Ever shopped at Ulta? Well, according to a new lawsuit, there's a good chance you may have unknowingly purchased used beauty products prosing as new, un-opened goods. According to Ulta shopper Kimberly Laura Smith-Brown – who filed suit late last month in federal court in Illinois after reading dozens of tweets from current and former Ulta employees detailing its “unsanitary practices” – the national beauty giant regularly repackages and re-sells products returned by customers, including “used cosmetics, among many other products.”
In setting forth claims of unjust enrichment and violations of the California Unfair Competition Law, Smith-Brown claims that Ulta – which stocks brands including Benefit, Dior, Gucci, Mario Badescu, and Marc Jacobs, among others – “has continued to deceive consumers for years." She further argues, “Ulta’s widespread and surreptitious practice of repackaging, restocking and commingling used returned cosmetics with new cosmetics on its shelves means that every sale of cosmetics since Ulta began this policy is tainted with the possibility that the customer is purchasing used, dirty cosmetics.”
In addition to overpaying for used products being marketed and sold as new, Smith-Brown claims that Ulta is on the hook for creating a "false perception" as to the nature of many of its products. And more importantly, it has put [her] health and the health of the other members of the class [action lawsuit] at risk ."
Smith-Brown’s lawsuit, given its proposed class action status, will give other Ulta shoppers the opportunity to join the suit and share in the damages, restitution and attorneys’ fees that Smith-Brown is seeking, should Judge Jorge L. Alonso agree to approve the larger class of plaintiffs. That class of "similarly situated" individuals – potentially tens of thousands of individuals – could include “every customer who has purchased cosmetics at Ulta since this practice began was put at risk of unwittingly purchasing used, unsanitary cosmetics and this risk reduces the desirability and value of all cosmetics sold by Ulta regardless [of whether] the cosmetics were new or used,” Smith-Brown argues in her complaint.
The suit, itself, comes after reports of such alleged misconduct by the retailer, as well as extensive conversation on social media. Just last month, a former Ulta manager told Business Insider that the company’s managers “constantly told us if it looked like it could be sold, put it back out. The company always had a percentage they wanted you to stay below weekly in what we damaged. We would literally get lectured by our boss on our conference calls if our stores were over.”
The same individual – who spoke anonymously to Business Insider – said that, for instance, “returned mascara and foundation were almost always placed back on the shelf since it was difficult to tell if they were used, and his staff would clean bottled products to make them look new again.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter a former Ulta employee, who uses the handle @fatinamxo, posted to her nearly 2,000, that Ulta managers actively trained employees on how to repackage and reseal used cosmetics so that they could be placed back on the shelf and sold as if they were new. “They would resell EVERYTHING. (makeup, hair care, skincare, fragrance, hair tools, etc.,” she tweeted. The post was retweeted thousands of times and flooded with corroborating accounts from others claiming to be Ulta employees.
A representative for Ulta has since released a statement, saying that the Illinois-based company plans “to vigorously defend against the allegations.”
The spokesman further stated: “Our policy does not allow the resale of used or damaged products. Our store associates are trained to catalogue and then properly dispose of any opened, used, or damaged items. Our policies, training and procedures are aimed at ensuring that only the highest quality products are sold in our stores and online. The health and safety of Ulta Beauty guests is a top priority and we strive to consistently deliver an optimal experience every time they shop with us.”
UPDATED (March 20, 2018): Ulta has filed its answer in response to the lawsuit at hand, denying Smith-Brown's claims and arguing that "if plaintiff and members of the putative classes were injured, their injuries were caused in whole or in part by the actions of third parties over whom Ulta Beauty had no control and for whom Ulta Beauty is not legally responsible."
The company has since been slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit for allegedly violating federal securities laws by “knowingly or recklessly” providing false information about the company’s “business, operational and compliance policies” in its “SEC filings, press releases, and other materials” in connection with its deceptive and “unsanitary” sale of used beauty products.
* The case is Kimberly Laura Smith-Brown, v. Ulta Beauty, Inc., 1:18-cv-00610 (N.D. Ill.).