In the midst of a handful of rapid transformations, the jewellery industry, generally considered slow-paced. In some of them technology propels the pace of change and its eager consumer adoption.
Ecommerce has changed the manner in which retailers approach business. Offline brands invest in online retail, and online retailers are opening “experience centers” and physical showrooms to bricks and mortar.
“Indians have literally jumped a whole generation, straight from the personal computer to the cell phone,” said Vijay Jain, CEO, Orra, who moderated this 2017 Retail Jeweller India Forum session. “This influences not only how information is consumed but also how it is bought.”
The session was entitled “Challenges and opportunities for Internet shoppers to sell beyond known boundaries.” Quite aptly, in his remarks Jain observed that some traditional family jewellers did not simply leverage their brand equity in a new space when they went online. Instead he identified Zaamor and Stylori as two online jewellery powerhouse brands created respectively by the well-established family businesses Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers (VBJ) and NAC Jewellers.
In his presentation, Zaamor, vice president – business operations, Mariappan Muthiah, explained why the parent company VBJ introduced the new brand: “We will want to collect funds in the future, which may entail diluting ownership. Second, the main ecommerce market is in the west and north of the country, and South Indian customers are best known for VBJ. To create confidence, it seemed logical to introduce a new brand as long as the VBJ legacy was woven into the new brand story.’
Anand Ramanujam, CEO, Stylori, made a similar case in his presentation: “Besides keeping the funding option open, we wanted to tell a different story that would have been in conflict with NAC’s, a 50-year-old brand. The new brand is unique even in the quality of jewellery, target audience and product design.
Amazon Fashion, India, category leader Mayank Shivam presented the prospect of a marketplace operator displaying a number of online and offline jewellery brands. “Typically, a known brand is more conversive even if it’s regional. That said, online customers are very different, and customizing the product mix and getting the product story right is important. It is far more important than brand familiarity, but there’s still an advantage for established brands — everything else being equal.
He did have numbers. “Eighty per cent of the market is between the ages of 18 and 35, and over 50 per cent of jewelry sales are towns with a population of less than 100,000.”
Jain asked the expert panel what back-end technology a pearl jewelry retailer needs to invest in to run a technology

Plateforme for ecommerce. In his presentation, Minesh Shah, MD, Effission Software, explained that “There are different layers. It is really up to what a retailer wants to create. One can opt for a base site with a monthly fee, or one that is cloud-computed. Retailers will also need to invest in analytics to better know their customers and in customer service to increase the experience of buying and post-order.
“We have simple cataloging for our VBJ platform,” Mariappan said, “but Zaamor is a fully-fledged ecommerce platform with broader demands.” Technology aspects of online retail are, he said, “similar to visual merchandising in stores: ecommerce needs a higher level of technology-enabled merchandising.” Zaamor diamonds has, for example, “IP technology that shows customers different items that suit different products.”
Ramanujam stressed the investment is related to the vision. “Building took us four months, because we wanted the customer experience to be very different from all the other sites in the same room. We wanted to create something that remained in the mind of the user and wasn’t forgotten quickly — not just another me-too pearl jewellery portal.
It’s crucial to build the best possible core team for online operations, said Aditya Pethe, director, Jewellers Waman Hari Pethe. “We made the mistake of starting with 25 people, but now we are maintaining a core team of four or five. The team needn’t be big because they can outsource jobs like digital marketing, software and logistics.
Pethe has made it clear that outsourcing doesn’t mean less investment. “We lack the Appropriate skill sets as jewellers. Hiring the right talent becomes critical, and aligning it with one target. Some of the talent is not available, so having these people on board as consultants works better.
It’s not enough to be online and engaged. “To get the ‘likes’ on social media is very convenient,” Pethe said. “What’s critical is the conversion to sale.” In other words , a good marketing plan is necessary.
“One has to invest on consumer acquisition,” Ramanujam said. “This is the oil for the ecommerce engine.” According to Mariappan, traffic can be constructed very easily “but conversion is dependent on website experience. But if the seller isn’t investing in improving the site’s experience, the acquisition cost would increase.
“It’s relatively easy for a marketplace like to drive customers,” Shivam said. “It has a lot of categories and is heavily invested in marketing.” Many of Amazon ‘s decisions, he explained, are based on technology-driven intelligence, an advantage not available to individual retailers, who will find it much harder to understand customer behavior and acquire customers. “Our analysis of the data enables us to know exactly what each client is looking for. Indeed the scale is a challenge, because online customers can be anywhere in the world.
Post-order ecommerce service, Shivam said, isn’t easy to master. “A customer will return to the store in offline space, and you will make sure the problem is solved. But maintaining a 100 per cent clean customer experience in an atmosphere where you don’t know the customer is the secret.
This matters more, he said, because “Jewellery is one category where we see a lot of repeat purchases, based on the experience of shopping and the brand. Retail customers with a single bad experience will never return, particularly because these are things of great value.
Being online, he said, empoweres consumers. “On one app, a lady buying jewellery worth Rs. 10,000 gets over 500 choices. She may not be getting more than two trays of designs at a single store.
For their part, he said online channel jewellers should have realistic expectations. “Many retailers seem disappointed that the average price doesn’t move upwards. Today, however, online consumers are searching for lower base rates, from Rs. 15,000–20,000. We’ll see it slowly go up in the years to come.