Should A Jewelry Store Do E-commerce

After well over a decade of building sites and systems for jewelers, I am probably asked about e-commerce the most. I have spent a lot of time talking about e-comm, so to save some time, here is our approach and strategy – and it’s probably not what you think.

As a website developer, I wholeheartedly do NOT think e-commerce is right for the physical (bricks and mortar) jewelry store. I could write a veritable tome on this subject but you won’t have time (if you’re running a store) so instead, I have bulleted it below.

Reasons why you should (probably) not engage in e-commerce.

1. Competition. There are billion-dollar companies doing e-comm very, very well already so are very (very) established.

They (often) pay no commission, hire minimal staff due to automation, get volume shipping rates and can spend all that saved money on Internet marketing, thus driving their online brand and traffic. They may not sell the same quality as your product and also may get volume (scale) buying advantages. All these things are hard to compete with in a digital environment alone.

Furthermore, these giants often have built-in customers (from different product areas or subsidiaries), huge user bases to market and very expensive tech running their ops. Including 24/7 website technicians.

2. Costs. An e-commerce website is a small fraction of the costs of e-commerce. The major expense is marketing the site – against all those huge competitors in point 1. You may be able to get your site high on Google locally – great – but those folks can buy in-store and get the “proper service” you actually built your business on – why sell them online (you have a store and a phone to do that).

3. Integration. The website is also a fraction of the process. You need to pick/pack, maintain inventory levels (properly so you don’t sell what you don’t have), insure, ship, track, control returns, re-ordering (e-comm will be different), and manage the process – all in-store. Are you set up for this?

4. Fraud. You understand theft and shrinkage as a retailer. Add to that credit card “issues”, hacking, security, online PCI compliance, and the biggest one of all – people just ripping you off by saying “I never got it”. Refer to point three for who is going to manage this process (which can take hours).

5. Value Proposition. This is a fancy way of saying “what do you do well enough to gain your business” – call it “your competitive advantage”. If you’re thinking your beautiful store name and reputation, location, hours, team, smiling service, coffee, great repair facility, trained gemologists, and amazing customer service will get you orders – think again, because none of that translates online in e-comm – not one bit – it’s just a computer transaction from a catalog.

6. Cost of user acquisition. You’ve (maybe) had some of your clients for generations. Apart from your amazing service(s), you have loyal clients essentially for free. E-comm clients are loyal until 1 second after the product arrives. They do not interact with you so loyalty is very hard to build. Online, loyalty revolves around price (see point 1), visibility (see point 2), and familiarity with the system. Acquiring a customer every time is expensive.

7. Experience. Most, if not all of the stores I talk to have never sold on Ebay, Etsy and other platforms. These come with built-in clientele – ready to buy. If you can access that and have not done so, ask yourself: what part of simply having a website that has zero clients (at the outset) will make the project successful?

If you’ve been selling online using platforms and have been successful, you may be ready to step into E-comm – leveraging your existing e-comm base for marketing, sending traffic from the platform to the site, echoing reviews gained online from this experience etc. – and that’s great.

8. Product. The majority of stores want to sell retail jewelry online. If a user can buy this piece somewhere else (which they probably can), you need to ask the question: “why would they buy it from me”? Remember, you’re in Iowa, they’re in Texas – they don’t know you at all.

The only real reason is price or availability – but if you’re that “cheap” then you are probably taking a loss already so the costs associated with e-comm may not be efficient. If it’s a generic product, availability is everywhere. Finally, if it’s online cheap, do you want to eat into your store margins too? – because a fast way to lose clientele is to offer strangers better prices than clients!

9 Opportunity Cost. This is a business term meaning “what I could have done with the money I spent on “x”). So, if you are going to spend $5K on an e-comm site, $15K on marketing it, “x” on staff time and other things – mainly selling low-margin items to people who may well not come back – what else could you do with your $30K to sell what you’re good at now?

10. This is a big one, rarely discussed. By offering e-comm, you’re teaching your loyal customers that it’s OK to buy jewelry online. It’s a small jump for the user from buying at your “e-comm store” to buying at another one – they’ve done it now. Remember, initially, the users will be local clients. Essentially, you are initiating them into the open market, using your reputation. Don’t be a bridge for people to the Internet commerce field.

Ignore all this if you like. Every jeweler that tells me how much they make online doesn’t include costs and I seriously doubt the sales they did make were new-user or non-local. I have not met one verifiable success for an operating retail store set-up transitioning to e-comm – not one. I have spoken to dozens of stores who have thrown away their money, time, and frustration on it.

You can get a ready-made e-commerce site from someone like Godaddy for $10 a month. Honestly, go for it. I absolutely (no kidding) hope you prove to be a success. It’s not what we do though.

What we do is create websites to sell what you actually do very well, right now. We sell your brand, history, team, services, inventory (ready to try on here, now), expertise, gemology knowledge, expertise, appraisal service, repair experts, and financing options – in other words, all that stuff you built your business on and doesn’t work online. We do this to local clients who come back and tell their friends.