Identifying retail truths and designing equitable experiences with Sephora

We partnered with Sephora to understand the impact of racial bias and unfair treatment across the US retail landscape. Our insights and action plan have helped Sephora and other retailers become more inclusive brands.

We partnered with Sephora to understand the impact of racial bias and unfair treatment across the US retail landscape. Our insights and action plan have helped Sephora and other retailers become more inclusive brands.



Sephora is committed to galvanizing lasting change across the employee and customer retail experience through advancing its core values of diversity and inclusion. Sephora’s quest to prioritize equity meant understanding how racial bias has impacted their community and implementing an action plan to overcome it.


Material’s Racial Bias in Retail Study for Sephora used a multimethod engagement to measure racial bias, by illuminating the micro and macro moments of unconscious bias that show up within the retail experience.


Material worked with Sephora to socialize our insights with equity partners, retail partners, employees, and the press. From Employee Engagement and Training, In-store Pilot Programs, to PR narratives and assets, our work continues to ensure the insights generated from this work mitigate unfair treatment and racially biased experiences for both employees and shoppers. 

Uncovering and remedying bias in US retail.

Sephora’s pioneering Racial Bias in Retail Study, undertaken between the fall of 2019 and late 2020, encompasses research from our insights and behavioral science teams, as well as input from our academic partners. The report highlights the pervasiveness of inequity in US retail, from shoppers treated poorly because of their race or skin tone to BIPOC employees who contemplate quitting due to unfair treatment. Sephora commissioned this important study not only to improve its own retail experience, but also to encourage other retailers to take meaningful action, a goal that became even more urgent after the nationwide protests against racial injustice in 2020.

Bringing the research to life.

Creating an impact externally in the world requires practicing inclusion internally at Material. To showcase the outcome of our partnership with Sephora we created this video case study to highlight the pervasiveness of inequity in US retail. To authentically bring the Racial Bias in Retail study to life, we worked alongside an all-Black production team at LeLoup Studios and a diverse cast to capture the real conversations taking place in the retail sector between shoppers and employees alike.

The five truths.

The study was designed to measure racially biased experiences in US retail and to identify opportunities to end unfair treatment, both in Sephora stores and in retail more broadly. We interviewed shoppers and retail employees across the U.S. and identified five “truths” about the American retail experience for BIPOC customers. Respondents noted, for example, that marketing isn’t inclusive and fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types, and hair textures. Our research also revealed that U.S. BIPOC shoppers believe their skin color, appearance, and ethnicity are driving factors behind in-store interactions, resulting in an experience so unpleasant that many BIPOC shoppers chose to purchase online instead.

Raw facts revealed.

• Two in five retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment due on the basis of their race or skin color.
• BIPOC shoppers are twice as likely to receive unfair treatment due to ethnicity.
• Four of five feel marketing fails to showcase diversity in skin color, body types, age, hair texture.
• One in three employees also feel they have been mistreated by colleagues and consumers because of their ethnicity. They have even contemplated quitting.

A call to action.

Coupled with Sephora’s own strategies and commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, we helped the retailer formulate a swift action plan to address inequities across three key areas of its business, focusing on marketing and merchandising, in-store experiences, and workplace environment. This action plan was followed by Sephora’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Progress Report.

Sephora is working to double its Black-owned brands and showcase diverse backgrounds, identities, ages, and body types in marketing materials. Other initiatives include a new greeting system to create a consistent store experience and increasing the depth and frequency of employee trainings to identify bias and exhibit inclusive behaviors in the workplace. In addition, client feedback will be encouraged, Sephora will inaugurate recruiting, mentorship, and career development programs for BIPOC employees, and zero-tolerance policies will be updated.

Most recently, Sephora initiated the Mitigate Racial Bias in Retail Charter alongside national nonprofit, Open to All.

These initiatives have positioned Sephora as an industry leader building a more equitable experience in its own stores and the wider US retail landscape.

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