Photo Credit: Jamie Larsen/EyeEm,

Why Shopping at Sephora Makes Me Want to Cry

Photo Credit: Jamie Larsen/EyeEm,
Photo Credit: Jamie Larsen/EyeEm,

Last week, we discussed using cognition awareness as an aspect of brand development. It’s one thing to theorize that cognition awareness can be an effective strategy in branding and retailing, but if we really examine why an awareness of cognition style matters, I think the ideas first presented in “Why Isn’t Cognitive Branding a Thing?” can be validated, at least on a theoretical level.  As INTJs are so often stereotyped as the “plain Janes” of the MBTI world, I decided to share my own experience with  popular beauty brand, Sephora. I have nothing against Sephora. I am a long-time customer (though not a spendy one). I have been a subscriber of their Sephora Play box since its launch (this subscription is not sponsored. I pay, people. I pay). Although I am a customer, in my personal opinion, Sephora’s cognitively unaware approach makes it an introvert’s shopping hell.

Photo Credit: Jamie Larsen, EyeEm,
Photo Credit: Jamie Larsen, EyeEm,

That’s not to say that Sephora is a bad place to shop. For many cognition styles, it’s probably a place of wonder and joy. I’m using Sephora not because they’re intentionally bad, but because of my own personal feelings, and because they make a great case study for furthering our understanding of cognitive branding. I’m not exaggerating when I say that shopping in Sephora makes me want to cry, something that I find alarming, as INTJs don’t like to feel strong emotions of any kind. I like it much less when those feelings are connected to something supposedly neutral like shopping.  Being a data geek, I can’t help but ask myself, why does shopping in Sephora cause this intensely negative emotional response?

This question is becoming increasingly relevant as research published in early 2015 by the website Help Scout shows that, for every customer who complains, 26 others choose to remain silent. Further, 59% would try a new brand or company in search of a better experience.  Both  research giant Gartner Group, and the e-consultancy SDL, have published research indicating that retailers face an imperative to master the customer experience. Online shopping, social shopping, analytics, and digital marketing all represent the new norm of omni-channel selling. Retailers must try to create the same type of experience across all sales channels because in the current marketplace, customer experience is rapidly becoming the retailer’s brand.  So, yeah, retailers like Sephora have a number of challenges facing them in a globalized, digitized, omni-channel marketplace. Not that the typical Sephora customer cares about Sephora’s marketplace challenges. At a minimum. the typical Sephora customer judges Sephora on two things:

  1. The availability of beauty products
  2. The customer experience – both online and in-store

Making beauty products available to its customers is why Sephora is in business. To truly “engage” customers (engage is a marketing term. We’re smarties.), Sephora must differentiate itself from MAC, Ulta, CVS, and other beauty product retailers through the customer experience. If Sephora views the customer experience as a set of things their customers can do: get a makeover, view online how-to videos, share a selfie featuring Sephora purchases, subscribe to one of those ubiquitous beauty boxes, then it’s easy to see how they would make cognition aware errors. Shopping at Sephora may be more grating for the INTJ cognition style than for other types, but I think many of the factors that make shopping at Sephora a negative experience can be applied to the other introverted cognition styles.

Why is Sephora so hard on the INTJ and other introverted cognition styles?

1.      Don’t Hate Me ‘Cause I’m Introverted

Let's Makeup: Photo Credit: Tom Merton,, Why Shopping at Sephora Makes Me Want to Cry: Always Uttori
Photo Credit: Tom Merton,

As Susan Cain, author of The Power of Introverts, points out, in an extroverted world, it’s easy to see introversion as an aberration, something that requires correction. If you’re an INTJ, you know the justifications for ignoring the needs of introverts. Introverts don’t like fashion. Introverts don’t wear makeup. Introverts don’t (fill in the blank). Yet, introversion does not mean a lack of interest in things like beauty, or fashion, or deep sea diving for that matter. So why would beauty be an extroverted female trait denied to introverted females? Introversion occurs on a spectrum, as does extroversion. The rationale that introversion would somehow make a woman wish to avoid beautification rituals defies all reason. On the other hand, shopping at Sephora can cause an introvert female to opt for the relative serenity of going natural rather than face the mind-numbing chaos that is Sephora, beautiful results or not.

Cognition Beware Mistakes

  1. Sephora is usually packed, especially on a Saturday afternoon at a large mall. Introverts find large crowds draining, that can’t be helped; but if you’ve gotten an introvert into Sephora, they’ve prepared for the crowd. However, shopping Sephora becomes frustrating when trying to maneuver around as you shop. There have been so many times that I’ve considered just walking out of the store when I couldn’t get to a product because of a packed aisle. Shopping Sephora is the feeling that giving up is better than looking better.
  2. Another introvert problem — the helpful cast members (what the Sephora brand calls their employees. Why? Because the sales floor is a stage to perform). This one isn’t so much of a problem for me since I’m such a makeup illiterate, I usually want some help. However, on principle, introverts like to explore on their own without having to worry about employees, cast members, or whatever, REPEATEDLY asking if you are in need of help. Helpfulness can be an added stress to the introvert shopper; we prepare for it going into Sephora, but unique to the Sephora customer experience (and other well-known beauty retailers) is the whole, don’t-you-want-a-makeover process. It’s voluntary, of course, but having a cast member, who is also a stranger, in your personal space bubble is stressful.
  3. Don’t like the make-up application? You’re an introvert. You’re probably not going to say anything but “thank you”  before taking the Freak of Sephora walk of shame through the mall because the helpful cast member who applied your makeup wasn’t up to the task. It happens, especially when you’re a bit on the tan side. Those are just three of the introvert stressors that can be activated by shopping Sephora.

