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Racial Bias in Retail Study

Racial Bias in Retail Study

Today, Sephora, America’s leading prestige beauty Omni-retailer, revealed the detailed changes it will implement across all of its U.S. stores in order to mitigate racially biased experiences and unfair treatment for shoppers in the retail sector. This is the latest in a series of actions announced by Sephora to underscore the retailer’s continued commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The plan includes increased diversity in its product offerings and workforce, more inclusive marketing programming, and greater accountability through the institution of updated employee conduct policies. The decisions are based on the results of the first-
“ever large-scale study on Racial Bias in Retail, commissioned by the retailer.


“At Sephora, diversity, equality, and inclusion have been our core values since we launched a new kind of beauty retail destination in the U.S. over 20 years ago – but the reality is that shoppers at Sephora, and in U.S. retail more broadly, are not always treated fairly and consistently,” said Jean-André Rougeot, President and CEO, Sephora Americas.


“We know that we’re in a strong position to influence positive changes in the retail industry and society at large and it’s our responsibility to step up. We’re committed to doing all we can to make our U.S. retail experience more welcoming for everyone. Today, we are proud to share a first-look at Sephora’s action plan designed to tackle the issue of unfair treatment. We know it will be a journey, but we’re committed to holding ourselves accountable to this mission for the benefit of our clients, our employees,
our communities, and the retail industry at large.”


Racial Bias in Retail Study Commissioned by Sephora. This first-of-its-kind national study was conducted over a year-long period, beginning in the fall of 2019 and ending in late 2020 and was designed to measure the issue of racially biased experiences in U.S. retail, and to identify opportunities to end unfair treatment. Comprised of academic literature reviews, cultural insights analysis and comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research*, the Racial Bias in Retail Study commissioned by Sephora offers an in-depth look at this important issue.


The retailer is making details of its national Racial Bias in Retail Study available to all retailers as it calls for a more inclusive retail industry

The research, first and foremost, underscores how pervasive the issue is for U.S. retail shoppers and employees:

Two in five U.S. retail shoppers have personally experienced unfair treatment on the basis of their race or skin tone. Black retail shoppers are 2.5x more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their skin color (44% vs. 17%), while BIPOC shoppers are 2x more likely than white shoppers to receive unfair treatment based on their ethnicity (30% vs. 15%). One in five retail employees report having personally experienced unfair treatment based on their race at their place of work (20%)—either from customers or coworkers.


One in three retail employees have contemplated quitting when they experienced racial bias and unfair treatment (31% for all employees; 37% for Black employees). The research identified five primary “truths” that define retail shoppers’ experiences with racial bias, including:


Truth #1


Limited diversity across marketing, merchandise and retail employees results in exclusionary treatment before shoppers even enter a store, and continues across their in-store journey.
Three in four retail shoppers (74%) feel that marketing fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types, and hair textures, while two in three (65%) think stores fail to deliver an equally-distributed assortment of products catering to different shoppers’ tastes and preferences. Moreover, nearly four in five retail shoppers (78%) don’t believe there is representation in brands or companies that are owned by and made for people of color.


Truth #2

See Also


U.S. BIPOC shoppers feel in-store interactions are driven by their skin color, appearance and ethnicity, yet retail employees cite behavioral attributes, rather than appearance, as the basis for their interactions.
BIPOC retail shoppers are 3x more likely than white shoppers to feel most often judged by their skin color and ethnicity (32% vs. 9%). White shoppers, on the other hand, are more likely to cite factors like age (27% vs. 12%) or attractiveness (13% vs. 7%), as the primary basis of the treatment they face.


While shoppers feel they are being judged by their appearance, three in five (60%) retail employees surveyed cited behavioral attributes rather than physical attributes when determining how to approach or interact with shoppers. This gap in perception results in a significant disconnect between how shoppers and employees interpret interactions in U.S. retail.


Truth #3


U.S. BIPOC retail shoppers use coping mechanisms, such as shopping online, to minimize or avoid an anticipated biased experience when in-store. While many customer experience needs are universal, BIPOC shoppers have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome.


The study also showed there are clear areas where retailers can focus efforts to make the shopping experience more inclusive and welcoming for all. The findings show that BIPOC shoppers have some needs that hold greater importance in helping them feel welcome compared to white shoppers in creating a positive in-store experience, including promptly being greeted and offering assistance when shoppers enter the store, telling shoppers about new products, offers, and services, and having store associates who “look like me.”

Read full reports, infographics and Sephora’s action plan HERE.