A portable jeweller: M-Commerce
Ecommerce is no longer limited to home computers as smartphones become must-have gadgets. Kristi McCann looks at how retailers are adapting to the needs of mobile commerce
Online shopping is a phenomena that has eliminated the need for customers to leave the comfort of home, and it has transformed the way retailers reach their consumers. Beyond that, smartphones make it possible for shoppers to browse products while waiting in the doctor’s office or riding a bus.
For many retailers, the ability to reach a consumer at any time means more success than ever. However, the need to appeal to all these consumers and stay ahead of the competition can feel overwhelming.
According to Elizabeth Galton, owner of designer jewellery and accessories etailer EG Studio, the jewellery industry is behind the curve when it comes to mobile commerce.
“The majority of younger, savvy customers are browsing the mobile web at higher rates than ever before and shopping from their mobile devices,” she says. “Increasingly cheaper, faster networks mean that people are on the move and are not satisfied to wait until they get home to browse.”
Feeling the pressure to connect with these types of consumers, jewellery retailers are improving the mobile browsing capabilities of their websites.
Rox, the Scottish diamond and watch specialist, recently announced the launch of its m-commerce site, which is expected to attract 10% more visitors a month than the 75,000 already viewing its site.
“Online sales now account for 15% of our annual turnover, and with the rapid increase of smartphones, we felt it was essential to upgrade our website to offer our customers a superior browsing experience,” says Rox managing director and co-owner Kyron Keogh. “There is already considerable existing demand to engage with our customers via mobile devices.”
Steff Suter, managing director at two-store retailer Steffan’s the Jewellers, this year’s UK Jewellery Awards Etailer of the Year, sees mobile shopping as a convenient way to open up a company to everyone in the UK. “It’s the same as coffee to go,” he says. “It’s shopping to go.”
Jewellery businesses are also feeling the urge to tap into the world of smartphone apps. Jason-Paul Hirsh from Hirsh London Jewellers says the company started thinking about creating an app during the summer of 2009. “I saw the opportunity to be the first UK jeweller to have an iPhone app and realised that this was a chance that could not be missed,” he says.
The Hirsh London app allows consumers to browse through a selection of jewellery, send emails with attached images of products, get directions to store locations using Google maps and, uniquely, check a ring’s size on the mobile phone’s screen.
Hirsh admits the point of the app is not to directly sell to customers but to engage with them. “The ring sizer tool has helped close a large amount of sales,” he says. “It’s details and capabilities, such as this one, that make creating an app worthwhile.”
Danny Gavin, director of marketing at luxury diamond company Brian Gavin Diamonds, says that the company’s Android and iPhone apps have already increased sales by 5% since their launch four months ago.
Unlike Hirsh London, Rox, Brian Gavin Diamonds and Steffan’s the Jewellers, other companies are still hanging back and waiting to see if mobile websites and apps are worth the investment.
Etail versus apps
For the invested companies, m-commerce has already had a positive effect on sales and increased exposure, but it is also important that consumers who aren’t technology savvy are not abandoned. Galton believes there is a particular balance to be achieved when appealing to a vast majority of jewellery consumers.
“Brands need to combine old-world luxury heritage methods with new-world technology and should use as much traditional marketing as possible in order not to take away from the original luxury message or alienate older customers,” she says.
M-commerce can be carried out through two platforms. Currently, existing jewellery business websites can be adapted for mobile web browsing, and mobile apps can be created for devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Android, or Windows Mobile-based smartphones and tablets.
“You don’t need to have an app to be compatible with m-commerce,” says Galton. “You simply have to be optimised for smartphones and tablets. Apps don’t really do anything more than you can do via a browser. If you are going to have an app, you have to be adding value beyond just browsing.”
The value of an app can be enhanced in more than one way. Like Hirsh London’s ring sizing tool, an app can have a capability that makes the process of browsing jewellery easier.
Currently, few retail apps actually provide the service for a customer to complete the purchasing process from start to finish. Rox is hoping to launch one of the first jewellery retailer
mobile websites in the UK that is transactional. “Jewellers rely on in-store purchases; however, we have seen a real surge in the popularity of our website,” Keogh says. “We want to make sure that the shopping experience is as smooth as possible for customers who want to shop online as it is for those that shop in our boutiques.”
Other companies, such as Brian Gavin Diamonds, have future plans to extend their app capabilities to allow consumers to purchase products directly, which will increase the value of the app.
“[Our app] can do everything that our regular ecommerce site can do, up to actually checking out,” Gavin says. “The consumer can add both diamonds and jewellery directly from the app
to the Brian Gavin Diamonds website’s shopping cart. In the future, we plan to have the whole process on the app itself.”
