Skip to main content CEO Talks About Building Beauty Online

Joël Palix, chief executive officer of, recalls the days when duty-free shopping was synonymous with “dimly lit stores.”

LONDON — Joël Palix, chief executive officer of, recalls the days when duty-free shopping was synonymous with “dimly lit stores” in airports.

“Today, to access your plane, you have to walk through huge and tempting shopping malls.” Travel retail, as it’s now known, accounts for 20 percent of the turnover of many of international beauty brands, he said.

He believes beauty e-commerce is just like duty free was 30 years ago: At the beginning of a revolution, with the U.K. at its epicenter. was launched in 2005, and Palix said the company is the number-one online beauty player in Europe. It also operates three brick-and-mortar stores and two salons.

Palix attributed the company’s success to huge levels of choice. The site stocks more than 500 brands and 20,000 stockkeeping units with “all beauty categories under one roof.”

The business continues to add new brands to its portfolio: Last year it added brands from the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., L’Oréal pharmacy brands and Urban Decay, while this year it will launch brands including Tom Ford and By Terry. Palix added that the site is becoming “a platform for launching exclusive brands in the U.K.”

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He also talked about challenges the site has faced over the past 10 years.

Palix said selling fragrance had initially proven to be a challenge but that the site’s “Try Me” sampling initiative was key to overcoming the hurdle of selling a scent to someone who has never smelled it before. The samples come free with the purchase of a fragrance. When the site recently launched Yves Saint Laurent’s new Black Opium fragrance, the sampling program resulted in its becoming one of the top-five fragrances on the site.

He said that, overall, the rate of returns, even with color products, was remarkably low. Not even one percent of merchandise sold is returned.

He also offered up 10 commandments of selling beauty online, including “mastering the art of storytelling,” via text, photos and videos; handing out free samples to loyal customers to create a buzz ahead of a launch; personalizing the customer journey; creating products, such as makeup palettes with a variety of colors, that leave little room for error on the part of the purchaser, and rewarding loyal customers.

He said customers love the chance to donate to charities online and take part in social responsibility initiatives, and often want to talk to the site’s experts via live chat if they have a question.

Looking forward, he said the online beauty industry is well behind fashion, making the potential for growth huge. He predicted that by 2020, 20 percent of prestige beauty sales will be made online.