Relevance of customer experience in the changing face of jewellery retail in India

Players (brands and retailers) in the jewellery market are seeking to refresh, recreate and rewrite their strategies to better connect and impact their customers

The sweeping impact of technology has virtually left no significant area of business untouched. Also, post-pandemic, many marketers have observed tangible changes and shifts in consumer demand patterns and attitudes. These two disruptive forces, coupled with greater urbanization and the rising buying power of Gen Z and younger millennials, have forced winds of change even in a traditionally high-involvement category such as jewellery. The result is that players (brands and retailers) in the jewellery market are seeking to refresh, recreate, and rewrite their strategies to better connect with and impact their customers.

Pivoting from a predominantly offline store model as a marketing channel, jewellery players in India now evaluate growth strategies that go beyond the obvious brick-and-mortar expansion. They have seamlessly adopted digital and omni-channel strategies to boost sales.

This article looks at not just the impact on the prospect-sales conversion pathway, but also how jewellery brands in India, bowing to the power of the customer and acknowledging the benefits of delivering a great customer experience (CX) are crafting strategies to create lasting impressions for growth. In fact, tech plays a big role in impacting how brands engage with their consumers as they showcase jewellery through digital influencers, virtual try-ons/on premise kiosks, experience zones, etc.

Delivering superior CX strikes at the heart of the truism that a customer is inclined to patronise a brand that connects, is contextual, is empathetic and speaks their language. Delivering positive customer engagement typically covers not just presales and sales but also post sales journeys. There are many interesting programmes undertaken by brands in the jewellery segment to deliver better CX in line with modern and contemporary buyers’ choices.

But before we glance at some data to get a sense of the shape of this space, let’s note that the gold and diamond trade contributes approx. 7.5% to India’s GDP and 14% to India’s total merchandise exports. Employing more than 8 million persons (2022), India’s gems and jewellery market raked in around US$ 78.50 billion in FY21. The overall manufacturing figures reflect interesting changes in customer demands which are no longer limited to pure gold and diamond jewellery but also noticeably include manufacturing of non-precious, stone-studded jewellery, imitation jewellery and luxury fashion jewellery as well.

Jewellery retail has mimicked the trends associated with the rest of retail in India, with investments directed towards brand building and becoming more organised. Significantly, this trend is visible across national and regional players, with names like Tanishq and Zoya (from the house of Tata), Orra, Bhima, Malabar, Kalyan, Joyallukas etc. gaining prominence. Many of these brands, while catering to that unquenchable recession-proof demand for primarily gold-based jewellery, are now increasingly offering a wide assortment of precious, semi-precious, diamond, and imitation jewellery.

Assortment aside, those in the jewellery business concur that customer demands have been evolving in recent years. Gopa Kumar, COO, Bhima Jewels, stated that in South India, the purchase of gold is still considered sacrosanct to mark any auspicious occasion, and while the demand for 22-carat jewellery is strong, today’s new age women have grown more experimental. Trust and quality apart, he attributes the double-digit growth of Bhima as testimony to their successful reading and proactive fulfilment of new trends, whether for traditional wedding-based demand or for the new age woman’s willingness to try coloured jewellery, stone-based jewellery or delicate, unique pieces. To capitalise on these emerging trends, Bhima has launched a new range of NAV lifestyle collections and this trend is mirrored in the assortment of the competition too.

With nuclear families becoming the norm, especially in metros and mini metros, what is discernible is that jewellery purchases are no longer restricted to just purchases for occasions like weddings and auspicious days but also include those bought on impulse or for gifting (mostly smaller pieces), thus spreading the demand across the calendar. The volume of lightweight jewellery validates market research findings and reflects the new-age woman’s increasing independence to modify her looks and confidently buy on her own.

