- Sephora is facing backlash on social media after customers interpreted an Instagram comment about international shipping as its taking sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
- Instagram’s formatting seems to have muddled Sephora’s message, which the company says was “about shipping capabilities only.”
- At the same time, Sephora is closing all of its stores in the US for unrelated “inclusion training” on Wednesday morning.
- Recent incidents reveal how important it is that companies prepare for social media-inspired public-relations crises.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As Sephora closes its stores for “inclusion training,” the beauty company is facing a separate wave of backlash on social media.
This week, Sephora’s Instagram posts have been flooded with comment after comment of Israeli and Palestinian flags, making the account an unlikely center for furious debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Here’s a look at some of the recent comments, many of which have received hundreds of likes:
Sephora appears to have been pulled into the discourse regarding Palestinians’ pursuit of statehood after a commenter asked whether the company shipped to Israel. According to the company, the commenter then asked whether the company shipped to “Palestine.”
Sephora does not ship to Israel or the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, but in screenshots circulating on social media, Instagram’s collapsed comment layout makes it appear as if the company responded to the question “Do you ship to isreal??” with the statement “We do not ship to Palestine at this time.”
bro, sephora really is the goat ???????????????? man i love when stores i love are pro PALESTINE pic.twitter.com/PCbS9npmPq
— hinata (@makloubae) June 2, 2019
Many interpreted the screenshot as an anti-Israel remark, creating the wave of responses that – especially on Instagram – have continued for four days after the original comment. Sephora released a statement Monday saying its “responses were about shipping capabilities only,” but it has done little to reduce the flood of comments.
A message regarding international shipping from Sephora US. For more info, please visit https://t.co/cBkYPjWoqB. For international Sephora websites visit https://t.co/iXNSjYuX9Q pic.twitter.com/yMr0hXjtyr
— Sephora (@Sephora) June 3, 2019
The incident comes at an inconvenient time for Sephora. On Wednesday morning, the company is closing all its stores in the US for “inclusion workshops.”
The closings are part of the company’s “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign.
“We Belong to Something Beautiful builds on the many diversity and inclusion programs that have existed at Sephora since its inception, and has been in the works for at least one year – as has the store closure and inclusivity workshop,” a Sephora representative told Business Insider in an email, adding: “This is a proactive message to support Sephora’s new manifesto and commitment.”
While Sephora says the closings have been in the works for several months, the company announced its inclusivity trainings less than a month after the musician SZA tweeted that an employee called security on her while she was shopping at a Sephora location in Calabasas, California.
“Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing,” SZA wrote on Twitter. “We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy.”
Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing . We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy
— SZA (@sza) May 1, 2019
SZA’s tweet quickly went viral, even garnering a response from Rihanna, who sent the singer a handwritten note and a gift card to her Fenty Beauty line.
“We take complaints like this very seriously, profiling on the basis of race is not tolerated at Sephora,” Sephora said in a statement to INSIDER at the time. “Our purpose has always been rooted in our people and ensuring that Sephora is an inclusive and welcoming space for all our clients.”
SZA’s tweet and the recent Instagram discourse surrounding Sephora’s stance on Israel and Palestinian statehood highlight the difficulties that companies face in a social-media-saturated era. In 2019, an Instagram comment or racist incident can quickly go viral, giving the company little time to generate a response as backlash explodes on social media.
Ronn Torossian, a crisis-management expert and CEO of the public-relations agency 5WPR, told INSIDER, “Companies should work with their communication leads ahead of time to ensure that messaging is set and public facing because you can never know when a crisis may arise.”
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