We adore Sephora. Every beauty lover does. Wall-to-wall lipstick, lotion, luminizers—what’s not to love? And don’t even get us started on the feeling when you walk up to your doorstep and see a little (or not-so-little) box with the Sephora logo on it. Despite our longstanding love affair with the beauty emporium, there’s actually a lot we didn’t know about our favorite shopping destination; apparently, there are some things even years of visits won’t teach you.
We did some sleuthing and spoke with two experts—Sephora beauty directors David Razzano and Melinda Solares—to uncover some little-known facts about the brand. Keep scrolling to learn some interesting facts about our favorite makeup mecca.
Meet the Expert
- David Razzano is a beauty director at Sephora. He attended the Fashion Institute of Technology and became a Sephora Pro Artist in 2014 after a rigorous audition process. He has keyed shows at New York Fashion Week and lives in New York City.
- Melinda Solares is also a beauty director at Sephora. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and is based in Los Angeles.
It was founded in the 1970s by a Frenchman
Dominique Mandonnaud founded Sephora in France in 1970 with the intention of letting consumers try products before they buy them. The concept was unique at the time—an open-sell environment that featured a wide range of brands and price points in the worlds of skincare, makeup, fragrance, body and hair care. (Today, the company even has its own in-house label).
It expanded after being acquired
In 1997, Sephora was acquired by Paris-based luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, and one year later, it opened its first North American store in New York City. Today, Sephora employs over 30,000 people in more than 2700 stores in over 35 countries, according to the brand.
Sephora was an early e-commerce player
Sephora was an early adopter of e-commerce, launching its first website in 1998, according to author Mary Curran Hackett. Now, digital marketing is embedded in the entire company (its U.S. headquarters is even located near Silicon Valley). That emphasis on digital may have helped propel the company's sales and transformed the way it does business.
It's now a "stage," not a store
Shakespeare said it first: all the world's a stage, and so it is at Sephora. The sales floor is called the “stage,” and everywhere else is “backstage.” Sales associates are “cast members,” and managers are the “directors.” Uniforms are "costumes."
"At Sephora, our clients are at the center of everything we do," Solares says. "We are the ultimate beauty destination, and our goal is to ensure that everyone feels like they belong."
Sephora isn't technically a real word
The name is a combination of the Greek word sephos, meaning beauty, and the name Zipporah, the exceptionally beautiful wife of Moses in the book of Exodus.
It revolutionized how we shop for makeup
Can you imagine shopping for makeup any other way than we do now—with products out for you to touch and swatch? Before Sephora, the standard method of operation was an old-fashioned department store model, with products locked away behind cases and nary a tester in sight, according to the brand. Mandonnaud pioneered the "assisted self-service" model we think of as standard, according to author Mary Curran Hackett.
It helped make beauty samples standard
“The rumors are true—you can get up to three samples of any product in-store made for you each time you visit,” Razzano confirms. Cast members have the ability to scan your samples right into the Sephora app on your phone and file them directly underneath your Beauty Insider (more on that below) profile. No more struggling to read tiny, makeup-smudged writing on minuscule labels.
Checking out online? All orders at Sephora come with two free samples, which also go straight into your profile.
Its rewards program helped make it an empire
Sephora's rewards program, Beauty Insider, has three different tiers. Anyone who joins is an Insider, VIB perks begin after spending $350 in a year, and the top echelon of spenders are referred to as "Rouge" members. If you drop $1000 or more on products in a year (which is shockingly easy to do), you gain access to exclusive events, early product drops, expedited shipping, special Rouge-only shades of cult-favorite products, meet-and-greets with brand founders and other makeup bigwigs, and the chance to trade in rewards points for gift cards. Sometimes, it pays to be on top.
Sephora is made up of "worlds"
Every Sephora has three worlds: fragrance, skincare, and color cosmetics. “At Sephora, we want every client to have the best experience possible, so our cast members are hired, trained, and certified to be experts in a specific world, like fragrance, color, or skincare,” Razzano says. “For the most part, cast members are stationed in their world. If you’re looking for a fragrance, it’s best to ask someone standing in the fragrance section for advice.”
It can basically provide makeup on demand
A few years back, Sephora launched its Flash program. Flash shoppers in the continental U.S. get unlimited free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase requirements for the low price of $15 per year—and it's free if you're Rouge. Members can also choose overnight shipping for $6. Need something sooner than that? Postmates offers Sephora delivery straight to your door in many major cities.
"I have definitely used this service for a beauty emergency or two," says Solares, who adds she also loves, "Sephora’s Live Beauty Help service, which connects shoppers online to Sephora Beauty Advisors for real-time product recommendations and shopping advice. No matter where or how you want to shop, Sephora has solutions to make the experience more convenient than ever."
It offers even high-tech makeup and beauty products
“Color IQ is Sephora and Pantone Universe’s exclusive foundation-matching technology that allows each client to find the scientifically precise foundation match for their skin tone and narrow it down to find the best one to fit their lifestyle and skin type,” Razzano says. “And now that device does more than just scan your skin for foundation matches. It’ll also help you find the right concealer and lip color.” And the technology doesn’t stop there: There’s also both Skincare IQ and Fragrance IQ, which will help you sleuth out new favorites based on skin type and scent preferences, respectively.
It's focused a lot on bringing diversity to the beauty industry
"We have the best-in-class product assortment! From celeb-backed brands like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, to Black-owned brands like Fashion Fair and Topicals, to clean beauty brands like Biossance and Youth to the People, there are so many incredible brands that truly offer something for everyone," Solares says.
The company has an outlet for those who just can't get enough
If everyone in your life has cut you off from waxing poetic about lipstick shades, don't worry: Sephora's Beauty Insider Community has your back. No, it's not a support group, but it does allow you to post breakdowns of your looks, talk formulas with other fans, and join discussion groups about your personal product passions. There's nothing like being among your people.
Sephora changed the game when it comes to product minis
Anyone who's ever wandered around a drugstore in vain searching for the travel minis will appreciate this: Sephora has a dedicated section to all things TSA-compliant, called Beauty on the Fly. You can normally find it as you snake your way to the register (thanks for enabling our impulse shopping!).
The company loves to give back
Sephora's philanthropic arm, Sephora Stands, is doing a lot to make the beauty space more inclusive and diverse. It supports women-owned brands with its beauty incubator Accelerate, offers Classes For Confidence to teach makeup application to cancer patients and transgender community members, and has developed Sephora Cares as a support network for employees in situations of domestic violence. There are other diversity, sustainability, and accessibility initiatives as well.