LONDON — Purchasing fine jewelry online is not news and most major e-commerce players had already started investing in the category in the last five years.
But amidst a global pandemic, it has taken a lot more than making a product available on a web site to engage consumers and convince them to spend their money on high-ticket items they haven’t been able to see or touch in person.
Brands and retailers alike have had to think laterally and far beyond the two-dimensional e-commerce web site when it comes to presenting and selling their collections online: Stephen Webster got his family together via Zoom and presented his new “CH2” range over cocktails in his living room; Chaumet developed “distance selling tools;” Dior hosted live making-of videos of a new gem clutch on YouTube; while others have been getting ready for what would have been the Couture show in Las Vegas by uploading new collections on virtual showrooms.
Threads Styling, the online personal shopping platform, had far fewer adjustments to make. In fact, many of the answers more traditional brands and retailers have been looking for, as to how to continue selling these high-priced items during a time of crisis, could be found in the social selling concept the platform has been pioneering for the last few years.
According to Threads, it boils down to the right type of social media content and presenting fine jewelry within a more relatable, modern-day context — which right now could translate as stacks of diamond bracelets and chokers layered with a pastel Pangaia track suit. It’s less about the use of fancy technology and more about meeting customers on their favorite platforms — namely Instagram and WhatsApp; inspiring them with up-to-date visuals, and having intimate, one-on-one conversations.
“Everything we do is shot for social media and we’re able to show not just the 10 pieces that we bought into, because we don’t buy or hold stock. We can work with a brand across their whole collection,” said Sophie Quy, commercial director at Threads.
“Social media has helped us show the jewelry in the way people are actually wearing it. It can be quite intimidating buying fine jewelry and we are really able to break down that barrier and really show it in the context of people’s real lives. Of course it’s an investment, but it’s also something we want to show our clients they can wear every day, they can stack, they can go to the gym in, it fits into their lifestyle,” added Quy, pointing to the importance of presenting fine jewelry hand-in-hand with current fashion trends. “The moment there’s a huge trend, say for ath-leisure or gym wear, we know our clients are wearing their jewelry with it. So in our content, we will be showing them how to keep their earrings on for the gym or how to mix and match across categories.”
Fine jewelry and watches make up 20 percent of Threads’ overall business, which has been growing at just under a 100 percent rate year-on-year and has been able to sustain the growth despite the current climate, according to Quy.
Apart from the digitally savvy Millennial and Gen Z shoppers who were Threads’ earliest customers, the platform is also said to now be taking care of their whole families, with many consumers buying into high-value items as their first transaction.
This is partly because the high net worth individuals that the platform mainly targets still have a healthy appetite for the category and have stayed particularly active on occasions like Mother’s Day or when celebrating birthdays. It’s just a question of inspiring them with the right type of content, to reflect their new realities, and maintain trust.
“There hasn’t been price resistance, but people’s buying habits have changed and continue to change month on month, depending on the stage of the lockdown or the circumstance that they find themselves in. We’ve definitely seen an increase in jewelry that people can wear every day at home, that’s comfortable. And there’s still people buying pieces for occasions at the end of the year or next year where they might have a wedding — what they’re doing is just taking more time to consider that piece,” explained Sophie Hill, Threads’ founder and chief executive officer.
To that end, Hill has been hosting a series of Instagram Lives focused on introducing the Threads audience to the founders behind jewelry brands, including Anita Ko, who had a “founder to founder” conversation with Hill, and Foundrae’s Beth Bugdaycay, who gave Threads followers a virtual studio tour.
“The idea is to play with content and different franchises so that the community can see that everyone is in the current situation together but also hear the designer talking about the pieces and their vision to get an even deeper understanding into the kind of piece they are buying,” added Quy. “We’ve had questions coming through in real time, strong engagement rates and then just huge interest in the brands afterward.”
When content and storytelling become the most relevant engagement and selling tools, having the right team of creatives to execute it gains new importance for jewelers and retailers.
For Threads, the answer to the challenge lies in having a team of multiskilled, agile creators. “Content is a highly collaborative exercise, so how do you take that really high level of studio content and create that at home?” said Hill. “It’s about finding ways that you can up-skill a stylist to also be the videographer, make sure the equipment is with them and direct people from afar. There’s a lot of up-skill and cross-skill going on, but we are moving into a generation of content creators where we have a lot of multifaceted, multiskilled individuals.”
The company’s team has also been lending its creative skills to jewelry brands, with over 100 active jewelry partnerships at the moment. Even while in lockdown, the team virtually met jewelers like Kamyen, launched them via Instagram within a matter of weeks and even directed the designer virtually on how to do a “Threads shoot” from home, for the platform’s social media accounts.
“We want to make sure we are showcasing the best, newest pieces even if we can’t get to the designer’s studio,” said Quy.
The other part of the equation consists of fulfilling orders, when customers respond to the content shared on Instagram — via WhatsApp text or a direct message on Instagram — and express interest in one of the products featured.
At this stage, the platform ensures it can create a process that’s akin to the exclusivity of a VIP store experience, by keeping things personal and going the extra mile to personalize orders.
“Everything happens on WhatsApp, so there is a very personal conversation behind every sale. For fine jewelry in particular we work hand in hand with all of the brand partners, the personal shoppers have met most of them, they are also in WhatsApp groups with all of them. So every conversation and purchase that every client makes is done with a huge amount of insight and knowledge on that brand and that particular piece,” explained Quy, adding that the platform has been setting itself up as an expert in the field by nurturing brand relationships and also ensuring all its personal shoppers are GIA-trained. “If they want a slightly bigger diamond or have a question about how many inches a choker should be, we can chat directly with the designer to make sure the client is getting the perfect piece.”
Brands have also started applying some of these digital and social concepts on their own channels.
Last month Maison Dior wanted to start a conversation around a new gem clutch created by Maria Grazia Chiuri together with Victoire de Castellane, by way of a YouTube video that shows closeups of the house’s artisans setting the diamonds on floral motifs and cutting the leather to create the piece.
“As the world is slowly starting to emerge from this difficult time, which has also seen the majority of our boutiques temporarily shut, it helps to create a closer engagement with both clients and followers and foster a greater and more immediate sense of community,” said Maison Dior.
Online education materials have been key for auction houses like Christie’s, too, which took its jewels auction online last April and kept bidders engaged with online collecting guides and interviews with experts.
The response was extremely optimistic, with the auction bringing in $1.4 million and 81 percent of lots selling above their high estimate.
For others, virtual consultations targeting customers looking to shop for occasions had the most traction.
“You cannot postpone an anniversary or a birth date, so we did receive several orders via our distance selling tool on our web site, from customers who were looking for [specific] pieces. We kept selling engagement rings even to the other side of the world. For example, last week we shipped a Joséphine Eclat Floral 1 carat ring to Asia to a customer who is shortly getting married,” said Chaumet’s chief executive officer Jean-Marc Mansvelt.
Vashi, which specializes in customizable engagement rings, had a similar experience.
“After a consultation, is confirmed one of our [store staff] will travel to our Piccadilly store branch [in London] to hold the consultation with the customer via Zoom. To ensure exclusivity, every single video consultation, including settings, diamonds and jewelry presented, is adapted to the customer preferences,” the brand said.
As lockdown measures ease around the world, trends like personalization and communicating via creative online content will continue to define the customer journey in fine jewelry.
“It’s about really giving people the education around how a certain piece can be worn. That’s a really critical part of the equation for consumers across the board now. People don’t want to buy things out of context anymore. You don’t want to buy just a necklace without understanding the outfit or the jewelry stack or how it’s appropriate in your lifestyle,” added Hill.