A Guest Blog by Duvall O'Steen
The unprecedented challenges of the last twelve months have given rise to greater creativity in the retail space. I was personally amazed by how quickly retail adapted to the demands of the pandemic, with instant new offerings like curb-side pickup, digital sales appointments, greater focus on ecommerce and omnichannel retailing. But many of the shifts that started as triage efforts to stop the bleeding, so to speak, have now become new ways of doing business. There is no shortage of press about pandemic-related changes in consumer shopping behavior, and most of the experts agree that many of these changes are here to stay.
According to LightSpeed, a Montreal based international retail software provider, “New ways of selling and fast adoption of digital tools were born out of necessity, and many will be shaping the retail industry in 2021.” Specifically, they list virtual shopping and omnichannel sales as trends that are expected to continue, noting the importance of having the right technology to maintain a competitive advantage in this retail landscape.
How can jewelers, who have long relied on the in-person instore selling experience, embrace new technologies to enhance sales, boost customer loyalty and capitalize on the pent-up demand now and post-pandemic? Let’s take a look at various technologies that are especially helpful for retail jewelers.
The pandemic not only accelerated the already rapid growth of ecommerce, it also taught customers to trust it. All of us are shopping online more than ever before. It is now critical for jewelers to continue to improve their ecommerce offerings to avoid losing sales and share of market.
One trend on the rise in the world of ecommerce is the use of virtual try on technology. Popularized at a mass market level by brands like Warby Parker eyewear, virtual try on is now a fun way to not only engage with consumers but to invite them to become your brand ambassadors. Sharable digital try on images allow consumers to get advice from friends or loved ones and to post fun selfies on social media. Girl Up Collection, a fairly new jewelry brand that supports global gender equality by benefitting the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, uses TrueView AR’s virtual try on tools to encourage shoppers to try on the jewelry and then post the images on Instagram with the hashtag #wearyourpassion. Whether or not they purchase, shoppers can become advocates when they post their favorite try on pics on their social media. Adding such an element to ecommerce keeps the customer on your website longer and has them actively engaging with your product.
According to Andrea Hansen, Brand Strategist for Girl Up Collection, “Virtual try on is a huge part of creating human engagement via technology. At Uni Creation, we developed the Girl Up Collection to create a channel of communication for Gen Z consumers - a brand that would engage them across platforms. We worked with TrueView AR on our virtual try on module, designing it to be capable of easily plugging in to retailer websites when they carry the collection.”
Inventory enhancing tools are also on the rise for ecommerce sites. Digital technology now allows retailers to augment their normal inventory offering options from the global marketplace. This not only keeps browsers on your website longer, it also allows you to sell things you do not carry – like loose gemstones or lab grown diamonds. Virtual Diamond Boutique (VDB), a jewelry specific technology company, has tools that allow ecommerce platforms to expand their inventory virtually. According to CEO Tanya Nisguretsky, “Our ecommerce plugins and iframe solutions make it easy for retailers to feature thousands of mined or lab grown diamonds and gemstones on their websites - with complete control over which suppliers they feature. Once their online customers start searching, filtering, building wish lists, and sharing, they’re hooked. Playful, interactive websites keep visitors longer, entice them to return more often, and ultimately increase sales and revenue.”
Social media sites like Instagram are now shoppable, as well. As recently as December of 2020, Instagram announced that Reels, their home for short-form viral video clips, would also become shoppable. Creators and brands on Instagram now have various options for tagging products to make them fully shoppable.
Jewelry influencer Katerina Perez recently launched an online educational series on how to sell jewelry on Instagram. “I know brands who have sold jewelry with a 6-figure price tag, all thanks to Instagram,” says Perez. However, she warns that Instagram shoppers are spoiled, with short attention spans. “It is important for jewelry brands to have eye-catching content that sparks interest, and pair that content with key features like shoppable tags in posts and stories, retargeting campaigns and shipping details/ returns policy clearly visible, in stories highlights for example, to make it easy to shop. Customers want a fast purchase and headache-free delivery, as well as a responsive person running the account who can answer all these questions within a few hours.” To learn more about her educational series, follow @katerina_ courses on Instagram.
