Ulta and Sephora: Which Brands and Categories Are Selling?

For retailers, the beauty category has become a rare bright spot as inflation and fears of a recession pushed people to pull back on spending. In July 2022, the Consumer Price Index rose +8.5% YoY, meaning the cost of living is up significantly. According to NPD, beauty was the only discretionary retail category with increasing unit sales in 1H 2022; makeup sales, including lipstick, were up 20%, skincare was up 12%, fragrance was up 15%, and hair care was up 28%.

Despite continuous demand, there has been a noticeable shift in buying behavior. Disruptive strategies are redefining what it takes to capture consumer attention. A new batch of brands is shaking up the beauty industry with greater transparency and community-first marketing tactics. Sephora and Ulta Beauty have partnered with Target and Kohl’s to reach new and existing customers where they’re most likely to shop. Ulta Beauty aims to have 800 in-Target locations, which equates to about 40% of its U.S. footprint.

As the beauty category continues to heat up, we analyze the brands and categories selling out at Sephora and Ulta Beauty to gauge demand. Did you buy into these best-selling product categories or brands this year?

Top Category Sold Out Rates* at Ulta and Sephora

* Percentage of the product sold out online. Not an absolute inventory count nor a representation of in-store stock.

The fragrance industry has had a challenging couple of years, especially with the pandemic’s impact on events, in-store shopping, and our sense of smell. Today, the category makes up the most significant percentage of sold out products at Ulta Beauty (9%) and Sephora (26%). According to the NPD Fragrance Consumer Study, U.S. consumers who wore less perfume in 2020 have returned to everyday use. Nearly one-third of consumers buy fragrances more often, and three out of four feel that scent helps lift and enhance their moods or bring back memories of happy times, places, and experiences. The sentiment is stronger among Millennials, who are willing to pay more for scents they like.

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Tool Time at Sephora

During the pandemic, skin-savvy consumers took treatments into their own hands, driving demand for the category. Beauty tools are the second most sold-out category at Sephora (14%), despite representing only 1% of the retailer’s stock. Sephora’s top-selling products are Aquis towels for hair post-shower, makeup brushes, and skincare tools. At Ulta Beauty, tools (4%) represent the category with the lowest sell out, even with the retailer investing more in tools than fragrance.

Bodycare > Skincare

Skincare was the most in-demand category for much of the pandemic; however, bath and body, which experienced a similar surge in interest, is continuing to sell out at rates higher than skincare. With far fewer products than skincare, haircare, and makeup, demand for bodycare is driving a 7% and 10% sell out rate at Ulta Beauty and Sephora, respectively. Several skincare brands have expanded into bodycare this year; Tula launched an active acid-infused body wash, and Kate Somerville reformulated its cult-classic Exfolikate for the body. At Sephora and Ulta Beauty, body wash, deodorant, and oralcare are the subcategories driving sold out products.

Top 5 Brand Sold Out Rates at Ulta and Sephora

Ulta

  1. Almay – Almay is a clean, hypoallergenic makeup brand owned by Revlon. Founded in 1931, the legacy brand has struggled to find its footing as the industry experiences dramatic changes in consumer preferences. Over the past few years, the brand has launched biodegradable face wipes and a tinted moisturizer with gradual self-tanner to appeal to younger generations.
  2. Beauty Finds by Ulta Beauty – Beauty Finds by Ulta are pre-curated fragrance, skincare, haircare, and sample sets featuring top-rated products from brands like Sunday Riley, Peach & Lily, and Monday Haircare. Demand for samples and minis reveals consumer interest in discovering new brands and products. According to PowerReviews, 40% of people surveyed are more likely to try new beauty products now than pre-pandemic. This number is even higher for Millennials (46%) and Gen Z (53%).
  3. Basd – Basd (pronounced based) offers plant-based bodycare for all genders, ages, and demographics. The assortment of body scrubs, washes, and lotions, accessibly priced under $25, launched at Ulta Beauty in 2020. The clean brand’s body washes, in mint, grapefruit, and crème brûlée, are in demand and selling out as the pandemic increased awareness of how consumers can invest in self-care.
  4. Holika Holika – Derived from the English suffix “-holic,” meaning “addiction,” and the Korean word “holida,” meaning “temptation,” Holika Holika is an indie K-beauty bringing innovative formats and high-quality ingredients to Ulta. The brand’s lip tints, ceramide mist, and aloe-infused skincare are popular items. The Water Drop Tint Bomb alone has spring water, papaya extract, grape-seed extract, manuka honey, shea butter, and green tea extract.
  5. Loops Beauty – Backed by brand partner and creative director Emily Ratajkowski, Loops Beauty aims to keep skincare simple. The sheet mask brand launched online at Ulta Beauty in December 2021 and expanded to 250 stores as of August 2022. This year, the brand launched its newest hydrogel mask, Hyper Smooth, formulated with tranexamic acid, niacinamide, and Vitamin B3 to target hyperpigmentation.
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Sephora

  1. Aquis – Aquis’s top-rated hair towels are top performers at Sephora. The proprietary “Aquiflix fibers” dry hair in less than half the time it takes your standard cotton towel and is so soft and gentle that it cuts back on frizz. The brand recently partnered with Madison Reed to create a purple towel that claims to keep dyed hair extra vibrant.
  2. Philosophy – Philosophy was founded 24 years ago around the idea that when you feel good, that’s when you can look your best. Philosophy’s Purity cleanser, the #1 facial cleanser in the U.S., was relaunched in August 2020 with a cleaner formula. By 2022, Philosophy hopes to make a complete transition to clean by removing parabens, phthalates, hydroquinone, and synthetic fragrances (greater than 1%) from its skincare portfolio.
  3. Dedcool – DedCool, the Gen Z-loved luxury fragrance and laundry detergent brand, launched on Sephora’s website in August 2022 and is already selling out faster than they can restock. The launch is Sephora’s inaugural expansion into two new product categories: home fragrance and laundry detergent. DedCool’s best-selling scent, Milk, is a comforting blend of bergamot, white musk, and amber.
  4. Lord Jones – Founded in 2017, Lord Jones offers luxury CBD-infused skincare, bodycare, and ingestibles. The brand launched in 170 Sephora locations in 2019 and has since expanded to 280-plus. Its most recent launch, Pore Detox Face Oil, is a clinically-proven skincare solution, helping cement the brand as a must-have for targeted skin treatments.
  5. Mugler – In July 2022, a year after the release of Mugler’s original Alien Goddess Eau de Parfum, the brand unveiled the newest iteration of its coveted scent: Alien Goddess Intense. The launch, backed by singer, songwriter, and activist Willow Smith, went viral on TikTok with 2.8B views. Angel and Angel Nova, cult favorites with a resurgence in popularity thanks to Y2K, and the OG Alien are sold out at Sephora.
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