As Sephora closes its stores for 'inclusion training,' it faces another online backlash - and it reveals a massive problem for companies in the social-media era

Sephora & JCPenneyBusiness Insider/Mary HanburyAs Sephora closes its stores for "inclusion training," the beauty company is facing a separate wave of backlash on social media.Business Insider/Mary Hanbury

  • Sephora is facing backlash on social media after customers interpreted an Instagram comment about international shipping as pro-Palestine and anti-Israel. 
  • Instagram's formatting seems to have muddled Sephora's message, which the company says was "about shipping capabilities only."
  • Sephora is closing all of its stores in the US for "inclusion training" on Wednesday morning. 
  • Recent incidents reveal how important it is that companies prepare for social media-inspired PR 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. Commenters are furiously debating the validity of both countries in the comment section. 

Here's a look at some of the recent comments, many of which have received hundreds of likes: 

sephora_comments final blurInstagram/SephoraInstagram/Sephora

Sephora appears to have been pulled into the discourse regarding Israel and Palestine after a commenter asked if the company shipped to Israel. According to the company, the commenter then asked if the company shipped to Palestine. 

Sephora does not ship to either country. However, 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 israel??" with the statement, "We do not ship to Palestine at this time." 

 

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 on Monday saying its "responses were about shipping capabilities only," but it has done little to reduce the flood of comments. 

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." 

Read more: Sephora will temporarily close all its stores on Wednesday

The closures 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 ... This is a proactive message to support Sephora's new manifesto and commitment," a Sephora representative said in an email to Business Insider. 

While Sephora says that the closures 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. We had a long talk. U have a blessed day Sandy," SZA wrote on Twitter.

Read more: SZA says a Sephora employee called security to make sure she wasn't stealing beauty products

SZA's tweet quickly went viral, even garnering a response from Rihanna, who sent the singer a handwritten note and a Fenty Beauty gift card. 

"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 Palestine 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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