Ulta Has A Great Return Policy, Except For Keeping My Sales Tax

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

Vee made a small purchase from the cosmetics store Ulta, and needed to return it. That happens. Where things got confusing, though, is that she didn’t receive a refund of the sales tax she had paid. When she questioned this, a store representative’s response was that “the website does not state that we do not give the taxes back when making a return.” What?

By this logic, you can make up just about any rule, as long as it’s not specifically excluded in the return policy. Ulta’s return policy, for example, also doesn’t say that my local store will not require me to sacrifice a chicken in the middle of the store while returning mascara. Consumerist’s user agreement doesn’t say that we do not require readers to dance the Hokey-Pokey at all times while reading the site, so get up and start dancing.

She had made the purchase online, but part of the appeal of shopping at an omnichannel retailer is being able to return items to a physical store. As a chain with a physical presence in California, Ulta had to charge her sales tax, but they’re also supposed to refund the tax when she returns the item, right?

We checked in with Ulta’s public relations department, which is when things got weird. Consumerist left a specific question about refunding sales tax as a voice mail, and received an e-mailed response:

Thanks for reaching out to us. In response to your inquiry, items purchased online can be returned to our stores within 60 days of the initial purchase. We ask guests to print out their order confirmation and bring it to the store along with the items they wish to return. They have the option of exchanging the purchase for other products or getting a refund.

That’s all true and very useful information for when customers are returning something, but doesn’t answer the sales tax question. We e-mailed back, repeating the question about sales tax, and received no response.

Update: Ulta got back to us and let us know that yes, you are supposed to receive a refund of the sales tax too when returning a purchase.

Ultimately, Vee received a small “sorry for your trouble” gift card from Ulta, but didn’t get the tax back, and didn’t receive a good response for why they weren’t refunding her sales tax.

Meanwhile, we took this question to California’s Board of Equalization, which is what they call the tax department. We will add their answer to this post when we receive it.