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The Rise and Rise of Online Beauty: An Interview with Joël Palix, CEO, Feelunique

Feelunique is a pure play online retail store, offering a comprehensive choice of beauty products to its online customers.

The etailer has taken on traditional retailers with innovative digital tools which have enabled it to engage with and retain customers while growing its share of e-commerce.

I recently caught up with Joël Palix, CEO, Feelunique at the INNOCOS Lisbon conference and he shared with me his vision for Feelunique and the beauty industry.

What does ominchannel mean to you, and what must the beauty industry do to make it a reality?

Omnichannel refers to the way a beauty brand or retailer combines the power of various distribution channels, including store and website, to improve customer experience and maximise customer satisfaction.

An omnichannel strategy is all about facilitating the customer’s shopping journey independently of where the final purchase will take place.

Consumers can freely choose where they want to shop, through use of online and offline data. This allows us to personalise their shopping experience for a perfect service at all touch points.

For example, a customer shopping for a foundation will visit various mono-brand sites for a first selection based on content and consumer’s opinions. Upon reviewing, the second stage consists of visiting various brand counters to try and test foundations.

The customer will also use search engines to look for online tutorials, search augmented reality beauty apps and websites to refine their choice.

At Feelunique we have the Foundation Finder, a diagnostic tool that helps the customer to filter suggested products and refine the choice.

Lastly, delivery of product is important. A brand needs to make sure the customer has been given the perfect experience to final purchase and not lose point of sale.

It is quite a complicated challenge.

You must acquire a fully integrated knowledge of individual consumers and offer advanced CRM programs, manage stock, pricing and supply tools in an integrated way, and provide a global service.

How does Feelunique fit into this?

Our situation is quite different according to markets.

In Channel Islands, we are one of the very few brick and mortar beauty retailers and the sole retailer of many prestige brands. Online already represents more than 25% of our total business.

Our omnichannel strategies include click and collect, the “augmented store” (allowing our store staff to present and place orders for products not available in store) and social media campaigns across both channels. We still have to integrate our stock management and customer data across both channels.

In France, we recently purchased and renamed under the Feelunique brand, a small chain of four upscale perfumeries and added a hair salon to our Paris store.

There is potential growth in the French market, and our stores will help us gain trust with new consumers. They also give us access to many interesting niche brands that we can distribute online.

An efficient strategy across channels is to organise events in our stores where online and offline customers as well as social media influencers can mingle and discover a new brand or new product.

In UK and in the rest of the world, we are an online retailer only. We have a different strategy by offering the most comprehensive choice of beauty products in one place.

By providing rich and inspiring content, including tutorials, advanced search engines to filter products and personalise the customer’s shopping experience, we help the consumer shop in the most efficient way.

By introducing a make-up app and a personalised sampling service before purchase (called Pick ‘n Mix) we believe we offer a better way to test products than in stores.

We offer fast next day shipping services, such as Feelunique Unlimited for an annual fee of £8.95 and effectively compete with large multi-category e-tailers.

Is the opening of your Paris store a signal that Feelunique may move its HQ to France?

We have no plans to move the company to France. However depending on the final decisions and timetable decided for Brexit, we will have the potential to increase our team in France to support continental European markets if need be. A lot will depend on policies around tariffs and staffing (we currently have a very diverse and international workforce).

Do you envisage Feelunique opening more retail stores in the future?

We fully recognise the role of stores for consumer’s education, product demonstration, impulse buying and traditional beauty counter services.

However retail stores are not our core expertise and it is hard to reconcile with our vision of “Beauty without Boundaries” because of constraints in shelf size, stock holdings and opening hours.

Therefore we are unlikely to make significant investment in traditional stores. Rather than investing in a permanent retail fixture we envisage some innovative retail formats such as pop-up stores.

I wanted to ask you about selling fragrance and colour online: what are the limitations and do you have solutions?

As a beauty online retailer, we face various restrictions. However, with the advances of technology, improved photography and video, we are able to provide accurate and engaging content via our product pages, social media platforms and apps to allow shoppers to simulate colour effectively.

Fragrance is a difficult category with consumers often shopping around for the best price. At Feelunique we have the Fragrance Finder to help you filter fragrance scents you really like, and share a wish-list to tell your friends and family which fragrance you would like to receive.

We also provide a sampling service, Pick ’n Mix which has proven to be very popular, for consumers to test and try out fragrances before full sized purchases.

How important is sampling for pure plays, such as Feelunique, and retailers?

Sampling is the most important tool for a pure player.

We have three sampling programs:

  1. Samples at check-out (a gift expected by many consumers, ideal to evangelise consumers on a new product).
  2. Try Me (the full size beauty product comes with a sample of the same product to allow consumer to test the product first).
  3. Pick ’n Mix (see above).

We believe we are a very effective channel for sampling because we can provide rich data to brands and measure its effectiveness.

We also encourage consumers to leave consumer opinions for all samples received. This is particularly important when you want to quickly seed consumer comments during a product launch.

Why should beauty companies invest in sampling?

Sampling has always been an important tool for beauty companies. With hygiene issues around store testing, the need for individual sampling is increasing.

We ask brands for a range of accessible and inexpensive sampling tools (replacing testers) for Pick ’n Mix and a range of mini-sized for our customers to trial.

How important will AR become as a tool to help consumers make product choices?

Augmented reality is a great way to simulate the application of a product on your face, especially make-up. It is also the perfect solution for sharing looks and purchase intentions with friends via social media.

Have you plans to extend/improve your virtual reality app?

A year ago, Feelunique launched a make-up virtual app allowing consumers to simulate product application across many make-up brands we distribute. It is a great tool for making a pre-selection of the products and we are currently reviewing how to improve the user’s experience and add the latest technologies.

What do you see as the main changes in beauty retailing over the next 5 years?

I expect the share of e-commerce to keep growing and reach the type of penetration seen in fashion already.

Shopping online will take many forms beyond what we know already.

A good example of what is coming are applications such as WeChat in China, allowing you to shop a popular product in one click.

I foresee beauty apps and bots will also drive a significant share of beauty retail.

Offline stores will have to adapt. Some will become event and entertainment destinations, others will focus on providing local beauty services and do linked product sales.

There will be many attempts to bring technologies to stores and use stores as the brick and mortar arm of e-commerce for product demonstration and deliveries.

Issues with productivity and costs will most likely lead to some rationalisation in the number of stores, in my opinion, but we are fortunate to be in a product category that keeps growing.

About Feelunique
Founded in 2005, Feelunique has grown to become Europe’s largest online beauty retailer with a choice of more than 28,000 products and 500 brands across makeup, skincare, haircare, fragrance and electricals. It has a rapidly growing international beauty community of more than 1.3 million people across our social media platforms. Its innovative use of technology – such as our proprietary ‘Makeup Live’ app which allows customers to try on products virtually, with amazing accuracy, on their smartphones – is changing the way consumers experience buying beauty products online.

Feelunique is at the forefront of the digital beauty revolution and is a socially connected retailer – we believe content is key to succeeding in e-commerce and our dedicated editorial platform offers our customers inside knowledge on beauty including industry interviews, video tutorials and recommended products.

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