Sephora Vs. Ulta: Which Beauty Store Is Better For Your Wallet?

The beauty market is doing pretty well for itself with the industry projected to generate $580 billion in sales by 2027, according to the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Per Statista, North America alone accounted for 28% of the total cosmetics market (with United States revenue projected to hit $98 billion in 2023) so it's safe to say that the U.S. loves its beauty stores. While the industry has experienced significant growth, two retail brands in particular have earned their place as the go-to options for all things beauty. Whether you have seen a store or are an avid fan, chances are you've heard of Ulta and Sephora.

Perhaps one of the most successful offerings from these two brands is their mix of in-person and online benefits. If you aren't a fan of in-person shopping today, you're not alone. In fact, according to Statista, online sales were projected to make up 17.7% of total revenue in the beauty and personal care market in 2023 so it comes as no surprise that Ulta and Sephora offer similar online shopping experiences.

Both brands also offer similar rewards programs, along with exclusive beauty collections. While there are certain brand exclusives, for the most part, both retailers offer many of the same popular beauty brands and products. So, with all these similarities in mind, it can be increasingly difficult to distinguish between these two stores. If you don't already have brand loyalty or are possibly looking to see if you should change up your retailer of choice, let's explore if there is a difference in price point between these two beauty retail options.

Product selection and sales

Depending on the specific products you use and shop for, pricing might not vary much between these two stores. Since Ulta and Sephora generally carry many of the same brands and these brands tend to set the price of their own products rather than the retailer, the pricing for a given makeup item will more than likely be identical at both stores. However, if you're a fan of a specific brand that can only be found at one of these stores (for instance both Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez and Fenty Skin by Rihanna are exclusively available at Sephora), then you're reliant on that retailer's pricing unless you buy direct from the company/brand in question. With that in mind, Sephora does tend to carry higher-end beauty products and brands than Ulta does and that could end up costing more.

A major way to save money on your favorite items is to keep an eye out for specific sales. Both Sephora and Ulta offer different themed sales almost every month of the year, which can make it easy to keep track of when exactly you should stock up on your favorites if you're looking to save the most money. This can also help you keep track of what kind of products to buy during certain times of the year. Also, remember that both companies have store-in-a-store concepts with larger retailers: Sephora offers mini versions of its stores in Kohl's while Ulta can be found in Target.

Rewards programs

Another way both brands aim to save customers money is through their loyalty rewards programs. These member programs offer frequent customers special perks, discounts, and even free shipping. The points system for the two is slightly different — while Sephora rewards one point for every $1 spent for all three of its tiers, Ulta rewards 1.25 points to its Platinum members and 1.5 points to its Diamond members. With that in mind, at the base level of a purely points comparison, 500 points will get you $10 at Sephora while 500 points will get you $17.50 at Ulta.

Sephora's Insider program and Ulta's Ultamate Rewards program each have three levels (tiers) of memberships, depending on how much a customer spends per year. While both allow customers to earn points for every dollar they spend, Sephora offers customers free gifts in addition to perks like makeup classes and exclusive event invitations. The higher tiers are upgraded to free monthly gifts, private beauty advisement, and two-day shipping. In comparison, Ulta's program typically offers discounts instead of free gifts, and opportunities to earn more points through special promotions.

One thing to remember if you're looking at ways to save money on your regular beauty products is consistency. By keeping all your beauty purchases within one membership program, you can ensure a quicker accumulation of points and save money on your beauty staples.