William May Jewellers is the online business of Mays Pawnbrokers & Jewellers, a Manchester stalwart operating for nearly 200 years. It initially opened as a department store before transitioning into a pawnbroking and second-hand jewellery specialist.

The company reported a 100% growth in online sales during lockdown, and told Professional Jeweller its sales were still up 50% year-on-year even post-lockdown.

Here, managing director Nick Withington discusses the second-hand jewellery market, competing with big names like eBay, and why e-commerce will not be going anywhere any time soon.


PJ: What is William May Jewellers?

NW: William May was set up just over six years ago as the online store of Mays Pawnbrokers & Jewellers to capitalise on the growing e-commerce market, enabling access to the whole of the UK as well as internationally.

How long have you been at the company and what is your role there?

I’ve been at the company since 2009 and am the managing director of the business, overseeing all the core functions of the business.

The company has seen impressive growth in 2019 and especially during lockdown and beyond this year. How did you achieve this?

William May has seen consistent year-on-year growth since its launch in 2014, but 2019 was a particularly good year with 40% incremental growth.

However, since lockdown began we have seen a huge spike in online sales which we achieved through being able to adapt quickly to the new environment.

Were there many stumbling blocks and lessons learnt while you continued the operation during lockdown?

We managed to keep operations functioning extremely well during lockdown. We had to adapt the office and company procedures that were in place previously.

But, through streamlining the business in those tough times, it has enabled us to improve the way we function as a business.

Most retailers saw a boom in online sales during and after lockdown. How much exactly has e-commerce contributed to the doubling of your revenue this year? And will the shift towards online retail continue post-pandemic?

The doubling of our revenue was entirely driven by e-commerce with all of our stores being closed during the lockdown period.

Since stores have reopened, we are still trading approximately 50% up year-on-year, which we attribute to gaining many new customers during lockdown who, having had a great experience with fantastic service, are choosing to shop with us again.

Post-pandemic, whenever that may be, the shift towards online retail is inevitable.

Similarly, was there a heightened consumer interest in second-hand jewellery during lockdown? How can William May make sure that continues in the long-term?

There is a general movement at the moment away from fast fashion, to more sustainable trends and pre-owned jewellery fits in with that, enabling customers to purchase items that in some instances are many years old.

Vintage has been a big trend for a while now and people generally are becoming more interested in products that you don’t just buy and throw away after a few wears.

At William May, we strive to make the purchase journey as enjoyable and personal as possible, always aiming to give five-star service.

What jewellery trends have you noticed throughout the year that have perhaps been influenced by the pandemic? Which items in particular have been popular?

There has been particular popularity for new heavy belcher bracelets and chains as well as a wide variety of pre-owned gold heavy chain and bracelet styles.

There has also been a rise in demand for pre-owned products of sentimental value such as lockets and charm bracelets proving popular.

Are your main competitors in the second-hand market mostly big companies like eBay, or anyone else, and how do you compete with them? How do you see this market developing in the coming years?

The pre-owned jewellery market is very fragmented, being a mixture of larger companies such as eBay and Etsy along with smaller independents.

We compete by having an extensive product offering with a plethora of unusual unique items, our prices are very reasonable and we offer amazing customer service which keeps our customers returning time and again.

The pre-owned market is still relatively small when compared to jewellery as a whole, but it’s growing year on year, particularly as consumers are becoming more environmentally aware and they are attracted to the idea of something meaningful.

What are your predictions for Q4 and the Christmas shopping period and how are you preparing for it?

It is very difficult to predict how trade is going to be during Q4 as it’s largely dependent on what is happening with the pandemic.

The economy is undoubtedly going to worsen over the next few months heading into Q1 next year, which will inevitably impact on consumers’ ability to spend during the Christmas shopping period.

All signs are showing online shopping will be huge this year! It is being reported that an increase of 30-50% will be seen, so we’re currently hiring extra staff in preparation for Q4 and the Christmas period, along with fine-tuning all the procedures we set in place during lockdown so we are fully prepared for the busy Christmas period.

Do you have any plans in the pipeline that you can share with us?

For the first time since launching six years ago, we will be rebuilding our website and moving platforms which will bring with it a host of new features and benefits for our existing and new customers.