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The era of digital business has changed the retail sector perhaps more than any other. Today’s online shoppers quite literally have information at their fingertips. A few clicks on their smartphone is all it takes to find the best price or the right product with the best overall review rating.
This technology-led story reaches into every aspect of how the omni-channel retailer operates. Not just those front-end merchandising and marketing innovations, but back-end systems and stock management that enable sales and fulfilment options that no one was thinking of offering even a decade ago.
How do customers today differ from customers in years past? In its How to transform your retail store report, published in July 2018, analyst group Forrester picks up on four elements of the retail transformation:
- Consumers are always connected.
- Consumers are ever quicker to see value in new technology.
- The line between physical and digital retail experiences is blurring.
- Digital has fundamentally altered consumer expectations across all touchpoints.
The report says retailers can benefit by taking into account the way digital consumers shop. “Digital store associate devices and consumer self-service tools will add value in the retail store by providing personalised assistance to customers in the context of their shopping journeys,” it notes.
Consumers increasingly appear to view their mobile devices as trusted advisers while shopping in-store and expect to get the information or services they want in-aisle, especially via their mobile devices. They might well be validating the prices and information they find in-store – or buying from a competitor’s website.
Shoppers who start out by researching a potential purchase online or on their smartphone may be taking a different journey to their shopping – a detailed and considered investigation of options leads to an informed, often personalised purchase further down the line.
Jeweller Taylor & Hart is a small retailer that is delivering a mobile-first experience to provide an enhanced personalised shopping experience in-store and online.
The area immediately around Hatton Garden has been the centre of London’s jewellery trade since medieval times. Today there are still nearly 300 businesses in Hatton Garden that are in the jewellery industry and more than 50 shops, making the area the biggest cluster of jewellery retailers in the country.
Jewellery sales have traditionally been based on buyers making a considered face-to-face purchase – especially when picking out an engagement ring, which has always been a mainstay of this global business.
But in 2013, a different kind of jewellery and engagement ring business was launched with disruption on its mind. At first it was called Rare Pink, but in 2016 it rebranded as Taylor & Hart. It is still relatively small today, with turnover of a few million and fewer than 50 staff, but it is making headway on its own terms, resolutely aiming at customers who want a personalised ring design. Chief executive Nicolay Piriankov says it is this personalisation that primarily defines the business, alongside its use of technology and the internet.
“The technology is the great enabler of what we are trying to do, of course, but the end goal is to offer a personalised, convenient, emotionally rewarding service that is also cost-effective,” he says. “Using the internet as our smarter shop window is what makes that possible.”
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Change the rules
And so Taylor & Hart has approached the marketplace with a mindset to change the rules for buying a ring, and Piriankov says mobile has become key to its success.
“With the desktop site there are more distractions,” he says. “But the phone lends itself to delivering a tighter process for the would-be customer. You can validate elements as you go along and deliver trust cues, such as features, reviews and rewards more seamlessly.
“We started off thinking that mobile was relatively important but not stand-out crucial, because we thought few individuals would use a phone to buy an engagement ring. But what we immediately found with our first-launch responsive website was that half the traffic was mobile, so we rebuilt the site to be mobile-first and to work hard as our primary funnel for leads.”
Building a mobile-first shopping experience for engagement rings is certainly not easy, says Piriankov. “Our first assumptions were wide of the mark, clearly,” he says. “Engagement rings are a high-value, considered purchase, and the point is that planning a bespoke ring is a long process and takes time.
“Mobile is perfect in this respect. It’s quite discreet to use, which is important for lots of reasons when investigating buying a ring. So the process starts on the phone, where lots of information can be collated and sometimes shared – and we can go from there.”
Rather than focusing on a full mobile commerce offering, Piriankov says: “Our customers spend a lot of time in the planning phase, and then often want reassurance as the time to purchase gets closer. So we have pivoted to reflect this, moving from a full e-commerce offer to mobile as a lead generation tool. It looks and feels like e-commerce for those who want to buy online, but for many, the final act will be a visit to our London showroom.”
This is something Taylor & Hart has worked on since it fully embraced mobile, and conversion rates have improved as a result, with 12% of site visits leading to enquiries, compared with 6% recorded for the early versions of the mobile site.
Optimised for Google search
Ensuring the site is optimised for Google search is also key to the success of the mobile-first approach. “There was an element of thinking about Google when we upgraded the site and went mobile-first,” says Piriankov. “That’s because we knew that Google is placing more and more emphasis on mobile-ready sites, and we certainly didn’t want to be penalised.”
Taylor & Hart has also begun using analytics to decide how well the site is working. “We are a niche outfit, but even with 15,000 unique visitors a month and a couple of thousand customers, you get to do a lot with analytics,” says Piriankov. “We do A/B testing and look at other small variations in our marketing mix to see what works. We have a large enough base of activity to get a feel for things even when the quantitative data isn’t quite delivering.”
Piriankov says Taylor & Hart’s business model for today is to meet its customers online, then engage through platforms such as WhatsApp and the London showroom.
Excited about bots
Piriankov is excited about how bots could help customers discover engagement rings. “Facebook opened up its API [application programming interface] to Facebook Messenger and we have created a Messenger bot to help us engage and learn about a new customer’s interest in steps,” he says. “This means that by the time a customer reaches us through the bot, he or she is already a qualified lead. That’s a big step forward.”
The challenge for the business at all times, says Piriankov, is to keep track of its acquisitions costs in relation to customer lifetime value. “We are getting better at measuring lifetime value, and our repeat business is strikingly good, so we are headed in the right direction,” he says. “Our systems are set up and optimised nicely right now, but they will also continue to evolve. The tech isn’t standing still and nor can we.
“We will also bolster our offer with more showrooms in the not-too-distant future. It’s not all about the tech – face-to-face still matters.”
At the last count, Taylor & Hart had sold more than 2,000 unique engagement rings, lifting its revenues from £250,000 in its first full year of trading (2014) to more than £2m in 2017, with further growth coming through.
In the online retail world, price is often regarded as the primary factor influencing a customer’s purchase decision, and Piriankov says the positioning of Taylor & Hart’s business, and its use of technologies, is carefully calibrated.
“Conventionally, online competition in jewellery is a race to the bottom on price,” he says. “That’s not our model, of course. We are more like the mattress brand Casper or the furniture brand Made.com in our individuality and positioning.
“We want our customers to talk about getting a custom ring rather than saying they bought online. That’s the difference. You could say we are not an online brand at all, but first, second and third a custom-made brand. That’s who we are.”