This was supposed to be a great week for makeup lovers: Sephora is having a 20% sale for their top-tier customers who belong to their rewards program. Unfortunately, the site is overloaded, customers are getting locked out of their accounts and some believe something sinister is at work: that they've been discriminated against simply for being Asian.
Sephora's rewards program works in tiers; as you can see from the chart on their website shown below, their are three ways you can get perks. VIB Rouge is the top tier and in order to belong, a customer has to spend over $1,000 at Sephora in a year. VIB is the next level; customers have to spend $350 a year. This 20% sale is only open for VIB and VIB Rouge customers and certain exclusive items are also available for purchase.
But numerous customers on Sephora's Facebook page and on a reddit thread allege that they've been locked out of their VIB accounts because they have Asian last names and/or international email addresses. Customers say that after finding themselves unable to purchase products on the Sephora website, they called Sephora's customer service line, where they were told they had been permanently blocked from using their accounts for trying to buy products (according to their terms of service, Sephora has the right to do this without providing cause). The current consensus among many shoppers is that in order to prevent reselling of makeup overseas at a lower cost (which is a serious issue for retailers), the company is blocking customers from purchasing during this sale. Specifically, customers allege that this is happening most often to Asian customers.
Sephora has not responded to an email requesting comment [Update: See below for their statement], but on Twitter they've written that their website is overloaded. That does seem to be the case, at least in part; many Australian and Canadian customers are also reporting issues with account lockouts and other people in the United States seem to have had issues with Sephora account lockouts even before the sale started. In one comment on Facebook, Sephora wrote that "at this time we are unable to reactivate accounts" and directed customers to send them a private Facebook message with their email addresses "for further review." And as a Sephora employee noted on reddit, "During my shift today beauty insider was down and has been faulty the past week. I could still find customers in store (even Asian customers) but I was not able to get online or sign new ones up. I had many stores all throughout the state calling me saying they were having the same problem, If that means anything to anyone."
But website issues aside, Sephora hasn't explained why customers who called their customer service line were told that they violated Sephora's terms of service with their purchases. Others are being told that there are quantity limitations on the number of purchases they could make, but they say that those limits weren't clear before the sale started.
Allegations that Sephora is deleting negative comments on their Facebook page, however, seem slightly overwrought; there are still tons of critical responses there. Instead, Sephora's been deleting posts that had email addresses in them to prevent people from posting their personal account information in public.
Despite the technical issues, many customers still think Sephora is being discriminatory. On reddit, one wrote that she believes this is a larger issue with Sephora that extends outside of this particular sale:
Long-time Sephora customer here. I moved to Taiwan a few years ago, but really wanted some Sephora goodness. I sent an order to my (western last name) friend and had her re-ship the package to me, I had no issues with the order.
Recently tried to make another order and send it to my brother (Chinese last name) who lives in Miami to bring back to me on his next trip home. My order was canceled and when I asked, they gave me the same TOS bullshit. When I asked which part of the TOS they were talking about, I was ignored.
Whether or not international and specifically Asian customers are being targeted by Sephora, it's clear that the company is struggling with some serious technological and customer service issues – ones they really don't want to be having as the holiday season is gearing up, especially amongst their most rabid (and vocal) consumers.
Update: Sephora has issued this statement, acknowledging both the site issues and their concern about reselling.
Message for Clients
Sephora is dedicated to providing an exciting and reliable shopping experience and we sincerely apologize to our loyal clients who were impacted by the website crash that occurred yesterday.
Our website is incredibly robust and designed to withstand a tremendous amount of volume. What caused the disruption yesterday was a high level of bulk buys and automated accounts for reselling purposes from North America and multiple countries outside the US. The technical difficulties that impacted the site are actively being addressed and our desktop US website is now functioning normally. We are actively working to restore our Canadian, mobile website, and international shipping where applicable. There has been no impact on the security and privacy of our clients' data.
The reality is that in taking steps to restore website functionality, some of our loyal North American and international clients got temporarily blocked. We understand how frustrating it is and are deeply sorry for the disruption to your shopping experience.
However, in some instances we have, indeed, de-activated accounts due to reselling — a pervasive issue throughout the industry and the world. As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting our clients and our brands, we have identified certain entities who take advantage of promotional opportunities to purchase products in large volume on our website and re-sell them through other channels. After careful consideration, we have deactivated these accounts in order to optimize product availability for the majority of our clients, as well as ensure that consumers are not subject to increased prices or products that are not being handled or stored properly.
We have established a VIB hotline to ensure that if we are able to verify that your account was erroneously deactivated, it is reactivated immediately. Please call 877-VIB-ONLY (1-877-842-6659) If you experience any difficulties placing your order please contact us at 1-877-SEPHORA (1-877-737-4672) or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com>.
Our VIB 20% off promotion runs through Monday, November 10th and our VIB and VIB Rouge clients have several days left to take advantage of this exclusive holiday shopping event
Image via Sephora/Facebook