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FEATURE: The great digital retail revolution

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The closure of Britain’s high streets during the pandemic signalled a complete halt to all brick-and-mortar retail that was deemed non-essential by the UK Government.

Across three separate lockdowns in England, jewellers and other retailers were forced to close their doors and move their business online. At the time this seemed like a temporary measure, one that would see a return to business as usual when ended.

However, with footfall figures still low months since the last lockdown, it could be time to accept that the pandemic has had more of a permanent effect, significantly accelerating the inevitable move towards e-commerce that was already well underway before March 2020.

Anthony Lindsay, managing director of Fabergé, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has brought about years of change in a condensed period, especially for the jewellery industry.

“According to a recent McKinsey Global Survey, their companies have accelerated the digitisation of their customer and supply-chain interactions, and of their internal operations, by three to four years.”

Fortunately, this shift is not something to be feared by businesses. On the contrary, it presents an opportunity. Business is not going to dry up.

There will still be just as many consumers looking to buy jewellery, it is just that the ways in which they want to purchase jewellery are changing. And so, just the same as you may alter your product range to keep up with current trends, retailers must keep up with the consumer shift towards online shopping over in-store purchasing.

This process is not as simple as setting up an e-commerce site and letting customers do the rest, however. For example, the other side of the coin is converting your business’ internal operations to an online model, which most companies were forced to do since March last year.

River Mounts’ Yvette Kempson explains to Professional Jeweller: “The biggest technological change we have experienced at River Mounts is the adoption and implementation of remote working without compromising our customer experience.”

The IT manager continues: “Moving from fully equipped office and meeting spaces to remote working environments has posed its challenges.

“We have quickly had to make many digital adaptations such as switching from desktops to laptops; whiteboards and flip charts to virtual rooms and facilitation boards; face-to-face meetings to virtual remote sessions and handheld barcode scanners to mobile apps. All of these would not have been possible without the advances in technology.”

These changes, the company reveals, have made it rethink its entire internal infrastructure, which has also had to adapt to the increased volumes and accessibility required during this time.

Kempson continues: “Moving onto Cloud-based solutions has enabled us to work remotely with no limitations on accessibility, not only for our internal staff but also our customers.”

It is changes like these – even the internal ones – that have facilitated massive online sales growth across the industry during the past 18 months. Chantelle Serrell-Cooke of Domino Jewellery reveals: “Digitalisation has been the biggest change for us from the pandemic. It was definitely coming, but we believe the pandemic has sped up the desire for online purchasing across the jewellery market.”

The proof is in the pudding for Domino, says the marketing manager, revealing that the company has seen a considerable increase in online purchasing from retailers, with 2021 seeing an increase of over 225% in value of online sales when compared to the pre-pandemic figures of 2019.

She continues: “Although there has been a natural shift in purchasing behaviour due to the pandemic, we believe that the increase is also due to the large investments we have made in our website.”

Gecko Jewellery, meanwhile, has been reaping the rewards of an increased focus on the use of video to market its creations. Although video is not exactly the newest of technologies, very few fashion and jewellery websites utilise video when selling products, with most still relying on between one and five still images to show off a piece of clothing or jewellery.

Gecko is breaking the mould on this front. General manager Ruth Johnson says: “The use of video has been a key development in our digital marketing content for us and our customers.

“With social media prioritising video and the rise of TikTok and other apps, engagement with video is at an all-time high. Seeing how the jewellery moves and sits while worn has been very important when we have been unable to do this in person.”

Moving beyond just video, Professional Jeweller is told that a number of more advanced technologies are beginning to be used in a similar way to allow online shoppers to not only view a product but customise it or even try it on virtually.

Fabergé’s Anthony Lindsay says: “There seem to be advancements in digital 3D modelling, allowing for online personalisations to be made and visualised by the customer instantly, ahead of purchase.”

He also expresses interest in the use of augmented reality or AR, saying: “I’m interested to see the advancement of AR. It holds the potential to offer a try-and-buy experience similar to that of a bricks-and-mortar store, thus delivering an immersive cross-channel experience.

“At Fabergé, we’re in the very early stages of using this across our Instagram channel, where we’ve made it possible for users to virtually ‘try on’ a pair of our Emotion earrings. I don’t think it will be many years until we see AR being used a lot more, and it becomes a bigger part of the purchasing journey online, especially for luxury.”

With other companies excited about AR as well as virtual reality and artificial intelligence, it seems only a matter of time until customers will regularly have the option to try on jewellery without leaving the comfort of their own home, bringing the act of online shopping that bit closer to the traditional in-store experience.

BRANDS NEED WEBSITES TOO

Ti Sento – Milano UK distributor Mesmeric Distribution is not the only supplier to have a dedicated B2B website, exclusively for use by its stockists, but it has arguably created the most complete version of this technology. 

Here Mesmeric founder Judith Lockwood runs through some of the features of what she calls the ‘TSM B2B site’. The distributor is able to help retail partners daily “with sales, stock enquiries, backorders, aftersales, invoicing queries, payments, turnover, product information and up-to-date shipping information,” she says.

“The system is now also able to show how many times a store has ordered a piece, great for building best-sellers. Our media section on the site allows our retailers to download the latest weekly social media content, our brand logo, digital dealer catalogue and consumer brochure – everything they need is there.”

As though that weren’t enough to satisfy Ti Sento’s retailer network, they are offered staff training in using the TSM B2B site, and Lockwood claims that after this around 90% of stockists use it either daily or regularly. Through it they can place orders and also take advantage of a repair service that the founder says is “mind-blowing” to her retailers.

She says: “The ‘repair’ part of the system allows a retailer to enter a repair under ‘Emotional Value’, meaning that we will re-make or re-cast for a charge the loved piece that is being returned to us.”

Listing countless more services that the extensive system offers, Lockwood concludes: “Being based in the office more and more I find I am using the system all day, and when a retailer calls or emails I am able to give them accurate information within seconds – very important if their customer is in front of them.”

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