Angry Sephora Customers Invent Mass Returns As A Form Of Consumer Protest

What happens when a retailer encourages customers to buybuybuy in order to rack up rewards points for a special event, and then that event turns out to be a massive disappointment? If you’re the super-loyal, big-spending Sephora customers who tried to take part in the beauty retailer’s recent Epic Rewards promotion, you pack up all of your recent purchases and bring them back to the store.

The “Epic Rewards” promotion at Sephora, which happened last Monday, was a fun event for makeup addicts. In Sephora’s rewards program, you earn a point for every dollar spent, and you can spend those points on sample or specialty items.

Customers on the retailer’s mailing lists and social media feeds received messages like this one preceding the event:


Once-in-a-lifetime rewards are available August 10.
Shop now to bank even more points**

At the bottom of the graphic: Epic Rewards online only. Extremely limited quantities.

Customers were furious that they had spent money to earn points for what turned out to be something more like a raffle, with too few rewards to go around. Customers felt like they had earned those rewards, and they had earned them by shopping at Sephora, especially during a points promotion before the event that doubled, tripled, or quadrupled points for customers at different rewards “tiers.”

They decided to take advantage of the retailer’s generous return policy: they’ll even accept used items back, within reason. They would bring it all back. Here’s the thread on Sephora’s own forum site where it may have all started. (To the company’s credit, they didn’t take threads like this down or close the forums.) The poster wrote:

After carefully reviewing the return policy, I plan on gathering up everything I purchased from Sephora in the past 60 days and return it to the store. No matter the condition — new, used, half full, almost empty, EVERYTHING is going back.

Who’s with me? I think if enough of us do it, we can make a difference. I also think we should post a picture of everything we’re returning along with an estimated retail value.

Let’s hit ’em where it hurts ladies!

Here are pictures of receipts and of items that were sent specifically to Consumerist in response to a message we put up on Facebook. There are more out there.

In all of our combined years of consumer advocacy, we’ve never heard of customers doing a mass return like this as a protest. The combination of Sephora’s solicitations to bank points for the reward event and the store’s return policy resulted in mass returns.

Even if only a few hundred people did it, that’s not much compared to the company’s revenue per quarter or even per day, but when customers do so loudly, making their opinions known to sales staff and management at the store and to other people standing in line, that’s a perfume cloud of bad publicity that sticks around long after the bottle has been put away. Or some other cosmetics metaphor.

Yes, customers did interact and discuss the promotion when they ventured to stores to make their return. Reader Luke didn’t send a picture, but says that he accompanied his wife on her trip to Sephora on August 12, two days after the Epic rewards event. He writes:

There were seven people ahead of us returning stuff. We asked four of them and they all said they were mad about the epic rewards mess.

The very nice woman taking the returns told us she had been processing returns her entire shift and all of them were due to the epic rewards issue. She’s pretty sure she’d taken at least $4,500 in returns that day. We returned [about] $150, so her guess is probably accurate.


Irina returned $759.52 in merchandise.


Marcela returned $433.92 in Canadian dollars, which is US$330.82 as of today.


Allison returned $1,069.04.


Lea returned $584.22.


Lauralee returned $135.78.

You get the idea. The returned purchases that just happen to have been submitted to Consumerist total $3,142.

Sephora has promised some kind of solution to customers by September 10 at the beginning of September, and has also been handing out free rewards points as an apology. And they’ve been accepting these returns.

Sephora Promises Epic Rewards, Customers Get Epic Letdown
Loyal Sephora Customers Unhappy With Company’s Non-Apology For Unrewarding Rewards Promo
Sephora Will Get Back To Angry Rewards Customers In Two Weeks (Update: Or A Month)