I worked at ULTA and here are the reasons for the issues. The reason why they ask for info on cash returns is for loss prevention. Regular $3.50 and ad coupons will be restricted from prestige items the same way most stores do so. Macy's, Dillards, Sephora, etc.For being a rewards member you receive 6 20% off post card coupons with no exclusions. Return policy is great because you can exchange/return with a receipt with 60days if not satisfied. For every $50 u spend in a 4 month time period you move up a reward level for free items or your choice in a list. What other store will give you a FREE fragrance up to $40? Sephora is also not as busy, maybe that's the reason people feel they give better customer service.
The biggest problem I have with Ulta are the sanitary conditions. It seems like almost every product that does not have a seal on it has been opened and tested. I will not buy any products from Ulta that do not have a seal. I find this especially true with the NYX products. Many of these products do not contain seals and have been sampled. What I usually do is go to the store to see the products in person and then go home and order from the website. That way I know the products I'm receiving will be new and untouched. Who wants to use a lipstick or an eyeshadow that other people have put their fingers in.
I like the Ulta that I go to. It's about an hour and a half drive from where I live. They have some products that Sephora doesn't have, but I would choose Sephora over Ulta any day IMO. I like that Ulta has drugstore brands also so you can shop for those items while looking at some HE. Also like when they have sales going on especially online. I would shop here again but only for items that Sephora doesn't have.
This review is for Ulta.com. so my ratings for product doesn't apply except the overall rating. I have never been to an Ulta store; there aren't any in my state, and up until a few weeks ago I hadn't ever heard of them. The three times I have wanted to shop specials, the products were out of stock. This last time I wanted to get some of the NYX shadows on sale and they are all out of stock!! However, the same items that I wanted to buy from the last ad are there now that the sale is over. That is pretty cheeky (I have another word for it actually). This gives me a pretty good idea of how this company does business and it's not going to get any of mine.
I've had problems with Ulta for YEARS, and have watched them go downhill. I agree not everyone has a Sephora, and I think that Ulta could fill a niche between high end and drugstore items, however they are dropping the ball bigtime. The stores look dirty, the shelves (except for their store brand) are almost empty, and what used to be a great place to shop perfumes has turned into a wasteland. Add to that the fact that they are ALWAYS out of items advertised in their flyers, and their sale coupons have so many exceptions that they are not good for anything but items you can get at the grocery store. And last but not least, the staff are not well trained and have no idea what their store sells, Sorry if you work there, I've done retail so I know the issues, I also know you can't spend all your working hours in a store that size and not know what you carry! Example: I went in to buy the new L'Oreal lumi primer, I was in the same parking lot, and didn't want to drive another 15 minutes in trafffic to go somewhere else. so I broke my rule and went in. As usual, the display was empty, I flagged down an SA who I think was an assistant mgr, and asked if there was any other stock. I was told "No-it's new, so we won't have more for a couple weeks". I wasn't surprised as that's what usually happens when I shop at Ulta. I decided to check on a few other things, and imagine my surprise when I went around the end cap at the end of that aisle, and there was an entire untouched display of the primer I was looking for, I wonder how many people went out the door empty handed because someone didn't know they DID have more? They were offering a free gift/with a L'Oreal purchase, which I qualified for. When I went to pay, I told the SA the extra item was free with purchase, She charged me for it anyway, I had to mention it again, and rather than apologize or talk to me directly, she complained to a co worker, about the free item, Sloppy way to do business, I honestly think this is a corporate issue, I've tried to contact their corporate offices in the past, and have had no response, This tells me they do not value me as a customer, So be it, I will go out of my way to avoid purchasing anything at Ulta. I will go in once in awhile to check on colors, but I will go home and order online from another retailer, or go somewhere else to purchase. It works better for me anyway, as I usually buy enough to get free shipping, plus samples and extras Ulta does not give out. It's too bad, but with all the competition they have now, I can't see them staying in business much longer,
