Julian Exposito-Bader and Mary Gould on breaking down preconceptions.
Amazon.co.uk has developed its jewellery offer in recent years, creating a designer boutique and developing a soon-to-launch array of digital boutiques for luxury brands. Kathryn Bishop meets its jewellery buyers Julian Exposito-Bader and Mary Gould to find out what’s in store for jewellery on the renowned retail website.
Would you buy jewellery from Amazon? Would you sell your jewellery though Amazon? These two questions have incited many a viewpoint in the UK jewellery industry.
After all, Amazon is the place to buy a book for your holiday, an old album or maybe that computer cable that you need to replace. At a push its peoples first stop for a fancy dress outfit or a new digital camera. But jewellery? And luxury, designer jewellery at that?
Arguably Amazon is known less for its luxury goods and more for its one-click shopping and speedy delivery. However the long-standing view that the website is a shopping mecca for bibliophiles and computer geeks is changing as a new set of brand-savvy buyers take the reins of what is one of Amazon.co.uk’s most progressive sectors: jewellery.
Amazon’s UK head of buying for jewellery is Julian Exposito-Bader. After stints at M&S and WH Smith he was offered a role at Amazon with the choice of working with sporting goods, toys or jewellery and watches. Thinking the latter of the three as the most interesting, he joined the company in 2012 shortly after the arrival of fellow buyer Mary Gould, a former buyer at Burberry and Bloomingdales in New York with a background in retail analysis.
“I had always known about Amazon and having followed the company for a few years in the US I could see where Amazon was before and where it was going,” explains Gould. “I really wanted to be a part of that. I think jewellery is very personal thing and there are so many great British designers out there that it is a really fun area [of retail] to be part of.”
Together Exposito-Bader and Gould have worked on strategies to align Amazon’s UK jewellery offer with that of any leading British jewellery retailer, breaking down their focus into areas including designer jewellery, high-end jewellery, unbranded jewellery and men’s collections.
“When I joined [Amazon] Mary and I took a good look at where Amazon was and realised we had a challenge of making it a credible jewellery destination,” Exposito-Bader explains. “When people think of Amazon they think of books and CDs, so wethought we have to change the offer as such to make it a fun, exciting and interesting place to shop.”
Part of this meant taking an in-depth review of Amazon’s unbranded jewellery offer in the UK – something Exposito-Bader describes as “diverse but also a bit generic” – to get a better sense of where gaps existed in its offer, as well as analysing customer browsing habits. These browsing habits also highlighted a second point of focus: designer and branded jewellery.
“We were reviewing what our customers were looking for and what’s in the market place and saw that demand for designer jewellery [was growing], and with Mary’s expertise we thought ‘OK let’s get a couple of really cool British brands in and see how it goes’. That’s one of the biggest changes,” Exposito-Bader states.
ON THE HUNT FOR NEW BRANDS
So how are Exposito-Bader and Gould developing Amazon’s jewellery presence? While buying jewellery might sound like a fun way to spend a company’s money the duo are selective about the brands they want to work with and take time in introducing the concept of Amazon to each designer they hope to work with. They travel the world to win – and chase – those jewellery brands they want to showcase on the site. A task that is no mean feat.
Both Gould and Exposito-Bader visits shows including IJL and JCK and Couture in Las Vegas, as well as London and Paris Fashion Weeks to get to know brands, designers and their collections. While most brands should be eager to secure retail stockists, especially global retailers, translating the concept of selling independent designer jewellery brands through Amazon has not always been easy, with some designers refusing to even hear out the company’s proposal.
“We go to IJL and London and Paris Fashion Weeks to look at the designers we love; of course when you first go not all of [the designers] want to work with you immediately – they don’t know how the product will be portrayed online, with jewellery being so much about touch, feel and being a very personal purchase,” explains Exposito-Bader. “But we pitch to them and the ones who say yes we get on board, and the ones who say no we go back every six months and say ‘hey, what’s happening’, and check in to see if they have changed their mind.”
To help counteract future rebuffs Exposito-Bader and Gould attend shows armed with a slick iPad presentation that takes designers through the Amazon journey from the company’s motto coined by its founder Jeff Bezos – “We start with the customer and we work backwards” – to showcasing how the brands are presented online with dedicated sections such as bridal jewellery, men’s jewellery and the current focus, Amazon’s Designer Jewellery Boutique.
The presentation has helped to win over brands such as Missoma, Mawi, OAK, Tatty Devine, Dower & Hall and Katie Rowland whose products already sell through the Amazon Designer Jewellery Boutique. Each brand is given its own page with an introductory blurb, flanked with a photograph of the designers and the brand logo, all of which helps to build recognition with consumers and make the shopping experience all the more personable.
“It’s really cool to work with up-and-coming designers and be part of their exposure, and if Amazon can help with that then it’s a wonderful opportunity [for them],” states Gould, in response to a question of how Amazon helps to benefit the career of designer brands on the cusp of success.
However, the process of becoming an Amazon designer is not a fast one; it can take several months of planning before a brand is ready to go live online. Each will work with Amazon to create a strategy for their brand, covering everything from ensuring they can fulfil regular orders, through to creating barcodes for every item of jewellery and selecting particular product lines for seasonal sales.
