By David Brough
Jewellers need to devise tech-driven strategies and prioritise customer service to take advantage of a potential surge of “revenge shopping” after the coronavirus-driven lockdown.
This period of confinement is also an opportunity for jewellery designers to test their creativity to the outer limits and emerge with new inspirations and collections.
Delivering exemplary customer service will be at the heart of rebuilding and rebranding jewellery businesses in response to COVID-19, says industry consultant Helen Dimmick.
Delivering an authentic, demonstratively different, customer-focused identity is crucial, said Helen, a former retailer and former interim business leader of the Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ) buying group.
As jewellery stores are shuttered, how to positively utilise what feels like a surplus of time, is at the forefront of jewellers’ minds.
“Isolation should not spell the end of innovation,” Helen said in a recent Jewellery Outlook webinar.
“Virtual and digital technologies can facilitate collective communications and opportunities to ‘think out of the box’ in addressing the fundamental changes ahead, in preparation for a return of footfall to the high street amidst a potential burst of pent-up demand.”
Jewellery strategist Paola De Luca, in another Jewellery Outlook webinar, predicted a wave of “revenge shopping” after the lockdown.
“People will turn to jewellery purchases for emotional solace,” she said.
“I believe in ‘revenge spending,’” added Paola, who heads creative intelligence agency The Futurist, referring to expectations of a surge of pent-up demand from customers who have saved cash during the lockdown.
“The first piece of jewellery that I will purchase after this lockdown will be a talisman – something emotional. I will celebrate when this period is over!” Paola said.
The global industry will need to sharpen its digital offering and messages to consumers, combining digital and physical (Paola calls it “phygital”) platforms.
“In terms of engaging with our community, technology will be the winner,” Paola said. “Emotional technology will be key (to drive sales).”
Customers will increasingly shop for jewellery created in a sustainable supply chain, and will celebrate heritage in innovative ways, she added.
India-based blogger Preeta Agarwal urged designers to take inspiration from jewellery brands — but not to copy them, and to use the lockdown as an opportunity to express their own creativity.
“While we study other brands, make sure that this is a reference — not plagiarism,” said Preeta, who won Blogger of the Year in the Leading Lights awards at IJL last year.
“Do not copy!
“Do things that are out of the box.”
She urged designers to fashion their jewellery creations to meet evolving design trends and local market requirements.
The lockdown period will one day be looked back upon as an important era of creative activity, Preeta said.
“Every day I have received images from people showing how they have used their time at home,” she said.
“I don’t think we will ever again get such a time in our lives.”
Preeta appealed to jewellery designers to create occasional “statement pieces” to attract press interest, fend off competition and highlight their skills.
She also urged people to take a fresh approach to their social media.
“Create content for your social media from old and new jewellery together,” she said.
Preeta predicted that after the lockdown, there will be a burst of purchases of less expensive items to give the purchaser a “feel good” boost, while demand for heavy, or costlier, jewellery would pick up more slowly as many people had lost money during the confinement period.
“There will be a lot of impulse purchases (after the lockdown),” she said.
Preeta urged designers to do more research into new materials and manufacturing techniques, and to experiment with gemstones and colour combinations.
She also advised jewellers to strengthen their customer relationship management, using cutting-edge software.
Respected Indian jewellery consultant Hemant Shah said: “Through the lockdown find fun and innovative ways to stay connected with your customers at any stage of the pipeline, whether B2B or B2C.
“Use your imagination and create something that will stand out from the crowd and let it be fun…
“For the period beyond the lockdown, plan now and be ready to be the first to offer innovative services, products and offerings — so unique that they will enhance customers’ joy and relief after this trying time.”
UK jewellers and wholesalers are facing a severe cash flow crisis and agonising waits for financial aid due to the emergency.
Jewellery retailers have shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic as they are non-essential businesses, and have halted orders to wholesalers as cash flow slumped.
Some retailers have applied for cash grants and are still waiting to receive funds from their local Councils.
However, jewellers have benefited from rates relief, easing their financial plight to some degree.
Jewellers who are seeking bank finance, including interest-free government loans, are facing potentially lengthy delays as banks conduct exhaustive checks of their financial situation.
“We haven’t gone down the path of interest-free government loans as yet, but this is something we may have to consider if the grants are delayed,” said Shalini Gupta-Patel, founder of north London retailer Red Dot Jewels.
Long delays are also expected before retailers can be reimbursed up to 80% of their employees’ wages.
“As an employer it (furloughing staff) was a tough conversation to have had as my staff are so valued. We hope that the cash flow will be there to pay employees and then wait to reclaim the 80% back from the government,” Shalini said.
Support for Jewellers
Leading jewellery industry organisations and membership bodies have united to form the Jeweller Support Network, designed to assist independent and family-owned retailers, designer-makers and jewellery trade professionals struggling with the ramifications of COVID-19.
The Jeweller Support Network is a coalition of people, resources and skills, bringing together the Diamond Producers Association, the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ), Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ), Houlden Jewellers, the London Diamond Bourse, the Goldsmiths’ Company, the Goldsmiths’ Centre, the Society of British Jewellers, the Women’s Jewellery Network (WJN) and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC).
Simon Forrester, chief executive officer of the National Association of Jewellers (NAJ), said: “The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still unknown, and is having a disproportionate impact on small and independent businesses that are now facing lengthy closures and restricted access to essential services.
“Together, we can weather this storm by sharing our expertise, knowledge and resources – it is our goal to sustain independent jewellers and ensure they can continue operating just as soon as restrictions are lifted.
“I have been really encouraged by the whole industry getting behind this initiative, and my thanks go out to everyone who has contributed their knowledge and support. We must continue to pull together, or risk falling apart.”
Consultant Hemant Shah said he believes that spending patterns and choices will undergo a major shift post lockdown.
“There will be a significant curtailing of spending on some categories that are the biggest competitors, like travel and entertaining,” he said.
“We will see a major increase in spending on technology.
“However, jewellery is something a person is never done with buying and collecting — and people will still indulge in it.”