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Articles from MARKETING (105 Articles)

The virtual sales room

Today’s tech-savvy consumers are getting personal help at the click of a mouse. HEATHER MCCRACKEN reports on the new digital tools helping retailers put service into cyberspace.

Take a wander through a jewellery store and browse the same retailer online and you’ll often experience two very different levels of service. In-store shopping is personal, helpful and individualised whereas online shopping is impersonal and devoid of service – it’s just click and buy, right? Wrong.

The traditional view is that store staff are on hand to warmly greet customers, answer questions, give expert advice, and help narrow down the choices while the online experience offers no interaction at all – not a greeting, a thank you or an answer to an emailed question. However, it doesn’t have to be that way and an increasing number of retailers, including jewellers, are setting out to prove just that, and increasing sales along the way too.

Baublebar’s Nina Alexander-Hurst and Kirby Bennett using live video chat
Baublebar’s Nina Alexander-Hurst and Kirby Bennett using live video chat

Businesses are now bridging the gap by putting personal, one-on-one service at the forefront of their operations, offering consumers the level of sales and service usually found in bricks-and-mortar stores. As tech-savvy customers switch frequently between shopping in-store, online and on their mobiles, retailers are making sure their service ethos flows seamlessly across all channels.

Service on demand

Fashion jewellery retailer BaubleBar is making one-on-one interaction a keystone of its operation through its customer service team, ‘SWAT’ – Service With Accessorising Talent. The New York-based company, founded as an e-commerce startup by Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky in 2011, offers personal styling advice and service by phone, email, live chat or video consultation.

Customers can see pieces demonstrated live on a video link, receive styling tips or send in a photograph of an outfit for advice on matching jewellery.

Nina Alexander-Hurst, BaubleBar vice president of customer experience and SWAT, says the SWAT team was created to test new technology and find innovative ways to connect with customers “to help them build a strong relationship with the brand and to boost their overall engagement”.

“We aim to take the friction out of the online shopping experience,” Alexander- Hurst explains. “That means any of our 18 stylists can tackle your shipping issue and then surprise you with a YouTube video showing the pieces they think you’ll love based on your past orders.”

Alexander-Hurst says email is still the most popular contact method among customers, with live chat and video chat close behind.

The video chat system, which was launched in September 2014, is easily accessed from a pop-up on the site and includes features like screen sharing, co-browsing and live zoom. It’s been a roaring success.

“After testing the Vee24 program for five months, average order value increased by 300 percent and shopping frequency increased by 250 percent,” Alexander- Hurst states.


Other ways to engage with customers have included creating Pinterest boards for brides, making YouTube videos and having stylists post tips on social media.

Alexander-Hurst says the platforms help build trust and assists the company to push towards its ultimate goal of increasing sales by winning new customers and retaining existing ones. The strategy seems to be working, with industry sources suggesting sales are in the region of US$75 million (AU$100.6 m), up from US$11 million (AU$14.7 m) in 2012. The company has also recently announced the opening of its first bricks-and-mortar store in the US.

For luxury brands, the challenge is to offer a high level of service within a sophisticated, polished online space. While it’s something high-end jewellery companies have grappled with over the years – there was once a time when many even refused to have a digital presence – it appears the tide is turning.

The website for American jewellery brand David Yurman, for example, not only combines clever product display but also provides options to phone, email or chat online with a sales representative. Shoppers can contact a David Yurman diamond specialist or a wedding specialist when browsing relevant products.

Meanwhile at Cartier, the service department has moved into the online sphere too, offering website tracking of service and repair orders. Customers can also purchase online, by phoning to speak to customer service or booking a personal appointment in store.

Tailoring your message

Although human interaction is moving to the forefront, a more subtle layer of personalised service may go entirely unnoticed.

Retail strategy consultant Peter Ryan from Red Communication Australia says one of the smartest tech tools used by retailers is software that collects and utilises customer data to tailor a consumer’s experience every time they visit a website, mobile site or physical store. Online, the website can be re-configured to promote relevant products and deals and shoppers with mobile devices will receive details or promotions while in store.

“The more relevant you can make any form of communication the better,” Ryan explains.

Many consumers are willing to give out personal information, Ryan says, but they expect information to be used effectively and thoughtfully: “The smart people are saying ‘We only ever ask you the question once and then we use that information in some positive way to your benefit.’”

UK retailer Argos, which claims to have the largest online presence of any of the country’s high-street retailers, is using predictive technology to target its live chat service to those customers who “need” additional help making a buying decision.
Predictive technology uses the online behavioural data of shoppers to predict who will need help, when to engage and what to offer.

“We have seen this work in digital stores where colleagues are on hand to help customers get what they want and this is a natural extension of that,” Argos head of digital innovation Neil Tinegate explains, adding, “Customers tell us they appreciate the help so we plan to continue to offer the experience.”


Ron Khordi is another who takes a very personal approach with his customers. As the founder of US-based diamond-sourcing business Diamond Concierge Service, Khordi makes a unique welcome video for everyone who makes contact through his website.

It’s an experiment still in its infancy that intends to find whether the personal touch can convert leads into sales.

Khordi’s business is all about one-on-one service, sourcing and creating specific jewellery pieces for customers and finding ways for them to share in the experience. He has been using Google Glass since January 2014 to let consumers see through his eyes as he sources their diamonds.

