Movers & Shakers Q&A with Sarah Miles, CEO of Feelunique

Brought to you by Retail Insider and K3 BTG

Sarah Miles, CEO of Feelunique

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

We have several exciting growth opportunities, all of which are underpinned by the investments we have made in our technology infrastructure and brand relationships during recent periods.

Firstly, we have a great opportunity with our marketplace platform, which has delivered soaring growth over the last 12 months. One of our key USPs is the breadth of brands and products we offer to customers, and our marketplace is enabling us to significantly expand this proposition in an efficient and capital-light way. We currently have 300 brands and 8,000 products available through this channel, which is available in the UK, Germany and France, and we’re really excited about the opportunities to come.

That leads on to the second major opportunity for the business – international growth. Whilst we still have a significant amount of headroom in the UK market, despite selling in more than 120 countries through six native websites already I don’t think we have even begun to realise our international potential. We have a focused strategy to grow in our target markets of Europe, China and the US and are very excited about the opportunities.

Finally, an ongoing opportunity for Feelunique is to further improve the customer experience and continually reinvent the experience of buying beauty online. This has been a major focus since I joined the business – we have invested in enhancing UX, integrating more beauty content and improving personalisation through analytics. We’ve made a lot of significant improvements in these areas and have a strong platform to continue to create a fantastic buying experience for customers. I’m really excited about the development of this part of our business.

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

The beauty industry here in the UK is relatively underpenetrated by e-commerce in general, predominantly due to the challenge of replicating the high level of personalised service that customers have enjoyed in stores. That is changing, and has accelerated exponentially over the past year as a result of Covid-19.  

We are proud to represent so many fantastic brands, and we also work very hard to use our 15 years of customer data to really understand our customers and make sure we are providing sampling programmes, advice, content, tutorials and personalisation to make each shopping mission easy and fun. This ongoing improvement and innovation in customer experience is really important to us, and is an area where we continue to challenge ourselves every day.

I think we have so many exciting growth opportunities and one of the biggest challenges will be making sure that we deliver each of these in what is such a dynamic market environment. We have a fantastic team and I’m very confident we will be able to achieve our ambitious plans over the coming years.

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

Well, I’d really wish for a crystal ball! I’m sure we all wish we could have seen the effects that Covid-19 would have on the country and the world as a whole. Having that foresight would have helped us to support our colleagues even more than we have done through what has undoubtedly been a really demanding period of combining work, family life and home-schooling. It also would have enabled us to predict and prepare more for the increased demand we saw during peak periods over the past year.

4. What is the future of the physical store and the high street?

Feelunique is an e-commerce business, although we do have a handful of physical stores. I think stores, and indeed the high street, will always play a meaningful role in the way we shop. The relationship between retail and e-commerce is a symbiotic one and I think we’ll see both channels leverage one another’s’ strengths to work even more closely together in the future, through collection and fulfilment, for example.

Beauty is a sector of the retail market that has historically seen relatively low e-commerce penetration, and this is changing significantly now. I’m really excited to see how this evolves and the opportunities that emerge for our business.

5. What technology-related plans have you got for the next 12 months?

Over the coming year we will be focused on expanding functionality across our marketplace channel including personalisation in search, which is critical. We’re also continually refining our analytics-driven approach to customer offers and CRM – we have a customer database of nearly five million people, so this personalised approach to customer engagement provides a significant opportunity. 

6. What other retailers/brands do you admire?

John Foley, Founder and CEO of Peloton. It’s not an understatement to say that the brand has revolutionised exercise during the past year, and whilst some of its exponential growth is of course due to the circumstances we all find ourselves in at the moment, John has developed a fantastic brand underpinned not by products, but by Peloton’s customer community who feel so passionately about what the brand is doing.

Beyond Peloton, I hugely admire businesses in any sector that are successfully building a community and providing a high quality, differentiated customer experience, especially at the moment.

7. Who would you place in the Top 25 Movers & Shakers in Retail?

If it were up to me, it would be any 25 of my colleagues at Feelunique! We have an absolutely amazing team and their hard work, skill and dedication since I joined the group have been central to our growth and progress. I hope in years to come to see some of my colleagues’ names in the list!

This is one in an ongoing series of profiles with individuals that are featured in the annual Movers & Shakers report. Here’s the link to the 2020 edition.(sponsored by K3 BTG).