Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui of AUrate, an ethically sourced fine jewelry brand based in New York, are aiming to pave the way using a unique “home try-on box” sales strategy. Just don’t call it a subscription box.
“We prefer the term ‘Home Try-on Stylist Box.’” said Kahn.
While there are plenty of brands using a subscription-style box strategy, like Stitchfix and most recently Amazon, or a home try-on service like Warby Parker, AUrate is aiming to apply a similar model in the fine jewelry category. “[The box] was a response to our customers’ needs; we held a lot of focus groups and got feedback from our customers who buy online, even polling potential customers who hadn’t bought from us, and what came out of it was a lot of customers wanted to try out more than one piece without the large price tag. It’s not a subscription, we don’t force you to buy anything, but it’s a way for the customer to try us out and start a conversation with us,” Ezzahraoui noted.
The process starts with a survey, asking about preferences: budget, colors of gold, types of stones the customer likes or doesn’t like, types of pieces needed, and if a potential customer is looking for a gift or buying for themselves. On the back end, the data collected is used alongside a team of human stylists, five in total, each of whom has their information on the brand’s web site and can offer a live chat to give tips on styling to customers in real time. This algorithm plus data and human-touch formula is used to optimize the box sent to consumers.
The service allots three to five pieces of jewelry with a week to try them on, with customers keeping what they like and returning what they do not. There is no fee, but a credit card is kept on file and charged a minimal fee, which is refunded if the customer buys nothing, or charged with the amount of the pieces customers do keep. Shipping is free both ways. “We are trying to make this as customer-focused as possible,” Ezzahraoui noted. After the first box, a customer receives another only if they request one.
“Why hasn’t anyone done this? Send out real fine jewelry! Maybe they thought about it or maybe it’s too risky?” Ezzahraoui said. “The box is a statement to the big boys that we are actually ahead of you.”
The brand, which secured $2.6 million in seed financing last year, soft-launched in 2015 using a direct-to-consumer model and currently operates four freestanding stores — two in New York City, one each in Boston and Washington, D.C. — and are planning on two more stores on the West Coast by the end of 2018.
“We began direct-to-consumer with online, then added stores, and now we will have this as a third channel to reach customers. Our stores are profitable so why not have them, but it is a three-channel approach to reach the full range of customers. Each channel responds to a different type of customer and a different type of need,” Kahn said.
The designers consider their brand to be a Millennial one, saying, “Millennials care about impact,” which led them to orient the brand with both a philanthropic and ethical sourcing focus. The philanthropic bent is called “a book for your look,” where for each piece sold, the company donates a book to an underprivileged child in partnership with the nonprofit organization Master Charter. “We don’t say a percentage of the product is given back to the customer, because that is vague,” Ezzahraoui noted.
Ethical sourcing practices include using 100 percent recycled gold, Akoya pearls, and diamonds that have gone through the Kimberley Process. “But it’s not just about grading systems; there is a bigger picture about labor practices and that the women and men who work there are being paid well. We look at everyone we partner with and then have them sign an agreement about their labor practices and make sure they implement the best ethical practices,” Kahn reported.
The two plan to first grow in the U.S. market, but already have a portion of international sales without having done any marketing abroad. According to the designers, the growth is coming from Europe first, Asia and then the Middle East, but for now the “home try-on stylist box” strategy will be U.S. only.
While the designers wouldn’t share exact numbers for 2018, they hinted at double-digit millions in revenue so far this year and are looking to close 2019 with 10 stores total. Kahn and Ezzahraoui said they’re seeking funding for AUrate’s Series A round of financing, which they hope to complete early next year.
AUrate launches its home try-on service July 10.