Overrated and Overpriced. This store is nothing but the cosmetics section of Walgreens and CVS plus Sephora all rolled into one. I find the makeup to be priced lower at Walmart and Target. What really annoys me is that I usually go to their Essence section which is the lowest priced cosmetic items (besides Wet & Wild), but as usual it is HARDLY EVER fully stocked (this can go on for weeks). It also usually has a very unsanitary look to it. Apparently, customers are sampliing the products right out of the package and writing all over the display cases with eyeliners and nail polish swatches. I know they don't pay attention to that section particularly because I saw the poorly stocked selections which included random products from other areas where customers had placed them there I guess after changing their minds and didn't want to take it back where it belonged. I found it gross that going there a few days later, (like four days later), the section looked exactly the same, with the same misplaced products over there. I guess "straightening the store" at the end of the night is a thing of the past. I hardly ever find anything good in there and I have had to return so many things it's pitiful. They really need to have more testers, that would help to eliminate that problem. I also don't like to be watched like a hawk. I always get a sort of uneasy feeling when I am in there most of the time. The SA's at the checkout for the most part are friendly. However, I can hardly ever find any available Sales Asociates on the floor when I need help finding something. The only pro I really have is that they carry my favorite eyeliner, and I have searched for months for the perfect one and finally found it for $1.59 and also they have a great return policy. They also have great coupon deals, despite all of the stipulations attached to it. Other than that, it's really not worth the hype. Therefore, I think I'll stick to getting my lipstick and glosses at Walmart, Target, and the Beauty Supply Store.
Gosh, what happened to my Ulta? I have always had a great experience with the SA's although I agree that sometimes there is too much interuption which causes me to completely lose my train of thought and inevitably I forget something. Their loss. But, overall, I have had positive experiences. I have also had great success with their blushes and eyeshadows.
Now, for my "issues" with Ulta. I recently noticed that they no longer have testers for the drugstore brands. Except Ulta's. According to the SA, the cosmetic companies (Revlon, NYX, etc.) no longer want to provide testers which I find difficult to believe since the testers can't possibly break their fat wallets. I never buy perfume at Ulta becuase they don't give samples like Sephora and since I try to be a fair customer I always purchase perfume at Sephora. Soooo, now I have absolutely no reason to go to Ulta. Honestly, even when they did have testers, half of them were missing or products were not fully stocked as others have pointed out. I can't help but wonder if Ulta decided to remove other testers in hopes of steering customers to their brand. Sell a bunch of brands until your brand is doing okay and then stifle the competition since they are at your mercy in your store. Crappy. In addition, they never have proper testing supplies available such as q-tips, tissues, etc or anywhere to toss garbage. Crappy and unhygenic. I actually had a SA pull the display brush to test a foundation on my face, a brush that had been fondled and sneezed on and goodness knows what. Finally, they don't give samples of cosmetics like Sephora does. To be fair, I have never had a problem returning anything but I don't at Sephora or Dillard's either. I regularly exercise my right to return even though it is a pain and I absolutely do not shop anywhere where returns are not accepted with no problem.
I find Ulta really exciting because I am generally too poor for Sephora's brands and there aren't many other beauty stores around. I love the atmosphere of a beauty store...sometimes it's nice to shop for less costly makeup without a screaming brat knocking mascara off the shelf because some mom in the bread aisle lost track of her. I have not tried their salon or other services, so I cannot comment. The coupons are misleading because their prices are basically gouged and you break even. Who are they trying to fool? I always pay at least two dollars more per product here, so I don't really buy things I can get cheaper elsewhere...basically only go there for NYX cosmetics to avoid shipping costs and see the colors in person. I love NYX! It's also nice to walk around and sniff fragrances. I enjoy it. Overall, I am not super impressed by the products in their brand line, either. The eyeshadows, eyeliners, and mascaras I have tried are horrible.
