including purchases made on Sephora.com or Sephora inside JCPenney.”
More likely than being banned from the store, it appears that customers are banned from making returns, which provokes a new set of troubles for one of the commenters on Sephora’s forum, as she lives far from a store location and has to guess which shades will work for her skin tone. “I don't have a choice but to order online, and if it doesn't work out, then I return it, but always within a day or two of receiving it,” she wrote. “The only reason I shop with Sephora is because they had such a great return policy, which I did need to use given the fact that I live nowhere near a Sephora.” (She, too, doesn’t say exactly how much she bought and returned before her return ban was implemented.)
A Sephora rep declined to comment about the alleged blacklist, and directed us to review the site for its return information. The current return policy, updated in August of 2019, states that customers can return new or gently used items to the store or by mail within 30 days a full refund to a debit or credit card if they have a receipt. Without a receipt or after 30 days (but before 60), customers receive a store credit in exchange for the returned merchandise. But, of course, there’s nothing about what might happen should a customer take too much advantage of Sephora’s generosity.
The best solution, as of now, appears to be limiting your returns, or at least keeping track of them and keeping all receipts for good measure. After all, it’s like they say, “there’s a reason we can’t have nice things”—if you take too much advantage of a good-faith policy, it could be taken away.
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