I visited three different Sephora outlets in Rome. The largest store, near the Spanish Steps, spans three floors - the ground floor for makeup, the first floor for skincare and the mezzanine floor for hair care. My hotel was a two-minute-walk away from the Sephora at the Termini Station and I popped in every evening, to relax after a long day.
Believe it or not - makeup is cheaper in Europe than anywhere else. I expected a gargantuan four-digit bill and instead had to pay an amount for just three figures. Plus, I got my VAT back from Customs, so yay!
Scroll down for a detailed look at the Sephora Italia Card Programme and GWPs.
The SA told me to sign up for the card programme so she could give me the 10% discount from my second purchase (made it to Black Card on the first purchase). For three (could be two; cannot remember) days, Sephora Italia had a flat 20% off sale on everything, and it was like Christmas in July. At that time, you don't get the regular 10% off.
Here are all the GWPs and samples. You will get a closer look further below.
What is the White/Black Card Programme?Outside of the US, Sephoras generally follow the White/Black Card Programme, throughout the Middle East and in Europe, at least.
Having tried the Beauty Insider programme (was in the US four years ago) and the White/Black Card programme (in Sephora Dubai and Italy), here are the salient features of the latter.
Sephora Italia gives you a discount of 10% once you get those 150 points (or four purchases, either is fine). I got this discount on two purchases and the 20%-sale discount the other two times (made four purchases in all). In Sephora Dubai, you don't get the 10% discount, but each time you get 200 points, you get a branded gift.
There are Black Card Holder-exclusive 20% off sales. This is what I enjoyed in Italy. Something like the VIB sales, but these seem to be more frequent in Sephora Italy. In Sephora Dubai, 20% sales are usually around the month of Ramadan. Good time to travel.
Also, to get to the Gold level - this was introduced recently - you need 1,500 points in one year. Something I have not done yet in either Italy or Dubai; what a good girl I am! I think this is the equivalent of Rouge in the US. A friend of mine tells me it means gifts are more frequent, as also the 20% discount.
Finally, you actually get access to trial packages for many new launches. When the Benefit They're Real liner was launched, every Black Card holder got a mini from Sephora Dubai. Ditto the MUFE primers. And, you get surveys and rewards for completing them - I got OPI polishes (full-sized) for answering questions.
On the other hand:
The birthday gifts. Girls in the US get nicer prezzies. Dubai doles out full-sized Sephora-brand products OR other brand mini-sets. IDK what Italy gives out. I will find out next April.
More importantly, US-based brands launch in the US first. Urban Decay Vice IV and Spectrum have not launched in Sephora Dubai yet. Boo. Even OPI Colour Paints have only made it to the UAE.
Oh, and outside of the US, we do not have "Epic Rewards" schemes, though there are weeks when you get double the points for your purchases. Considering the way it was run, I'm not sure their absence is a bad thing.
Worst of all, once you use/swatch/breathe-on your purchases, you cannot return them outside of the US, whereas Sephora US accepts returns. Outside the US, they only take unused products. You lucky ladies, you!
ExperienceI cannot praise the SAs in Sephora Italy enough. I have been to Sephoras in seven countries and I have even experienced racial profiling (where they follow you alone around because you are a different skin colour and breathe down your neck; where even the security guard makes it clear he expects you to shoplift). NOT here. These ladies are polite to a fault, leave you alone until you look around for someone, and fall over themselves to give you samples - when I swatched the Urban Decay powder and put it in my basket, I was told to "try these first and come back only if they work for you", and they gave me three samples. Ditto with the Too Faced Born This Way foundation. Who does that? Not even my favourite Sephora Dubai, where I generally get bigger and better GWPs than anywhere else in the world.
Freebies, gifts and samplesThe GWPs were added by the people at the till and had nothing to do with the brands or products I bought. Black Card bonus was a full-sized Majorette blush. I also got a box of Benefit samples, but I chucked the packaging because luggage restrictions.
One of the SAs spoke to me at length about Rexaline and asked if I had tried the brand. When I replied in the negative, she spoke to the cashier during billing and they put this in my bag.
I bought Giorgio Armani Si EDP - I wanted the Intense version but it was out of stock so I got the limited edition (which did not have a tester and I don't like it as much as Intense). So they gave me a body lotion gratis :) I could not bring myself to throw away the box.
A cute Dior bag with two samples. This goes into my Mum's birthday hamper (October 27).
Sampler cards of YSL and Urban Decay lip gloss. I have not opened either because gloss.
These are from the Spanish Steps Sephora, where I bought Algenist Tinted Moisturiser and Marc Jacobs Eye-Con Palette (will show you another day). Nars eye primer and Marc Jacobs mascara? LOVE!
Estee Lauder Bag with products. Will add the eyeshadow into giveaway bag. I am eyeshadow-ed out right now.
A closer look at the lippie and the cream blush:
Left out: Samples of UD foundation (used up in Italy already), Too Faced Born This Way (MIA), YSL Fusion Ink (AWOL) and L'Occitane skincare (Eaten up by suitcase-monster).
Selfridges and House of Fraser samples
I don't want to devote a whole post to Selfridges UK and House of Fraser samples, so I am sneaking them here. I got a few La Mer, Charlotte Tillbury samples (MIA), a Cargo blush, Burt's Bees lip balm and a Bourjois goodie bag (contents under use; bag pictured on the very first photo of at the top of this post) and another Lancome goodie bag (black; pilfered without a by-your-leave by sibling).
Verdict and proof that makeup IS cheaper...I have been to Sephoras in seven different countries so far (hopefully I will get to every country where they have a branch someday). Is the Rome branch my favourite Sephora ever? I know I have batted for Sephora Dubai before, but makeup is cheaper in Europe. In fact, the manager told me that high-end brands are cheapest in Europe than elsewhere. Probably true.
A Beautyblender costs 16.5 euros in Italy and $20 in the US. EUR16.5 = US$18 by today's exchange rate, so Beautyblenders are definitely cheaper in Italy. Without adding the 10% or 20$ discount, that is.
On the other hand, I get better shade matching in Sephora Dubai, and even in Selfridges UK. Here, some of the SAs gave me foundation that was (mostly) too deep, and in one case, too pale. For instance, they gave me a sample of Sand in Too Faced Born This Way Foundation. It was a tad too deep so I went back and bought Warm Beige, which is a better match.
To read about my trip to Rome - including a Papal visit and lots of art - go here.
Have you been to a Sephora outside of your country? Ever been racial-profiled in a shop? Do you prefer the Beauty Insider Programme or the White/Black Card Programme? Thoughts?
NOT PR samples. No one there knew I had a blog.