Movers & Shakers Q&A with Ning Li, CEO,


Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 Retail

Ning Li, CEO,

 1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

Scalability. Last year we launched the business in France and it has done incredibly well, now accounting for 20% of the total business. This success gave us the confidence to launch in Italy in September 2013, which is already doing well with the design-loving Italian crowd. Our online concept is scalable, and so we plan to grow in more European territories in the near future. We know from our social media platforms that customers would like us to operate all over the world – and we don’t want to disappoint them. We have plans to expand further overseas.

Ning head and shoulders

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

We are a start-up with a relatively new brand, and we are fighting in the arena with cash-rich major high street brands. Our main challenge today is to win the trust of customers and convince them we are an alternative proposition, potentially better than where they are used to shopping – and we must do that with relatively limited resources. We are winning market share today, not because we outspend our competitors, but because our happy customers spread the word.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

We made a lot of mistakes on the path of growth, but today we have grown much quicker than we could ever have imagined. I think it is fine to make mistakes as they are the best way to learn fast!

4. What is the future of the physical store?

There will always be a future for the physical store. Humans are social creatures that enjoy the experience of browsing shops but I think there will be some changes. We believe that more and more retailers will turn their focus to showrooms, where people can touch and feel products that they’ve seen online. This is something that has worked tremendously well for us; we opened our first showroom in our office block in Notting Hill in 2012 which turns our website into reality for customers who want to touch and feel a product before purchase. In December last year we opened our first showroom in the north of England, in Leeds, to meet the demand. Larger brand names will turn their stores into ‘brand cathedrals’ that will focus on a much more experiential offering – we’re already seeing this from the likes of Apple and Nike which has rolled out a number of concept stores worldwide.

5. What will the high street look like in a decade?

The tail wind has been blowing for the switch from offline to online, as consumers opt for convenience and cost savings. It makes sense. However, there will be always a place for the high street – but it will be adapted to tomorrow’s needs. I would see the shopping experience much more focused on the fun and pleasure, rather than purely utility driven. Showrooming (i.e. searching online before transacting offline) and click & collect will be essential features of the future of retail.

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?

They already are. At present, around 50% of our traffic comes from mobile devices and we only see this number rising.

7. What other retail business do you admire?

We love other retailers who have turned their respective industries on their heads to offer consumers a great product or service. In April we were named one of the fasted growing tech companies in the UK by The Nextweb alongside Hailo – a brand I love and use a lot. They’re taking all of the frustration out of booking a taxi – making it possible to book in just a few clicks.

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

Had it not been it probably would be another consumer facing business online.

9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

It’s impossible for me to say – maybe ask my parents!

10. Who would you place in the Top 20 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?

No question for me – it has to be Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. I was lucky enough to meet him on a recent delegate trip to China alongside David Cameron. I’ve never met a business man like Jack – an incredibly inspiring guy.