This observation was ratified by Ankita Srivastava, CMO, who recently restaged KISNA, the domestic brand of the Hari Krishna Group. Srivastava affirms, “The Indian consumer is now ready to upgrade from gold to diamond jewellery, given her desire to break away from a largely traditional look that gold locks her in. With rising affluence and more women in the organised workforce, jewellery is moving from the ‘locker’ to the ‘drawer’ and the top one at that!”.

The digital-age customer’s buying journey predominantly starts online before venturing (if at all) offline, so brands must therefore invest in delivering high-quality experiences well before the customer even enters the physical store. Since customers often do extensive research online before making a purchase, it becomes doubly important for brands to engage with both existing and potential customers online and provide them with the right cues and hooks to encourage them to progress to the purchase stage. Many brands put out detailed product information and customer reviews while linking their website with social media channels. Gopa Kumar further observes that while the CX delivered at the store should be immersive, it must also be significantly seamless so that the segue from one channel to the next is frictionless. To create this positive and immersive experience, retailers are also adapting store design elements, including visually appealing store designs, a well-curated selection of products, and interactive elements like augmented reality experiences or even gamified promotions.

In a market that’s characterised by hyper-competitive action, jewellers hope that investing in service differentiation will enhance value and appreciation in customer interactions with their online and offline assets (irrespective of the customers’ channels of choice). The increasing emphasis on CX delivery stems from the realisation that it is a prerequisite to sustainable growth and success. While many brands’ efforts may have been motivated or triggered more by the profit motive than, say, a customer-centricity view, CX is a good starting point since it is a journey and an evolution.

If we glance at some of the CX initiatives undertaken by various players in this space, most of the solutions showcase some or other technology underbelly. Many others admit to being in advanced stages or have already rolled out initiatives that actively use technology platforms to further customer experience and customer engagement. The adoption of virtual reality (VR) by some has enabled the selection and shortlisting of jewellery to be smoother for customers. Here, technology fulfils the customer’s need to visualise a piece before shortlisting or discarding it. Virtual mirrors, a popular concept that is not new, really came of age after the pandemic. Another interesting trend is the emergence of orders for customized jewellery. While apparently contrarian to the common belief that the new-age customer is impatient and does not want to wait, the underlying reason for retailers to offer customization services is their propensity to opt for something unique and one that better reflects their personality. Here again, technology use in the design and development area with shorter timelines has made it happen.

Similarly, across brands, the new or refurbished physical stores are being designed with the customer in mind. The design emphasis seems to celebrate the customers’ continued need to touch, feel, and experience in person. Some have branded these as experience zones. In fact, retail has extended the online interactions predominating in the lockdown-induced world to building seamless digital solutions for customers. Customers can shop on a website, try products virtually, shortlist, or book an appointment for a store visit, similar to how one can book a test drive from a website in the automobile industry.

There has also been considerable investment in loyalty programs, which not only help in capturing first-party data but also enable retailers to launch loyalty schemes focused on occasions such as celebrations (birthdays or milestones such as an anniversary or new job), auspicious days, or modern celebrations like Valentine’s Day. Many have also executed customer feedback platforms that directly- and in real-time analyse customer ratings and free text to improve services and plug product gaps. The information from such platforms enables retailers to also pinpoint opportunity areas and plug them expeditiously. Complaint analysis and returns are reviewed, and the learning of each customers’ journey is ploughed back into the learning engine.

Not all initiatives that have won customers’ endorsements have been digital. For instance, trust as a defining factor cannot be over-emphasised. One such action pioneered by Tanishq involving a gold melting procedure in front of the customer, has been emulated by most major brands. Such actions build customer assurance especially when exchanging old jewellery.

Beneath the gilt and glamour, there is a clear-headed understanding of the importance of treading the path of better CX and looking at innovative and creative ways to leave an indelible mark on the customer. This and more will define the landscape of future success.

The author is CEO, The Nxt Levels CX Business Advisory & Sr. Adjunct Faculty, School of Business Management, NMIMS, Mumbai

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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