It could be argued that Europe’s biggest online health and beauty retailer Feelunique is perfectly placed to ride the e-commerce wave. According to NPD group, online sales of prestige beauty products grew by 35 per cent in 2013 – a growth that far outstripped the high street as consumers turn away from physical stores to online. The private equity backed firm, which was sold for £26m around two years ago, is expecting turnover to hit £40m this year and is targeting the £100m landmark within three years.
What more, the Jersey based- company launched the “Try Me Collection” last month which gives customers a matching complimentary sample so they can try before purchasing. The company offers over 18,000 products from leading brands such as Dior, Aveda and Yves Saint Laurent.
New chief operating officer Jim Buckle, who joined just over a month ago, is gearing up for a year of growth.
He told Retail Gazette: “To take the business to the next stage of growth, we need to work out what the best channels are to reach customers. If you want to build a mass market business, albeit one with a slightly aspirational element, you’ve really got to spread your net widely and try a lot of different things.”
Buckle talks up the firm’s strong relationship with its brands and resulting advantages of working with them closely. “We want to be seen as their preferred online channel,” he says. “From a consumer point of view, everything they buy from us is a genuine product from a genuine channel. By working closely with those brands, we are more likely to negotiate exclusives such as first access to product launches.”
“It’s also about raising awareness about who we are with a potentially very large audience of customers. We have a relatively small number of customers who really like what we do and we have got to grow that awareness to a wider audience.”
Buckle knows a thing or two about the subscription culture currently enveloping the UK; he was recently managing director for TV and film rental service Lovefilm, a business where he was part of the management team for seven years until 2013. During his time he helped to drive 8x growth in subscribers and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Feelunique could leverage his expertise to launch its own subscription service. Another possible initiative is personalised loyalty. Amazon can recommend the ideal book, Google can rank the most relevant website so it’s surely a matter of time before Feelunique recommends the most relevant beauty product.
With the business expected to more than double turnover in the next two years, how will it market itself to consumers this year?
Buckle remains cautious: “We’re going to do less TV advertising than last year. It was pretty good for re-launching the brand but television is a pretty expensive channel for a relatively small business and we need to be mindful in what we spend in that area.”
He says that health and beauty has the potential to be more mass market than cycling. “Lots of people cycle, but not everybody, to the extent that they would spend a lot of money on it. If you’re selling sports products or entertainment the consumer can take it or leave it, but with health and beauty our customers would consider many of the products that we sell to be essentials and the size of the market is much bigger,” he explains.
Alongside plans to invest further in mobile technology, he points toward the importance of meeting the customer in various channels.
“Consumers dip in and out of social networking sites and might browse through or may read editorial content and you’ve got to meet them across a wide range of channels. So it becomes more of an on-going conversation rather than single transactional relationships. If you’re a vertical, like we are, you want to be part of your customer’s conversation rather than just being a place that they visit to buy things from. Technology development creates opportunities to build a much more engaging relationship over time.”
The Feelunique site is clean, clear and easy to navigate but many websites across the fashion and health and beauty sectors now look so similar. Would the company ever take a risk and break the norm?
“I think there’s definitely an opportunity for that,” he says. “Every homepage now has a carousel and category list… on one hand you don’t want to confuse customers so they don’t really know where they are and what they want to buy.
“But on the other hand, Western websites generally have a similar feel in navigation because over time that’s what people feel comfortable with. If you look at a Japanese or Chinese website they’re all over the place and it’s very hard for people here to understand why that is, yet you talk to a Japanese person and they think it’s perfectly normal for a website to look like that.
He continues: “A lot of work went into redesigning our site last year which created a nice consistent look and feel and that’s given us a great platform. I think the next stage for us is how we evolve from that. We want to keep it structured and familiar but want to open up the opportunity for serendipity and inspiration from time to time. But that’s a hard thing to get right.”
“Whether we do it or not remains to be seen.”