High street and digital giant Argos is tackling the trend for personalisation head-on with a bespoke diamond jewellery creator, allowing customers to create their own earrings, pendants and engagement rings. Sarah louise Jordan meets Argos’ jewellery buying manager Alice Rigby to discover more.
For anyone over the age of 25 your first memory of High Street retailer Argos is likely to be pinching one of those little blue pens after flicking through a two foot thick catalogue. But jump forward to 2015 and Argos is deep in its ‘Transformation Plan’, with the aim of becoming a digital, multichannel and mobile commerce powerhouse.
Since the plan was announced in 2012 Argos has achieved many of its aims, including a national roll-out of its ‘hub & spoke’ distribution network enabling same day collection of 20,000 products; 60 digital stores trading across three store formats; and increased sales across digital and mobile platforms.
Overall, sales at the company – owned by the Home Retail Group – increased 1% in the 52 weeks to February 28 2015 reaching £5,710 million. In the 13 weeks ended May 30 2015 (Q1 2015) Argos achieved sales of £846 million – a 2.6% decline year-on-year – but it’s their e-commerce stats that offer the greatest insights into this rapidly evolving brand.
35 stores were added to the company’s portfolio, including 32 digital concessions within Homebase stores and two in Sainsbury’s supermarkets. Internet sales in the quarter represented 44% of total sales, while mobile commerce grew by 15% to represent 25% of sales at Argos (up 21% on Q1 in 2014).
What appears to be giving Argos the scope to excel is its bricks-and-mortarand- digital offer. Despite the digital emphasis in its Transformation Plan it was clever enough to hold on to its physical presence on the High Street, meaning 95% of UK consumers live within 10 miles of an Argos store. This approach is also supported by the latest IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, which shows that online-only retailers are lagging behind multichannel (both digital and bricks-and-mortar) retailers by 8% in terms of sales growth.
It is in this sales arena that the Argos jewellery department has launched its new Exclusively Yours bespoke diamond jewellery offer. Officially launched on July 15, the web tool allows customers to build their own diamond earrings, pendants and engagement rings using a step-by-step system, culminating in a choice of diamond cut, clarity and colour.
Of course, Argos is far from the first to use such a system. Blue Nile and 77 Dia- monds offer similar diamond-choosing services (with many more diamond cuts to choose from) and Clogau Compose is an equally brilliant example of a ringbuilding systems in action. What makes Argos different in this landscape, however, is its sheer scale in the UK market. Arguably Argos is the first High Street retailer (with the greatest brand awareness) to offer a digital personalisation service to such a vast array of consumers, without them having to go in to store. Put simply, Argos is taking the personalisation of jewellery trend to a whole new level.
To find out more about Exclusively Yours, we travelled to Milton Keynes to meet Alice Rigby, jewellery buying manager at Argos. There’s certainly an air of excitement among the team about the new launch, which forms the central component of their AW15 offer.
Rigby explains: “The bespoke system is allowing customers to design their own unique piece of jewellery, which I think is really exciting. We’ve got a fantastic range currently on offer in Argos, but this adds to it and creates a great breadth for customers.
“It doesn’t matter if you want something for £100 or £3,000; you now have the flexibility to select something you want for an important event. I think our recustomers are wanting things that are bespoke to them.”
In terms of the online journey, customers can log on to argosbespokejewellery. com and start the process, starting with jewellery type or diamond type.
“It is basically a three tier stage,” Rigby continues. “A customer can pick the diamond, deciding what clarity and colour they want, and then they get a list of diamonds followed by the option to choose a carat size. From there they can compare diamonds and pick the one they want.”
Professional Jeweller has experimented extensively with the system and found it to be very quick and responsive with an informative element that should help to educate the customer about the nature of diamonds. However, due to the way in which diamonds and mounts are priced separately before being bundled together as one item, customers can find a diamond that’s right for them but be scuppered by a lack of available mounts that stay within their price range. This is hardly a deal breaker, but it is something that can slow down the selection process.