Put your social media to work for you – make your social channels shoppable, link them to your ecommerce site and consider utilizing part of your marketing budget for strategic influencer campaigns. According to research by global communication firm Edelman, 63% of social media users between the ages of 18 and 34 trust influencers’ recommendations MORE than they trust brands. Research the influencers thoroughly to make sure they will resonate with your target market, and feel free to start small. As you work with more influencers, you can learn what resonates with your customer base and continue to refine your strategies.
Encourage your sales team to be active on social media, as well. As they post selfies wearing the latest inventory additions or make videos about the many ways to wear certain pieces, they become brand advocates. When paired with the right hashtags, their posts tagging your brand can create new fans and customers. Macy’s has used employees as brand ambassadors since 2018 and recently expanded their online “Style Crew” beyond their own sales associates. According to Retail Wire, “Macy’s Style Crew members use the retailer’s Video Storefronts platform to create personalized home pages for fashion, beauty and home goods commission when items are purchased through posts, plus awards for hitting sales milestones and other targets.”
Enhancing the good old fashioned in-store experience with new technology can also achieve multiple objectives. First, it engages tech savvy younger consumers who are currently the trend setters and who become loyal lifelong customers and brand advocates via online reviews and platforms like Reddit. Second, with access to the right tools, sales associates can improve their performance and increase their sales. Lastly, an empowered employee is the best employee. Putting information in the hands of a sales associate helps them deliver better customer service and ultimately, create a more satisfied customer.
Having iPads or tablets readily available on the showroom floor allows the sales associate to stay engaged with shoppers long enough to convert browsers into buyers. Tablets equipped with inventory-searching tools like OPT, The Edge POS software, or Virtual Diamond Boutique (VDB) puts information in the hands of the sales professionals. No need to leave the customer to ask a manager for the GIA certification of the stone or to search on a computer in the back office for specific gemstones or inventory styles. The sales associate can stay engaged with the customer, even if the store does not have what the customer is looking for. As an example, if the store does not carry lab grown diamonds, virtual marketplaces allow you to find lab grown stones for customers who demand them.
According to Tanya at VDB, “Today’s consumer wants infinite choice, but they don’t like being overwhelmed. That puts retailers in a precarious position. With VDB’s technology, retailers can expand inventory beyond their four walls, but quickly filter and curate each selection to show customers the most relevant options. From there, completing a purchase, hold, or memo request is just a few taps away. Salespeople also love that this approach helps them better qualify customers, which reduces memo handling and gets the customer to ‘yes’ faster.”
Additionally, these types of search apps can create opportunities outside of the store, which is increasingly important given the reduction of in-store foot traffic. If sales associates have the apps downloaded on their smart phones, they can engage with customers wherever they are, selling on the golf course, at the dinner table or from their homes.
Another area where in-store technology allows deeply engaging with consumers is in the realm of custom design. New point-of-sale tools can show a shopper what a customized piece such as a bridal ring will look like, sometimes in 3-D or hologram form. With a click or two, the customer can see the same piece in yellow gold or white metal, with halo setting and without, etc. Big box brands like Apple and Starbucks have trained consumers over the years to request customization.
Your smart phone, laptop and your favorite coffee can come your way with whatever options you prefer. This can be incredibly challenging for jewelry, but for certain categories like special orders and bridal sales, having such technology empowers both the customer and the sales associate. It increases loyalty and repeat purchases, as well as overall customer satisfaction.
The goal in today’s market is to offer a seamless experience in an omnichannel sales approach. Using technology to improve ecommerce, social selling and in-store shopping, retailers can strengthen relationships with customers even when the store is closed or experiencing reduced foot traffic. Many of the new norms are here to stay, so retailers cannot rely on what worked in the past. Now is the time to use the benefits of technology to empower sales professionals with information and inventory in the palm of their hands.
Author: Duvall O’Steen is a veteran jewelry publicist and brand strategist based in New York City. Following her tenure at World Gold Council as Director of Jewelry PR & Promotion, she began freelancing, working steadily with both designer brands and retail clients, as well as the boutique PR firm Luxury Brand Group.