Cognitive Aware Strategies for the Introvert Trait

Look, the introvert knows to expect a lot of human interaction while shopping Sephora. Unfortunately, the brand identity, as expressed through the customer experience skews heavily toward sensing types. Everything about Sephora is chaotic, exuberant, and extroverted.  While I understand that Sephora is trying to create a fun,energetic brand, the experience from the customer side can make the brand seem intrusive, tone deaf, and pushy, rather than helpful. Just a note, on my last visit, I was asked if I needed help about five times. When I finally said yes, the cast member couldn’t help me because their computer system was down.  Of all Sephora’s cognition style shoppers, the INTJ might just be the one most in need of a little quiet direction to make makeup shopping more informative than fun, with a focus on subtlety over exuberance, and with opportunities for Guided DIYM (do it yourself makeup) experimentation rather than personalized makeovers, virtual or otherwise.

Many of the issues discussed above are inherent to the beauty retail business. Undoubtedly, beauty retailers have done their own research about how to get customers to shop more, but I would be interested to see cognition segmented populations asked questions that aren’t focused on what these cognition styles buy, but the type of environment they prefer.  I think that sensing types will be more drawn to the beauty addiction lifestyle than an introverted intuitive – which again, doesn’t mean that introverted intuitives are not interested in beauty; however, environmental psychology theory will tell you that the shopping environment is important to the customer experience as is the availability of high quality brands. There is no doubt that shopping in an information overloaded environment, or even an information limited environment, can take an emotional toll on introverted cognition types.  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to create an environment that is more introvert friendly.

  1. Shopping Sephora could be more introvert friendly if there were quiet spaces located at the back of the stores (which always seem to be kind of empty. Even the cast members avoid this area). Products located in this space are usually geared toward older shoppers; this is my observation and may not be based on actual fact. This environment should have lots of self-guided signage to explain product use. INTJs collect data. Giving us a data-rich environment would help to shift focus away from the chaos located in other areas of the store.
  2. On-line tutorials are interesting, but often, you’re not sure whether the products shown are the best for YOUR individual needs. In-store, small group tutorials offered at half-hour increments would be a great way to provide information to confused introverts. This keeps cast members  out of the introvert space bubble, and gives the introvert an opportunity to follow along with the makeover process rather than being made over by a stranger.
  3. Every store is a little different but the Sephora stores that I have experienced tend to have narrow aisles. This makes it difficult to maneuver, and see everything you want while also being aware of and polite to the people around you, something introverts would be hyper aware of in a stressful situation. If there were more space, the stores would feel less crowded, allowing for more ease of movement and less stress all around.
  4. Additionally, I’ve noticed that Sephora cast members do walk you through their actions when they are helping to apply makeup. The introvert may still be uncomfortable, but knowing what is going to happen next goes a long way in easing the discomfort.
  5. Use retail signage to provide information to introverts.  I was pleasantly surprised on my last visit to Sephora to see signage highlighting the differing traits of several false lash brands. While it’s generally true that INTJs have already determined their purchase choices, shopping Sephora can bombard the introvert’s data collection trait with more information, which can make an introverted intuitive shift into re-verification mode, especially if there is a new brand that may seem to offer more value, or if a cast member seems to view a brand choice negatively.  Being able to make self-guided decisions through signage can be a great stress reliever for the INTJ and other introverted intuitives.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks so much for reading my musings about cognitive branding and cognitive aware brand strategies.  I really appreciate those of you who have commented, and who’ve shared your own stories. Check out part two where we examine the intuitive aspect of cognition style, and how shopping Sephora activates stressors for this very creative and imaginative cognitive function.

4 Replies to “Why Shopping at Sephora Makes Me Want to Cry”

  1. Love it! Can’t wait to read the other installments. You hit on some good stuff.

  2. Ashe Skyler says:

    Oh goodness, every time I hear “we’re a fun, energetic, and exciting brand”, I just turn around then and walk away. All the noise and bright lights are physically painful and the hyperactive salesmen stalking the aisles brings out the same urges in me as when I have a mosquito buzzing in my ear. It’s a very big reason I get almost all my makeup at the dollar store. No bright lights, no crowds, no pesky sales reps. Unless I can’t bribe somebody to brave the gauntlet and grab some eyeliner I need, then I spend a long time talking myself into getting a refill.

    “I think that sensing types will be more drawn to the beauty addiction lifestyle than an introverted intuitive…”
    I think that might be right. The sensors I know like to see the top-of-the-notch end goal on the models, and then break it down into smaller pieces so they can mix and match what works best for them. I don’t know about other intuitives, but I like to start at the bottom and then add smaller pieces to mix and match what works best for me.

    • Always Uttori says:

      That’s awesome! The dollar store does have a good selection of makeup although not a very wide color range (at least not in my area), so I still have to brave the crazy at other stores. I really relate to talking one’s self into things. I actually talk myself out of things more often :P. And thanks for the feedback about other sensor types. It can be hard to speak for other cognition types that I’m not as familiar with. I too, as an intuitive, like to know the basics and build from there.

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