“The next step is to choose the metal, including platinum, 18ct, 9ct, white or yellow,” Rigby adds. “Then you are given a choice of the setting you want, such as a vintage setting or a classic setting.” The offer is certainly extensive with a variety of price points, which should satisfy the consumer, but what’s exciting for Argos is the opportunities for data capture the system offers. Rigby notes that Exclusively Yours is already being used to test certain styles to see what consumers like, noting: “Once we find out what’s more popular and what people want, we can grow.”
To support its growing bridal market, Argos has introduced a number of web features, including buying guides to empower customers on the decision-making process. Lots of e-tailers have similar offers, including the likes of QVC, ensuring that a quick Google search for information doesn’t cause the customer to stray. Rigby says: “We’re giving customers information so they can make informed choices. The buying guide is there to offer technical specifications on diamonds so you will be able to see if the cut is good, the clarity is good, and if there is a difference in colour [between certain diamond options] we will explain what that is.”
Also on offer is a bridal magazine via a dedicated app, which offers customers a lifestyle-focused look at the latest trends and styles. “We are trying to recustomers late to our customers with more conversational editorial content. With this we ask ‘what kind of style is your bride?’, so is she a classic woman or a vintage girl? For a guy who doesn’t know where to start he can look and say ‘I think she is this kind of lady’.”
The bridal jewellery market is a key focus for the Argos jewellery team, but it knows it is not going to excel if it doesn’t put its digital heart on its sleeve. As Rigby notes: “We have seen consistent growth within that area [bridal] and I think we needed to communicate to our customers in a different way on that type of purchase because I think Argos is quite processed and jewellery is not processed, it’s emotional. I’m really excited by what we’ve done with the bridal boutique and the bespoke website.”
Customers have been veering towards personalised and bespoke jewellery creations considerably in the last 18-months, helped in part by the massmarket trend for composable charms. So, what’s made Argos introduce this system now? What, if anything, can be seen as the catalyst?
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Rigby explains. “As we become more digitally focused as a business I think from the feedback, what we are being told by suppliers and what we see in the market, is that customers like being able to create something unique and bespoke as a form of self expression.”
She continues: “Because [a piece of diamond jewellery] is such an impor- tant purchase I think people will spend as much as they possibly can on their purchase if they’ve made it their own. I think it came at the right time because it fits nicely with the journey we are on as a business.”
Exclusively Yours is realised due to one of Argos’ key suppliers, BJB Limited, which uses its manufacturing facilities to build each order and dispatch it to the customer. Head of product development Caroline Creba has been an integral part of the team working on the Exclusively Yours project, commenting: “Exclusively Yours is more than just a product; it is about providing a fully bespoke service. It is such an exciting proposition, especially as we are seeing a trend at the moment within jewellery for more and more personalisation. “
Added touches; such as a free engraving facility for rings so the customer can add a special date or initials; luxury packaging and free postage make this service exceptional. Your piece of bespoke jewellery will then arrive within 10 working days.”
Crucially, Exclusively Yours has vastly increased Argos’ offer right down to the diamond size and quality, with Rigby commenting: “The customer journey is important to us, so we tested it in-house and across the team to make sure that when the customer goes on they will understand it and make sense of it.
“We are constantly looking at different ways to give our customers what they want and how he or she wants to shop. The market is moving quickly, but what’s happening in retail and on the web is that you are no longer tied to a catalogue. The season is bigger and we can introduce new products as they come in, via the website and in store.”
Elsewhere at Argos, its ‘Designers at Argos’ programme is still performing well, with the likes of LucyQ, Jana Reinhardt and Lynn Rodgers advertised, while 18ct gold, mixed metal plating and layering are all trends to watch. The team has also enjoyed its continued association with the Birmingham School of Jewellery, offering first year student Danielle Laurent the chance to see her designs sold through Argos from spring/summer 2016 earlier this year.
Overall, Argos is offering accessible and easy personalisation to its customers who are already familiar with its one-stop-shop history. With around 121 million customer transactions per year through its 788 stores and over 900 million website and app visits in the 12 months to February 2015, it’s clear where Argos goes, the industry will follow.
This feature first appeared in the August issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. Read it online here.