Big interview: UK country manager Annabel Kilner

Online furniture retailer has this week revealed that it will be launching websites in Germany and the Netherlands before the end of 2014, adding to the UK-based business's recent arrival in France and Italy.

The fast-growing e-tailer, which has announced a number of new innovative initiatives over the last month, has doubled revenues each year since its launch, and is now looking to Europe to build on the early successes it has achieved in its home market.

Annabel Kilner,'s UK country manager, called the addition of new territories to the business's portfolio an "interesting strategic initiative" and hinted that the move may even stimulate some internal competition among the respective geographical heads, which could help stimulate further growth over the coming years.

"I'm very aware that I have others keeping me on my toes now," she told Essential Retail.

Under Kilner's stewardship, the UK business – which was created by Ning Li, Julien Callede, Chloe Macintosh and founder Brent Hoberman in 2010, has recently introduced a number of innovative measures that are aimed at keeping the furniture e-tailer on its current growth trajectory and meeting the demands of the modern shopper.

Last week saw the launch of's own social network, 'Made Unboxed' (picture below), which the company hopes will develop into a thriving community where its customers go for furniture inspiration, and to share home design ideas and potentially organise meetings to view how fellow members have used furniture in their respective homes.

"It's very much about social engagement – you can message someone who has already bought a product and they can give you their opinions on it," Kilner explained.

"If they were also a couple of streets away, I may also say 'Can I pop down and see it?'. Suddenly their home is a showroom for We love the fact that the online element is great for genuine product recommendations, but if we can extend it to social showrooms then that would be a huge advantage for us."

The UK country manager thinks the project has significant potential and describes it as building a community "for people who are passionate about their homes".

"You might get inspiration from magazines, but having dynamic content that is updated daily, where you can actually interact with images and the person behind that image to get the information you want, is a much more powerful channel."

Dynamic content and interaction are key parts of the philosophy, it would seem, with video having played a central role in the business's online offering since its inception four years ago, and augmented reality set to grow in importance.

The company's in-house team makes a product video every time a new collection is released, which Kilner say is actually twice a week, so there has been a significant amount of digital content created over the last few years. The aim is to produce online videos that are more akin to the fashion industry than the typical 'how-to' offerings of the traditional furniture industry, but the team is currently deep in the process of testing just how to maximise the use of this pool of visual content.

"We know that when we put it on the product page, there is a direct correlation between people who watch a video and then go on to purchase," Kilner noted.

"Our challenge as a business is 'How do we make our video content even more engaging, and how do we make more people watch video?'."

Augmented reality is currently a hot topic in retail. Argos launched the latest edition of its long-running catalogue on Saturday, with more than 300 pieces of augmented reality content built in to give customers an opportunity to experience digital and traditional content in tandem, via their smartphones.

Integration of this type of technology at is so far minimal, according to Kilner, but the e-tailer is currently working with tech firm Sayduck and investigating ways it can introduce this tool into the company's mobile website so that customers can see 3D images of how furniture may look in their homes.

Kilner said that the quality of the 3D models visualised by Sayduck were "by far and away the best" at the time started investigating the market, but she suggested that augmented reality innovation is moving on fast.

"I was very keen that the beauty and quality of image you see on our website was then translated into that [augmented reality] application, although we will continue to look at new players in the market.

"It's an area that is moving so quickly and developing so fast with new functionality that you almost need to be able to change providers and be able to test different ones in the market."

Essential Retail also visited the showroom in London's Notting Hill Gate in July to see how the company is using tablets and NFC technology, in association with CloudTags, to digitalise the bricks and mortar shopping experience and achieve a closer connection with its customers across multiple retail channels.

Although there are no imminent plans to open more showrooms in the UK, Kilner admits that she is always on the look-out for opportunities. She acknowledged that the technology provided by vendors such as CloudTags could play a part in any future property strategy, with one stated aim of the business to "continue making very self serve, in terms of purchasing furniture".

"Having tech innovation is going to be key to what drives our scale, in terms of the customers we can reach and turning those shoppers into customers who have lifetime value," Kilner commented.

"We benefit from starting off as a pure-play because we are challenged to think of new innovations continuously. Because we're driven primarily by technology, it enables us to move faster and perhaps take more measured risks than our competitors who are traditionally from a bricks and mortar background and have gone online."

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Made Unboxed