How Sephora Is Taking Steps to End Racism in Retail


In 2019 award-winning music artist SZA tweeted about her experience at Sephora, when an employee called security to make sure she wasn't shoplifting. It made headlines and led to outrage and a boycott of the beauty retailer. Today, Sephora released findings from "The Racial Bias in Retail Study," which they commissioned shortly after this incident and others.

Here are some of the main findings:

  • BIPOC retail shoppers are three times more likely than white shoppers to feel most often judged by their skin color and ethnicity (32 percent vs. 9 percent) yet 60 percent of retail employees said they look to behavioral attributes rather than physical attributes when determining how to approach or interact with shoppers.
  • 74 percent of shoppers feel that marketing fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types and hair textures.
  • 65 percent of shoppers think stores fail to deliver an equally-distributed assortment of products catering to different shoppers’ tastes and preference.
  • 78 percent of shoppers don’t believe there is representation in brands or companies that are owned by and made for people of color.
  • 30 percent of shoppers reported unfair treatment to the retailer (ie online review or social post) but only 15 percent reported raising the issue with a manager or store supervisor. Among those shoppers who did provide direct feedback, 61 percent were unsatisfied with the retailer’s response.
  • 43 percent of BIPOC shoppers say they're unlikely to visit any store location belonging to a retailer where they experienced mistreatment
  • BIPOC shoppers are three times less likely than white shoppers to say the retailer addressed their experience with a change in store policy (34 percent vs. 11 percent).
  • 81 percent of retail employees recognize the importance of being able to service diverse shopper needs, but only 27 percent feel confident they can meet them extremely well, with many expressing a desire for more training and education to address these gaps.

The survey included about 3,000 shoppers and 1,700 employees at its stores and others across the country, and the research was conducted over a year by Kelton Global and LRW in partnership with retail racism experts Dr. Cassi Pittman Claytor, Dr. David Crockett, Whitney Dunlap-Fowler and Dr. Patricia Raspberry, and draws from academic literature and interviews with shoppers and retail employees.

So, what is Sephora going to do about it?

  • Double its offerings of Black-owned brands from eight to 16 by the end of 2021
  • Create programs to help entrepreneurs of color
  • Enact new customer-greeting protocols so all shoppers are treated consistently
  • Reduce the presence of third-party security guards and police officers in its 500 U.S. stores, replacing them with in-house employees who have been trained in the company’s new policies
  • Enacting a zero-tolerance policy, meaning immediate termination, for profiling, discrimination, harassment and retaliation by employees
  • Including inclusivity-based metrics in annual performance reviews will include new inclusivity-based metrics

Find the complete study and plan of action here.