Byline: Cassandra Chiacchio / Nicole Catanese

NEW YORK — Since Sephora came to America two years ago, its open-sell environment has quickly drawn a following of loyal customers. The store is said to be every makeup lover’s dream, thanks to a relaxed atmosphere, an interesting decor and a helpful staff.
It almost sounds too good to be true, so we set out to discover if Sephora really is a consumer-friendly beauty paradise when it comes to cosmetics. During one excursion, we discovered the Sephora Promise on the screen of one of the computer terminals located in each store. The promise is the store’s mission statement, and it’s an awful lot to live up to:

All things of beauty bring us together and impart a sweet scent to life. Sephora offers, to men and women, the fragrances of dreams: perfumes. Colours to brighten life: makeup.
The Sephora at the World Trade Center was the first store we went to. We were not greeted at the door, but we did get a hello when we made eye contact with a passing sales associate — or cast member, as Sephora likes to call them.
The unit containing the Sephora private label cosmetics brand, located at the front of the store, was very well stocked. The gondolas housing the Givenchy, Urban Decay and Club Monaco lines also looked full. But several other units, such as Hard Candy, Benefit, Shiseido and Stila, were practically empty. As for the cosmetics testers, many were missing, and those that were in place looked messy. As consumers, we would have been hesitant to use them.
The few staffers on hand seemed very busy. After a while, one sales associate said that although they were running around, any one of them would be happy to assist us. At this point, we declined and opted to look around on our own.
As we closely examined the empty shelves, we were approached by another sales associate, who asked if we needed help. Curious, we inquired about the missing items and questioned if there was additional stock in the back. The sales associate said that, basically, all the stock was on the floor and pointedly asked what we were looking for.
Since we had seen an empty display of Hard Candy eye pencils, we inquired after those. Sold out, said the associate. We asked when they would be in and were told that shipments arrive every Wednesday and Friday, but that the staff never knows what is going to be delivered. She explained that Sephora has to work everything out with Hard Candy, then the products are sent to the warehouse and then distributed. “You know, with the more popular brands…” she said, trailing off.
Although the new issue of the magazine was displayed, we were not offered a copy. The other Sephoras had events and displays that picked up on features in the magazine, but this store didn’t seem to. There were several computer terminals in the store, but the one we tried did not work.

The assurance of well-being: skin care products. A space for well-being, for dreaming. A place of beauty that one longs to discover. A bright, uncluttered space, easy to understand.

We arrived at the Sephora in SoHo a little after lunchtime and were greeted pleasantly. This store was larger and cleaner, and there were more customers and employees. More lines were offered here and all the gondolas seemed to be better stocked. However, none of the cases could compare to the Sephora brand’s tightly packed displays. Overall, the testers weren’t as unappealing as those at the World Trade Center.
We asked one sales associate about certain missing items, and she said they fully restock all products every Wednesday and Friday.
We were curious about upcoming trends and asked an associate whether any fall colors were out yet. The associate answered that Sephora receives what the company decides to send it. Noticing our dissatisfaction with her answer, she told us that dramatic eyes and lips would be the look for fall. She said that Stila might have some suitable colors and pointed in the display’s direction. She didn’t escort us to the Stila gondola, so we had no idea what she meant by “suitable for fall.”
At the Stila display, we overheard a customer ask if the store had Stila’s eye gloss in green, a product that was missing from the shelves. For a reply, she got a curt, “If it’s not there then no.” When the customer asked when it would be in, the sales associate said abruptly, “I don’t know, perhaps sometime next week.”
Heading toward the exit, we were drawn to what looked like real mixed drinks displayed around the front of the store. There was liquid in the glasses and the drinks smelled authentic, but we realized they weren’t meant for consumption. Instead, they were paired with a fragrance in a re-creation of the Sephora magazine story entitled, “Cocktail Scent-sations.” We concluded that the best way to be a hit at a party this summer is to smell like an alcoholic beverage.

