By  on October 6, 2008

After a year of selling in Europe, Boucheron today plans to open its first online store in the U.S.

“We wanted to master our ability to manage this new activity before launching into the major market, which is the U.S. market,” said Boucheron chief executive officer Jean-Christophe Bédos. The Gucci Group-owned luxury jeweler is one of the first to sell online, still a rarity among luxury jewelry and watch brands.

“We consider the Web to be a tool already used by our clients, not a revolution anymore,” said Bédos. “All the statistics and market analysis show that the wealthy consumers are the highest consumers online. And they are the best equipped in terms of technology. We are dedicated to serving our clients, and if our clients are online, we should be where our clients are.”

The idea behind the site is to offer an additional service — that is, one available at any hour in any location — that reproduces as much as possible the experience of shopping in a Boucheron store. The online store offers the same merchandise categories, sku’s and prices as the off-line stores. It even offers some customization capabilities. For example, shoppers can choose the color of the bands of pavé stones in a ring shaped like a chameleon.

Gucci Group and other firms selling designer apparel have done very well online, and Boucheron wanted to see if the same behavior would hold true for the high-end jewelry category, said Bédos. The answer turned out to be yes. “We have people who can order jewelry without any feeling of taboo. They order jewelry like they would order fashion online,” he said. Many existing customers feel comfortable ordering online. In addition, the Web site has introduced the brand to new customers, both within and outside store trading areas, and attracts a youthful audience.

Traffic to the Web site increased 200 percent after the European store, selling both in euros and pounds, went live in September 2007. Traffic in the physical stores also got a measurable boost, with shoppers showing up with printouts of jewelry they wish to see in person, or mentioning to the salesperson they want to see an item they already viewed online.

“We have observed an increase of traffic in our stores, which was a surprise because we did not expect such a causal relationship,” said Bédos. As multichannel apparel retailers from high to low have also discovered, some customers who pre-shop on the Web buy in the store, and others return home to buy online. “Everyone is more and more individualistic about their shopping experience,” he said. “We are living in a time when people are very clever, they know what they want and they behave the way they want. It’s very exciting to learn all these new things via the Web.”

Bédos said the company will predict sales for the U.S. store after one year in business. The European online store has not yet reached the sales volume of an off-line store in one year, but undoubtedly will in the future, he said. So far, the company has not experienced any fall in sales because of the credit crisis in the U.S. or Europe, and Bédos said in general, the luxury jewelry business is fairly resilient because jewelry is a stable investment and wealthy customers are diversified in their investments.

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