New York designer Anna Sheffield decided to temporarily terminate her iPhone app in the hope of adding more value to its services. “Apps require maintenance to function long term,” Sheffield says.
Even after the app had success for about a year and was featured on Apple’s 12 Apps of Christmas commercial for the iPhone, Sheffield acknowledged the importance of updating it due to the growth of m-commerce. She hopes to reactivate the app with a new bridal and commitment category of designs by this coming festive season.
On the money
Experienced jewellery companies that have immersed themselves in the m-commerce world have reaped significant rewards from the time and money invested to create properly functioning and consumer-satisfactory services. Consistent exposure and accessibility to companies’ websites and products is paying of for the retailers, as well as benefiting consumers.
The process, according to Gavin, “has definitely been beneficial. It has given us increased exposure to customers who would have never reached us before. It has allowed our customers to have easy, 24-hour access to our website through apps that work seamlessly on their mobile devices.”
Suter has witnessed online turnover rates double within the three years that Steffan’s the Jewellers’ mobile website has been available. But the success has not come overnight, he
says. “You’ve got to do this in a very serious fashion. It becomes another business very quickly if successful.
You can’t think of it as a sideline, but as a commitment to creating a business on the web.”
The reality of taking on a project of this size requires man power and funding. Because the majority of jewellery businesses already have a website, the need to hire additional employees to format content for a mobile entity is usually not needed, which was the case at Brian Gavin Diamonds.
The future growth of online and mobile shopping might be something that companies looking into these projects will want to consider. With the advances in technology and consumers hungrier for faster and easier ways to shop, demand for m-commerce could exponentially grow. Hirsh London has considered this factor and says there is the potential to hire new employees in the future, but currently the company has not recruited staff solely to work for the online or m-commerce business.
By not hiring more employees, companies are eliminating the problem of staffing costs, but there is still the financial outlay of creating mobile connectivity. The cost of the project can vary depending on whether or not the company is taking on the challenge of creating a mobile site, an app or both.
For Brian Gavin Diamonds, creating apps for iOS - the operating system used in iPhones and iPads - and Google’s Android operating system cost the retailer about £12,400. Rox made a £25,000 investment in order to make its website compatible with smartphones and the possibility of purchasing products directly from its mobile website.
Hirsh Diamonds, on the other hand, joined forces with a third party to assist it with the rapid advances in technology. The company became involved in mobile phone projects for a small price.
“We have an arrangement with the web developer Morango Digital, whom we have worked with for over five years,” Hirsh says. “We have a mutual relationship where they test out new products with us and we get the latest technology at a fraction of the cost to our competitors.”
And if enough questions weren’t being raised about the investment of creating mobile capabilities for jewellery companies, mobile access now spans across multiple platforms, while mobile phone companies expand their product lines with more smartphones.
“Currently there are quite a few platforms - iPhone [iOS], Blackberry, Android, Windows mobile - and your app needs to be custom-built for each platform,” says Gavin. “In a sense, one has to create four apps. Together with this, there are numerous Android devices out there, and the native Android apps perform differently depending on which device you use.”
Whichever platforms a company decides to launch its services on, it is important to keep the customer happy, something Suter is adamant about. “I like customers to think that the shop is open 24/7,” he says. Even as the owner of Steffan’s the Jewellers, all inquiries come to his personal iPhone. “If something comes through out of working hours, I’ll answer from my mobile phone.”
The mobile-to-mobile communication only further emphasises the convenience and immediacy these services offer. “Customer loyalty kicks in at this point,” Suter says.
Based on a company’s commitment to the project, the investment could be well worth it. The capabilities of m-commerce continue to grow just as they do for general online shopping.
When deciding to take on such a task, it is important to consider the financial obligation and analyse the need to hire more employees to expedite or complete the project.
Most companies are discovering they have in-house staff qualified for the job at the state that m-commerce is currently in. As always, it’s necessary to plan for the future and be on the edge of new developments, but the consumer should be put first.
A mobile-compatible site or an app might raise the company’s revenue, but most importantly, it is a convenience for the customer. And, as with any aspect of a retail business, the customer drives all sales. In order to successfully implement m-commerce into a company’s business plan, the traditional values of the purchasing process must be incorporated, even if
the transaction happens in the palm of a customer’s hand.
● Mobile searches are up 216% year on year in the second quarter of 2011 (Wmps.com)
● Mobile sales are expected to double over the next three years (Researchandmarkets.com)
● 91% of UK consumers have used their mobile for shopping, whether for purchasing or research (Digby.com)
● 18% of UK mobile phones are smartphones (GfK Group)
● UK smartphone users are 63% more likely to engage with m-commerce (Internet Advertising Bureau)
● More than 40% of UK merchants expect to have a transactional mobile site or app within the next year (Internet Advertising Bureau)