Looking ahead to AW13, the buying team has picked up a handful of British talents including former Professional Jeweller Hot 100 NexGems and Trendsetters Laura Gravestock and Fiona Paxton, with Alexis Dove scheduled to launch on the site early next year alongside the likes of Babette Wasserman and Tateossian.
Another facet of Amazon’s retail offer is the marketing and PR support it offers designers and brands. They can pick and choose from a range of marketing and PR tools, based on what they believe their brand needs.
“Depending on each brand and what they want to achieve strategically, whether that’s sales, awareness or PR, we offer a solution,” states Exposito-Bader. “For designer jewellers it is all about generating PR, and we work with an agency to help with that, creating packages to push them though such as our Christmas in July press days or our Summer Wishlist campaigns.”
Another example is an upcoming project with a UK glossy fashion magazine that will help to showcase designer jewellers on Amazon to a discerning consumer audience. For the more established brands that sell through Amazon – the likes of Hot Diamonds, Clogau, Pandora and Lola Rose – the company works to drive volume sales. “We have a schedule throughout the year focused on driving sales, so Q4 is our biggest and busiest segment and includes Black Friday, Boxing Day deals and then January sales,” Exposito-Bader explains. “Brands and designers can pick which they want to be involved with, as some might not want their products to go on sale until January.”
The phenomenon of Black Friday has grown in the UK in recent years having started life as the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the US, when many retail stores held vast sales. Today Black Friday affects both online and bricks-and-mortar retailers and is also considered the biggest online shopping day ahead of Christmas, with discounts or offers helping to entice consumers to part with their pounds. This year Black Friday is scheduled for November 29, and Amazon has been planning sales to mark the date for several months.
LUXURY JEWELLERY ONLINE
So with the Designer Jewellery Boutique project in full swing, what is next for Amazon’s UK jewellery offer? Much like any bricks-and-mortar department store, what is a jewellery department without some serious high-end sparkle? A clue as to how the UK arm will introduce this can already be found on Amazon’s US site, which operates, in Exposito-Bader’s own words, a few months ahead of the UK in terms of site development. One of the US site’s current projects is the Premiere Designer Jewelry section, an initiative that will be heading our way shortly in the form of individual branded stores on Amazon that showcase high-end designer and luxury jewellery retailing for tens of thousands of pounds.
Luxury jewellery brands selling through the US Premiere Designer Jewelry section include Gurhan, the 24ct gold brand, as well as Sutra and Judith Ripka. Gurhan is set to launch on Amazon’s UK site early next year, alongside Roberto Coin and Alex Woo.
“We work with each brand to create an online store for them,” Exposito-Bader explains. “They will tell us ‘this is how we want it to look’ or describe how they wish the images to be. It’s very flexible in that sense.”
In the US, the Gurhan store has a completely different look to how other brands are showcased on the site, something that is necessary for any shopper who might want to differentiate their purchase of a cookery book to that of a pair of fine gold earrings.
“The style of Amazon’s US jewellery offer is changing and for the high-end brands you’re talking $5,000 to $15,000 a piece, so [the site] needs to be more about the story, look and feel of each brand,” Exposito-Bader states. “But when you see how well the Premiere Designer Jewelry site is performing in the US, [you realise] there is a market there, so we’ll bring it here too. We want to keep pushing the boundaries and thinking what more can we do for retail online.”
At present Amazon’s UK fine jewellery offer includes unbranded gold collections, with products provided by five different suppliers that Amazon works with, including IBB London. There is also a vast collection of engagement and bridal jewellery including product from Diamond Manufacturers and F. Hinds.
JEWELS FOR THE BOYS
Beyond the plans for a luxury site, 2014 will also be focused on the development of a far greater men’s jewellery offer on Amazon’s UK site. Gould believes this area of the market has great potential, stating: “There are a few different things we’re working on and there are some more brands that we would like to work with, but we’re focusing a great deal on men’s jewellery. I think that it will be a really exciting thing for us as there are some fantastic brands that do men’s jewellery and there is an element of flexibility that we can do a number of different things with our new collections that we have not yet planned.”
The men’s range will include new pieces from Babette Wasserman and Tateossian, while Exposito-Bader expresses that he is keen to get men’s brands such as Luis Morais (sold through Mr Porter and Selfridges) on Amazon in the UK, as well as Miansai, an American brand known for its wrap bracelets with quirky anchor and fishing hook clasps.
Armed with an arsenal of must-have brands and with an eye trained on the hit brands of tomorrow, Gould and Exposito-Bader are poised to reach a whole new audience of shoppers with their online jewellery offer. So where do they see the business with regards to the UK jewellery industry? A direct competitor? An untouchable retail giant?
“At the end of the day we’re in the same industry but it is how we sell and market jewellery that makes us different,” says Exposito-Bader. “We want to do what we can to make [shopping] better for the customers, make it more of an experience but also quicker. Amazon is so customer-focused and that’s what drives us.” Gould agrees and sums up the Amazon appeal with a single, definitive statement: “We have our own DNA and that’s what sets Amazon apart.”
This interview was taken from the September issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.