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The US arm of cosmetics giant Sephora is facing a class action lawsuit over claims it deliberately blocked the online accounts of women with Asian names from a massive online sale because it suspected them of buying discount products to resell in Asia.
The retailer, which plans to open its first Australian store next month, had a promotional sale on November 6 that caused its website to crash.
According to Reuters, Sephora said at the time the crash had resulted from large numbers of bulk shoppers looking to take advantage of the low prices so they could resell the items for a profit.
The lawsuit filed by four women of Chinese descent living in the US, Xiao Xiao, Jiali Chen, Man Xu and Tiantian Zou, claims the cosmetic company deactivated their accounts because of their Asian surnames.
The lawsuit alleges only customers with Asian names or email addresses from Chinese domains were blocked from the site in the hours after it crashed. It also claims more than 95% of the blocked and deactivated accounts belonged to people in the U.S. who were not bulk-buying or reselling products.
The complaint claims: “To date, no explanation has been provided by Sephora as to why customers of or perceived to be of Chinese/Asian descent were singled out while seemingly non-Chinese/Asian customers were permitted account accessibility once the website was restored.”
Parent company LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is also listed as a defendant in the suit.
In the wake of the crash, Sephora’s US Facebook page was swamped with angry comments accusing the company of being racist.
The company released a statement apologising for the crash in which it acknowledged “in some instances we have, indeed, deactivated accounts due to reselling–a pervasive issue throughout the industry and the world.”
“As part of our ongoing commitment to protecting our clients and our brands, we have identified certain entities who take advantage of promotional opportunities to purchase products in large volume on our website and re-sell them through other channels,” said Sephora.
“After careful consideration, we have deactivated these accounts in order to optimise product availability for the majority of our clients, as well as ensure that consumers are not subject to increased prices or products that are not being handled or stored properly.”
But the plaintiffs say they lost reward points they accumulated buying hundreds of dollars of merchandise from Sephora. They are seeking unspecified damages and a court order barring the company from engaging in the alleged practice.
Sephora is set to open in Australia in December and has been touted to shake up the cosmetics industry, which has previously enjoyed free rein by a few competitors.
With a large proportion of Australian customers from Asian background, digital marketing expert Michelle Gamble from Marketing Angels told SmartCompany Sephora’s alleged actions may limit its reach with Asian customers worldwide.
“It’s a big mistake,” says Gamble. “They are potentially offending a large proportion of their largest market.”
Gamble says while she can understand the company having to deal with the “big issue” of reselling and counterfeiting products, Sephora has “gone about it the wrong way”.
“They haven’t thought it through with the way they’ve implemented the sale and the technology behind it,” she says.
But Gamble believes any negative impact on the brand will likely “blow over” and imagines Sephora would seek to settle the matter out of court and out of media attention.
“I’m sure they don’t want it to get too much oxygen,” she says.
A statement from Sephora to SmartCompany said the company will defend themselves against the claims.
“This lawsuit significantly distorts the facts in this matter,” said Sephora.
“We look forward to defending our actions in court. Among other points, we intend to make very clear that clients from a number of countries around the world have been impacted by a temporary block we needed to place on accounts in order to restore the functionality of our site during a surge of activity by resellers during a promotional event two weeks ago.”
This story was updated after SmartCompany received the statement form Sephora.
The video game industry and culture changed substantially when women started to get involved. Whenever a successful male industry is created, a biological urge to change it comes from those with two X chromosomes. Here are three ways that women have ruined gaming culture:
who still use dating websites?
Since Kerry Devine, 32, and her friends began having children, she has noticed a stark difference between her female friends in Auburn, Wash., where she lives, and those in England and Cyprus, where she grew up. In the United States, they almost all stopped working outside the home, at least until their children were in school. Yet, she says, she can’t think of a friend in Europe who left work after her children were born.
Ms. Devine quit her job after she had her first child, a girl, four years ago, because she thought 12 weeks of maternity leave was too short. “I just didn’t want to leave her in day care or pay for the expenses of it,” she said. When she gave birth to twin boys this year, a return to work — she had been a property manager for apartment buildings — looked even less plausible.
Her story would have played out differently, she said, if she had been living in her native England. Like many European countries, Britain offers a year of maternity leave, much of it paid, and protections for part-time workers, among other policies aimed at keeping women employed.
“I would have been O.K. putting a 1-year-old baby in day care, but not a 12-week-old,” Ms. Devine said. “More flexible hours and being able to work from home part of the time definitely would have made a big difference.”
Her thinking is shared by many American women — and plays a role in a significant economic reversal. As recently as 1990, the United States had one of the top employment rates in the world for women, but it has now fallen behind many European countries. After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women in the American work force peaked in 1999, at 74 percent for women between 25 and 54. It has fallen since, to 69 percent today.
In many other countries, however, the percentage of working women has continued to climb. Switzerland, Australia, Germany and France now outrank the United States in prime-age women’s labor force participation, as do Canada and Japan.
While the downturn and the weak economy of recent years have eliminated many of the jobs women held, a lack of family-friendly policies also appears to have contributed to the lower rate. In a New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of nonworking adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States, conducted last month, 61 percent of women said family responsibilities were a reason they weren’t working, compared with 37 percent of men. Of women who identify as homemakers and have not looked for a job in the last year, nearly three-quarters said they would consider going back if a job offered flexible hours or allowed them to work from home.
When it rains, it pours racist comments about bad Asian drivers! With the Pineapple Expressrainstorm moving through California this week, folks are taking to Twitter to blame bad driving on the wet roads on Asian folks. They’re repeating the age-old racist trope that Asians (especially women) are bad drivers.
LAist first noticed that Plastic Jesus—a local street artist who was responsible for erecting aneight-foot Oscars statue replica with a heroin needle in its arm in Hollywood earlier this year—posted a racist tweet about Asian drivers, we decided to see who else in California was doing the same.
NPR reported that when South Korean-based Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed-landed in San Francisco last July, a slew of racist “Asians can’t drive” tweets erupted over the internet.
Claire Jean Kim, associate professor of political science and Asian American Studies at the University of California Irvine, talked to CNN about the problems with this: “Those kinds of jokes reflect a deeper view of Asian Americans as culturally different and inferior. That’s not a joke, that has material effects. It leads to a general sense, even those who are born here in the U.S., they simply don’t belong.”