“I am also testing a unique buyer experience where the client can make their own jewellery – pick out the stones, design the ring with a CAD designer, visit the bench jeweller, etc – all while wearing Google Glass and filming the experience from the ‘first person’ view,” Khordi explains. “The recipient of the jewellery gift now also can see how the piece was personally made for them.”

He’s also using and adapting software to allow him to engage with customers through video chat and screen sharing.
According to Khordi, the technology allows customers to share, record and preserve a special experience, such as selecting an engagement ring.

“It’s the emotion you’re selling,” he says. “It’s the most special gift and most expensive gift you’re ever going to give to someone, so why not make it special?”

Khordi adds that many of the software tools he uses are not expensive, though some require an innovative approach to make them work for his business.

Ron Khordi provides a unique customer experience using Google Glass
Ron Khordi provides a unique customer experience using Google Glass
The Diamond Concierge Service founder also provides a unique customer experience through one-on-one service
The Diamond Concierge Service founder also provides a unique customer experience through one-on-one service

Showcasing your products online

Reid Sherard is an analyst at L2, a member-based business intelligence service that provides digital data and trend analysis.

He says many retailers are still coming to grips with e-commerce.

The L2 Digital IQ Index: Watches & Jewelry 2014 report surveyed 82 brands and found just 17 per cent had an e-commerce function, 10 per cent offered a link to an e-concierge service – think of a concierge ramped up for the digital age – and 28 per cent offered both. The remaining brands had no online path to purchase.

Sherard says the study showed jewellery brands are still surprisingly weak in basic product merchandising, adding “Successful online retailers are investing heavily in product imagery and video – 360-degree views – for items that sell at very low price points.”

Results from the L2 Digital IQ Index: Watches & Jewelry Study, showing path to purchase functionality. Image courtesy: L2
Results from the L2 Digital IQ Index: Watches & Jewelry Study, showing path to purchase functionality. Image courtesy: L2

He believes US kitchenware retailer Williams Sonoma is a good example of smart product styling with strong imagery and videos.

Its stablemate homewares brand West Elm features user-generated images on its own product pages, something popular on fashion retail sites and a tool Sherard says can boost sales conversions. Curated images from social media that show how customers are styling and using the products at home feature alongside the catalogue images. This is a way of taking the product outside the showroom and proving it works in the real world.

User-generated content has helped create a website community for online clothing retailer Asos, with active fashion-lovers sharing and experimenting with their favourite pieces through the website. Customers can drag images of garments, shoes, jewellery and accessories onto a template to create a virtual outfit and then share and comment on their creations with other users. The end result looks a bit like a fashion-editorial page and an editor even highlights the best looks of the day.

Asos goes the extra mile with product imagery as well, providing a catwalk video of each garment that allows consumers to see how the item falls and moves. Sherard says the impact of using product specific video on display pages can increase sales conversion by 25–50 per cent.

Taking a multi-channel approach

Engaging with customers online is not just about driving e-commerce sales but influencing where they will make an in-store purchase. Most purchasing is still done at physical stores and many analysts predict that will remain the case.

The latest NAB Online Retail Sales Index showed online retail spending in Australia totalled $17.1 billion in the year to May 2015, representing 7 per cent of traditional bricks-and-mortar retail spending.

Ryan’s view is that online sales have peaked and will level out below 10 per cent but he says the internet has fundamentally changed the way consumers research products and “get themselves ready for a physical purchase”.

According to the PwC 2015 Global Total Retail Survey, 70 per cent of consumers said they browsed online before shopping in store. Quizzically, 68 per cent also said they browsed in store before buying online.

Respondents to the survey, which covered 19 territories including Australia, said the main reason for buying in store was to be able to see, feel and try the product.

For some retailers, the online environment provides the right nudge to bring customers in their doors. It’s certainly the case for men’s fashion retailer The online store streamlines the process of shopping in-store, particularly for those who don’t enjoy rifling through clothes racks but want the added peace of mind of being able to try clothes on. Consumers can make selections while browsing online then choose a time to visit a ‘guideshop’ in person where a personal shopper will have the garments ready to try. Anything purchased is then shipped directly – there’s no need to even carry a bag home!

As with clothing, many consumers prefer to touch, see, and try jewellery before making a purchase and that’s a challenge new technology is helping to overcome.

“Until the last couple of years, most watches and jewellery brands were sitting on their hands hoping the internet would go away,” Sherard says. “While many brands are still adopting the attitude that ‘luxury is different,’ the data doesn’t really support that stance: affluent consumers are much more likely to be first adopters of technology trends than laggards.”

By all accounts, pushing out a multi-channel, interactive digital shopping experience is the direction retail is heading.

Particularly the ability to offer live, one-on-one assistance online is now highly sought by consumers who are becoming more comfortable engaging with brands through multiple devices and channels, and expecting a high level of service from each.

Smartphone apps are already changing the way people shop, offering quick price comparison, product features, barcode scanning and on-the-spot coupons, and digital technology is providing some of the tools for retailers trying to meet that challenge.

Independent retailers may feel as though this type of online expansion is beyond their means but technology is becoming cheaper and easier to implement with every passing day. The lines between online and in-store will continue to blur as technological advancements and better use of data help retailers to further tailor shopping experiences to the individual.

Ultimately, jewellers who make the effort to embrace multi-channel retailing stand a better chance of attracting savvy consumers than those who don’t.

Heather McCracken

Heather McCracken is a journalist with more than 10 years' experience as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Zealand. She is now a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh, US.

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