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Navigating the Online Marketing Channel Part I: The Website

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It’s a fact that very few independent retailers do meaningful e-commerce.  At the core, the reason for so few success stories is the sheer difficulty of the process and the breadth of personnel resources and skills sets that are needed to create and manage the technology platform and the online marketing strategy.  Only after the right technology is in place can a meaningful marketing message be delivered and the analytical insights discovered, for a strong return on the advertising and marketing investment.

For more than two decades the Internet has been on a steady advance into all aspects of business and personal applications. We’ve seen entire industries such as travel and music migrate almost entirely online, and the days of visiting with a travel agent or going to a record store are a thing of the past, lost to the efficiency of the online airline booking process and the instant satisfaction of downloadable music.

However, in the jewelry industry it’s a fact that very few independent retailers do meaningful e-commerce.  At the core, the reason for so few success stories is the sheer difficulty of the process and the breadth of personnel resources and skills sets that are needed to create and manage the technology platform and the online marketing strategy.  Only after the right technology is in place can a meaningful marketing message be delivered and the analytical insights discovered, for a strong return on the advertising and marketing investment.

It all starts with the website–that’s the hub for all the different marketing channel spokes.

The website of a local jewelry store should be thought of as a virtual extension of the store allowing store personnel to meaningfully engage with their customers online.  

For the website to function as a “virtual extension”, rather than as just an advertising billboard, requires careful translation of the store’s brand into the website content.  Two recommendations in this regard are as follows:

  • Choose a responsive theme and make customizations as needed, because there is a huge cost savings designing up from a theme compared to designing from a sheet of white paper.  Pre-designed responsive themes are a solid foundation for viewing the website from any mobile and tablet device while leaving plenty of room for customization. In fact, there are now many hundreds of low cost, high quality responsive themes available for most website platforms from companies such as www.templatemonster.com and www.themeforest.net.
  • Pay huge attention to the quality of the photography and make sure to use 3-5 powerful rotating images on the home page.  People coming to your website from different marketing channels all want to “See” what you look like before they decide to read about you or shop your store. Work with your brands and if you choose to take pictures yourself make sure they are professional-looking.  Never underestimate the power of the first impression.

For the website to function as a “virtual extension”, it means there also needs to be significant systems integration between the website and the stores’ inventory, Point-of-Sale (POS) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.  Two comments on this are:

  • Think about which data sets you want to synchronize between your website and your POS/ CRM systems. Useful data sets to sync include: products, customers, wish lists, and orders.  
  • Think about building your website in phases to make these advanced data integrations. Or better yet, make sure to work with a company that has experience in this area and who can advise you on the best practices for mapping and syncing jewelry specific data.

In order for a jeweler’s website to foster “meaningful engagement” with its clients, the most important features for sound lead generation and interaction are exactly the same website features used in all other successful online industries, including:

  • A rich product catalog which shows great product images for all of the brands you carry in-store. There is nothing worse than a retailer’s website which links out to the brand websites to view products, because too many customers don’t come back.  
  • Wish list functionality to allow customers and guests to save items of interest.
  • Social sharing integration so that customers and guests can easily share items they are interested in with their friends and family.
  • Customer accounts for capturing profile information, such as birthdays and anniversaries of family members, and e-mail address.
  • Responsive web design so it’s easy for users to browse and engage with the website from all mobile devices.

Yet, in the jewelry industry today the vast majority of the 21,800 jewelry stores still listed in JBT have websites that lack both a meaningful product representation and the basic customer engagement functionality that consumers expect to see.

There are many reasons why the jewelry industry lags:

  • The difficulty in managing the product data to keep up with new and discontinued items.
  • The difficulty in keeping up with price changes that can happen daily and weekly basis for many product categories and suppliers.
  • The difficulty in normalizing product attribute labels from the many different suppliers who provide their digital catalogs for web use.  For example, 14KW, 14K White, 14kt white, 14k white gold, all mean the same thing and this requires someone to adjust the data to one standard for everything.  
  • The difficulty in updating availability and delivery times of products shown on the website.
  • The difficulty in keeping the website technology up to date, such as the recent development of responsive web design which is a game changer for reaching over 50% of consumers who shop from mobile devices.
  • The lack of personnel resource to actively manage the website.
  • The lack of knowledge about the power and effect of social media marketing.
  • The mistaken belief by store owners that there is little need for a website (after all 90+% of all jewelry purchased in the US is still purchased in-store).
  • The fear and/or dread of making too much change.

With so many challenges, you might ask “What’s an independent retail jeweler to do?”  

Well, for today’s independent retail jeweler (like restaurateurs, and boutique owners of all kinds), the writing on the wall is very clear–it’s NOT about making online sales, it’s about finding ways to use the Internet to engage with their customers and encourage them to come into the store for purchases.  Achievement of this goal requires that business practices and available resources be reviewed to ensure:

  • quality data and website content.
  • a sound website technology platform.
  • a sound online marketing strategy to drive clients in-store to make purchases.

I’ll be delving into more detail and reviewing best practices in regard to the above directives in upcoming articles.  Please stay tuned…

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