I'm always surprised by all the negative reviews of Ulta I read online. Although I've never been to an Ulta except my local one, I've only really had positive experiences there. That's the short version of the review: give your local Ulta a shot, some of them are quite nice, though perhaps few judging from other reviews. Oh, but don't bother with the Salon.
The longer version:
I live in a really rural area and so my nearest Sephora is 90 miles away. No joke. I was a Sephora junkie, but I hated the crazy drive. When an Ulta opened up 15 miles from me, I had no idea what an Ulta was, thinking they were like a Bath and Body works. Imagine my surprise when I found out they sold beauty products, even some high end stuff! I do not have a Nordstrom, I do not have a MAC store, I do not have anything that isn't a two hour drive and finally I could get HE makeup and not pay crazy online shipping?
My experiences at the store have been, for the vast majority, positive. I've never been stalked by the staff (ok, maybe once or twice when I spent like two hours in the high end makeup, but for the most part no), and although the SAs aren't particularly knowledgeable about the products and sometimes hard to track down, I have found the sales and the return policy quite generous. I've never had trouble returning anything, even when it was opened, used, or without a receipt. The SAs encourage you to take something home, try it out, and promise that you can always return it, a promise they make good on. Once a close girlfriend of mine went on a crazy nail polish spree and seriously bought like $300 worth in one sitting. She ended up returning half of it, plus we were kinda in our swimsuits and all wet cuz we rushed there from the lake (long story), so the manager was glaring at us. But in the end she didn't say a single negative word, was polite and promptly rang up the return, even though we were keeping the store open a few minutes past close. (I know.. we're jerks. But it was a beauty emergency!!)
What they have in stock varies greatly. Sometimes they're out of the items I want, other times they have crazy good stuff that is sold out everywhere else. I got a NAKED palette when nowhere else had them. I think this is in part because they are located in such a rural area--- they don't restock as often as other stores because of a smaller customer base, but they also don't run out of certain things as quickly.
The SAs are a mixed bag, although I've had more good than bad experiences. There's one woman who's a total snob about HE stuff, and one manager that makes you feel bad about returning stuff by giving you the evil eye, but she doesn't say anything. The younger SAs are often nice and helpful and much more knowledgeable... I mean it's not like Sephora, where they know everything about the products, but at least they know what they do and do not carry.
Oh, and what everyone is saying about the samples that are out is true. They're absolutely ruined. But I talked to an SA about it and she said it was the crazy amounts of teenage girls that were coming in to play with the samples without ever intending to buy them... and I don't blame the staff for not being able to keep up. Apparently, only managers are allowed to put out samples and ring up returns. But they do have nice little counters set up where you can try stuff out with makeup sponges, Q-tips, tissues, makeup remover, all the works. Apparently not all Ultas have this but mine does.
A major plus is that they carry brands I don't see anywhere else. NYX, Palladio, and recently nail polishes from Butter London! I've seen people pay crazy international shipping for the Butter London polishes, so nice to be able to find them in a store.
The salon is a different story. I got a cut from the salon manager and although it wasn't awful, it was a standard boring textbook cut I could have done myself, and kind of uneven. I had to wait 10 minutes before the appointment started, even though I was on time, because she needed to go have a cigarette break right when I arrived... ok whatever... but the truly terrible thing happened when I went back a few days later to have my bangs fixed. The counter lady told me a bang trim would be $20... wtf??? and when I told her that was kind of unreasonable considering I had been in there only a few days ago and I was coming back to get my cut fixed, she sighed, said fine, she'd see what she could do, and finally got another stylist to fix my bangs all the while telling me that she's have to take the money for the bang trim out of the money my original stylist got for my cut. Wow... way to make me feel guilty and like crap.
I have patronized Ulta intermittently for many years. Overall, I have found the store to my liking, with a large selection of products at average prices. The courtesy of the staff has varied but that is true with almost any establishment. Some people just do not have the personality to work retail sales. One needs to be patient and at least be able to fake interest in the customer. Some companies are just more careful to hire staff with suitable personalities than are other concerns. Ulta does offer frequent sales and coupons.