You see your favourite film-star or influencer model a pair of earrings or a bracelet on Instagram. When you click on the image, it takes you to the earring’s brand page, tagged in the post, and more often than not, the website or Instagram shop where you can purchase from. A couple of clicks and days later, it’s at your doorstep. Social media is not merely a place to browse and catch up on the neighbours’ vacation anymore, but also to purchase, window shop and discover a whole new marketplace, depending on one’s interests. The use of social media for commerce was underscored when the pandemic forced most physical markets to shut down, and pushed sales online, including fine jewellery retailers.
Internationally, the uptake in online jewellery sales during the pandemic has been dramatic. Luxury jeweller Tiffany and Co. reported record global net sales in the 2020 holiday period at the end of the year and a growth by 2 per cent, which included 80 per cent of online sales. They recently launched their e-commerce platform in India, in partnership with Reliance Group. Reports published by Michael Hill International (MHI) and Danish jewellery brand Pandora Jewelry indicated that online sales had increased in the first quarter of 2020. In the three weeks to May 14, MHI digital sales outperformed its previous record week, which fell in the 2019 Christmas trading period. The Australia, New Zealand and Canada based organisation claimed to have introduced several business and marketing innovations in the lockdown period of 2020, that have paid off subsequently, from virtual appointments, a WeChat store, an Instagram shop and an online video hub.
From augmented reality and virtual reality, digital catalogues, virtual events to the good old video call with store staff, retail jewellery business owners in India have also gone out of their way to assist and reach out to customers and keep retail sales going during the pandemic.
What has really seen growth is jewellery brands capitalising on social commerce during 2020-2021, a form of e-commerce that is going to stick around post the pandemic as well.
Social commerce, or the use of social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to sell different products has grown by leaps and bounds in the lockdown. Jewellery brands also capitalised on the opportunity, with all physical markets closing, and remaining closed for the better part of a year.
Influencers play an important role in social commerce, personalising products and enabling people who follow them to discover such products. Says Mitali, of the label Mitali and Sumayya, “We love working with jewellery brands, and wear and model only pieces that are true to our aesthetic.”
Everyday fine jewellery brands such as Prerto have seen sales go up even in the lockdown, and a major driver of those sales are discovery platforms such as Instagram.
Store vs online
Not every kind of jewellery has responded well to online sales, however. According to Prerna Rajpal, the founder of Amaris, those buying bridal jewellery prefer coming to stores. “Now that markets are open, the customers are buying in the stores, and only sales by the diaspora are happening online.”
Sales have increased overall as compared to 2020, and most jewellers have their eyes on Diwali to see if the market goes back to pre-pandemic levels.
Online sales have its own share of trials and tribulations. A post only has 50 milliseconds to catch the user’s attention, and requires investment in technology, studio quality images and videos, social media management and continuous tracking to enable a mix of user generated content as well as studio shot content. While bigger brands already had all this in place, it meant a sudden unequal platform for smaller jewellers in Tier II and Tier III cities. This is where influencers come in. For those who didn’t want to invest much in social platforms, depended on influencers to take their business forward. According to Senco jewellers, sales on online platforms accounted for 15-18 per cent of their sales during the lockdown period.
Reinvention during lockdown
E-commerce platforms such as Etsy, eBay and Amazon exist for fine jewellery markets as well as a company’s own website. Virtual events, exhibitions, auctions and webinars were another way a company interacted with their customers; even as private viewings continue for premium buyers.
What all business owners agree to, big and small, about one lesson learnt from the pandemic years, is to be ready to reinvent your business. “The consumer has changed and so have we,” according to Tarang Arora of Amrapali. “We saw a rapid shift in the tech, everything which was done physically was done virtually, be it the meetings, client appointments, customer interaction through e- social channels. With the ongoing shift, the store staff and everyone else in the office has become more tech-savvy. Social media was the only means to communicate and connect with brands, as it bridged the gap between the customer and the brand.”
Focus on digital sales
Brands are even evaluating the costs of high rents of stores across markets, especially with the pandemic rendering them unnecessary for a large period. “Perhaps it is better to have smaller boutiques, more exclusive showings, rather than depend on presence and accessibility for now, which can be achieved online,” shared the co-founder of a well-known luxury jewellery brand.
As consumers return to markets, it is important, more than ever to use technology to communicate to returning customers about the safety precautions being taken, both by staff as well as in-store, to reassure them. Customers are going to hold onto COVID precautions and protocol and reassuring them about safety protocols is imperative in maintaining and growing physical sales. There is also growing popularity of small, independent brands and retailers fuelled by social commerce platforms such as Instagram and Facebook Marketplace, and this is likely to stay on post the pandemic as well. “It is important that small business owners and retailers in exclusive sectors such as fine jewellery identify their customers and grow a loyal following and capitalise on it,” said brand consultant Varun Pratap.
Whether brands stick to in-store sales or continue to push for digital sales remains to be seen, however, as of now, the scales seem tilted towards the latter.