Sephora’s Response to COVID-19

It’s no secret that every business is struggling right now in the wake of COVID-19. Furloughs and lay-offs are happening en masse, and will continue to happen in just about every business sector out there for the next few weeks or months, besides perhaps grocers and general merchandising big-box chain stores.

While lay offs and furloughs can absolutely tank morale for employees and those with interests in the business alike, these types of moves unfortunately make financial sense for companies who are preparing for an extended period of income loss. The (kind of) silver lining: Given the current unemployment offerings, in many cases, an individual will gain more from unemployment wages than they would have from working — at least for a few months.

Still, it’s a scary time for everyone. And how Sephora, somewhat coldly, responded to their employees in the wake of COVID-19 — by abruptly laying 3,000 employees off via a three-minute conference call — was unfortunately not terribly shocking to me after three or four years worth of their tone-deaf scandals. I mean… A phone call for 3,000 people?! Perhaps they should have tried something slightly more personal like having their district manager contact the worker directly…? I don’t know what else to suggest, but surely there was a better way than that.

Sure, Sephora did bump up the wages of their distribution workers, who are undoubtedly working under taxing circumstances now that the volume of ordering online has dramatically increased. And that’s a good thing. But so did Ulta. Not only that, but Ulta was evidently in a good enough financial position to make a commitment to continue paying all their workers their salary and healthcare benefits, at least until the middle of April.

Of course, Ulta could very well do the same thing as Sephora did, as the month progresses, and pull the rug out from under many of their employees. Again, in these times, it sadly makes financial sense to ensure that the company can return to operation after COVID-19 passes. But if this is the case, I hope that Ulta is not as tone-deaf as Sephora was in doing so. And I hope that both stores are ethical enough to recall most, or all, of these workers in this scenario, once the companies are once again financially solvent.

You can argue that Ulta and Sephora cannot be compared — they sell different types of products. But they are both nonetheless a beauty store, and, as should any good retailer, be concerned for their public image. Starting from the fake Sunday Riley reviews, to the racial profiling scandal, to their continued support of Kat Von D — adding a callous, impersonal mass-firing call to the mix doesn’t exactly help their reputation. ~A