The freedom to look, touch and smell…To move at your own pace, as you please. An ample, wide, and abundant choice, always offered to you. Whatever your needs, your budget, your style, your mood.

When we reached the Sephora at Times Square, we saw three girls dancing in brightly colored outfits outside. Obviously they weren’t dancing for dollars, as there was no hat or cup for donations, but it wasn’t clear what their purpose was.
Once inside, we realized that the dancers were yet another promotion for Sephora’s magazine. In this case, they represented the Brazilian Beach Beauty cover line. The magazine was prominently displayed along with subscription cards.
All brands, including Sephora’s, seemed well stocked, and the testers were generally more inviting to use. Computer terminals and makeup chairs were scattered throughout the store, but none were in use, despite the significant number of shoppers.
We once again asked about those items not on the shelves and the same answer was given regarding restocking on Wednesday and Friday.

The freedom to try products out at your leisure. A genuine relationship: sincerity, attention, kindness, respect and gratitude. The best selection of brands and products, appropriate advice and diagnosis by a specialist.

The first thing we noticed outside the Sephora at Rockefeller Center was Vincent Longo’s contribution to the CowParade art exhibit. Inside the store we saw Geoffrey Beene clothing displayed on all three levels. We later learned that this Sephora has a major focus on art and even has its own curator, Tanya Pushkine-Rojas.
All the products were very well stocked, and while some testers were missing, they were more pleasing to the eye than those at the other Sephoras.
We were not offered any assistance although there were many sales associates chatting among themselves. We approached one “cast member,” a young man, mid-20s, wearing light pink lip gloss, blue eye shadow and black eyeliner, and asked if he could recommend an eyeliner that would not smudge. He advised applying shadow as a liner with an angled brush. We asked to be shown one and after establishing our color preferences, he headed toward the Tony & Tina display.
Unable to find the tester he wanted, he took a sealed product and suggested we buy it. Since we wanted to sample it first, he put it back and looked for another Tony & Tina shade. He continued running his finger across empty tester spaces, then walked past other brands until he reached the Sephora Artist line. He grabbed a brown shadow tester and said, “Let me get my brush.”
We thought he would apply the makeup on one of us, but instead, he drew an outline of an eye on the top of his hand. He informed us that they sell the brushes for $15 and offered to get one. We declined because we wanted to shop around. As we walked away, he said, “Let me know if you need anything.”
We asked another associate how to keep lipstick from wearing off or bleeding. She suggested a Hard Candy lipliner and English Ideas Lip Last and brought us over to each company’s gondola. After an award-winning demonstration of the powers of Lip Last, we were impressed enough to want to buy the product.
We hunted down another associate and asked about the makeup chairs that were scattered around the store. She told us that complimentary makeovers are available using any chosen line. She also mentioned that making an appointment would be wise since the makeovers are in high demand. Indeed, most of the chairs were filled with customers.

The guarantee of the best price or the difference refunded. The freedom to change your mind: exchanges and refunds are as easy as payment. A moment of pleasure, buying something you have longed for. Whether you are just looking around or buying, as a client, you are our guest.

On the whole, our experiences in the Sephora stores were pleasant. Once we were able to get an associate’s attention, they were friendly and generally helpful. In contrast to the sales associates found at the beauty counters of many department and specialty stores, Sephora’s weren’t pushy and let us shop at our own pace.
We liked the mix of brands, most of which seemed geared toward a young, hip clientele. But had we been shopping with our mothers, both generations would have found plenty to play with and even purchase. It also was nice that the store provides products that span the price spectrum, ranging from Sephora’s inexpensive house brand up to Christian Dior and Givenchy.
However, had we been actual customers in search of a particular product, the missing testers and multitude of sold-out items would have been a deterrent and a disappointment.
We have to say, although the Sephora promise reads like a cheesy poem, the company almost lives up to every word.

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