Big interview: Feelunique CEO Joel Palix

Dave Lewis is not the only high profile senior executive to jump from brand boss to retailer CEO this year.

But whereas the new Tesco leader left Unilever and walked straight into a major boardroom battle and a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the historical overstating of the grocer's profits, Joel Palix has taken over the top job at beauty e-tailer with the task of continuing the company's annual sales growth curve, overseeing the addition of new brands and evolving website functionality.

The former Clarins Fragrance Group CEO told Essential Retail that it is a challenge he relishes.

Commenting on his change of job at the turn of the year, which saw him take over from the business's co-founder Aaron Chatterley, Palix said: "When you're a high executive in a big group, things can get very comfortable.

"Maybe it gets boring and you want to get out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges. For me the challenge is to work in a new environment, a new country and a new type of business. I find it very exciting."

The Frenchman, who has in the past also worked for luxury fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, suggested that retailers have a prime position to get to know consumers – and the CEO has plans to use this opportunity to personalise the shopping experience at Feelunique as much as he can.

"I have always thought that the retailer is in a very unique position," he explained.

"Particularly as an online player, you have the richest consumer data to hand, so the retailer can understand the market dynamics and consumer need, giving it the authority when in discussions with brands."

A number of brands do sell directly to customers online, while over the years there have been multiple examples of brands opening their own stores and effectively becoming retailers. This is as true of the beauty industry as it is the sports equipment industry and general fashion sector.

Palix said that it is important for his company to do what it does well, and if this is the case then there will be room for various sales avenues in beauty retailing.

"I believe in a rich ecosystem online where you will have brand sites, vertical specialists like us, click and mortar stores and marketplaces – and all of this responds to the different needs of consumers," he noted.

"It is just like in the physical world where you have boutique brands, stores and the likes of Boots. I think the consumer wants to shop in various formats."

Feelunique, which was launched by Chatterley and Richard Schiessl in 2005, has grown steadily over the last decade – and, according to Palix, is on course to register sales growth of more than 20% again this year.

Chatterley told Essential Retail last year that the company is aiming to be a £100 million business by 2016, and his successor is confident that he can help move the e-tailer in that direction. The business is generating revenues around half of that figure, but it continues to develop by launching new lines and services.

Palix commented: "Feelunique offers 20,000 products and 500 brands – and customers can buy all they need from a beauty perspective in one transaction.

"We had a strong month of October so it looks very promising for our Christmas season. We have added new brands, including Estee Lauder, Clinique and Michael Kors, so clearly we are competing with department stores."

To aid the pre-Christmas marketing drive further Feelunique unveiled an interactive marketing campaign at the weekend, with an augmented-reality-bolstered beauty guide sent out to UK consumers via the Sunday Times Style section and Hello! magazine.

Using the Blippar mobile app, shoppers have the opportunity to scan the magazine's pages to access video content and how-to guides for certain products. The guide is also online, and the retailer is aiming to offer its customers a seamless experience whether they are engaging with the company on the internet or via print media.

"Each page has enriched content and we are combining the best of print and the best of digital," Palix remarked.

The new CEO also suggested that blurring the boundaries between channels has been a key focus for Feelunique, with the business recently implementing technology to ensure shoppers have access to the same shopping basket whether they are logging in on PC, via mobile or through a tablet device.

"More and more people are accessing our website across devices, with the consumer journey starting on one channel and ending in another," he acknowledged.

"Basket abandonment is a major issue for retailers and we want to eliminate that risk."

Another recently added feature on the Feelunique website places previously purchased products alongside shoppers' online baskets, with the aim being to encourage beauty product replenishment. The move towards personalisation in retailing is a key goal for the business as the new year approaches.

The use of Google Hangouts, where the retailer hosts digital events for its customers, is also expected to increase over the coming months.

In short, there are plenty of customer engagement plans for the business, which since a £26 million deal at the back end of 2012 is now primarily private equity owned. With Chatterley moving aside 12 months ago to take on the role of deputy chairman, it leaves Palix to lead the organisation during the next stage.

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