Gray Ingram from The Diamond Store – Podcast Transcript

Shaun Ryan:  [0:04] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems, and this is the Ecommerce Podcast. Today, I’m talking to Gary Ingram, the Managing Director of The Diamond Store in the UK. [0:13] Welcome Gary.

Gary Ingram:  [0:15] Hi Shaun.

Shaun:  [0:17] Now, a traditional question to get us started. What was the first thing you ever bought online?

Gary:  [0:20] I was thinking about this, and I think it was fight tickets, in probably about 1999, something like that.

Shaun:  [0:27] 99, can you remember where you went?

Gary:  [0:30] Probably Easy Jet. Because at the time in the UK Easy Jet was really the pioneers to buying things online flight wise and travel wise. And I do remember going to Spain in about 99 and buying my tickets online. And it took a leap of faith just to buy flight tickets, but there you go. Times have changed I think.

Shaun:  [0:48] And they turned up and they worked?

Gary:  [0:50] Yeah, yeah.

Shaun:  [0:52] Can you remember what your most recent purchase was?

Gary:  [0:55] Yeah I do. I grew up in a fishing village in Cornwall and in 1945 there was a film that was filmed there, and I think it was called Johnny Frenchman. And I was messing around the other day on the Internet and I searched it and I found someone selling a DVD of it and I bought it.

Shaun:  [1:10] Oh, fantastic.

Gary:  [1:11] Yes, it was a bit of a weird one, that. I try not to buy conventional things anymore because my wife does most of the conventional online shopping and stuff. So, I don’t really buy that many things if you see what I mean?

Shaun:  [1:23] Yeah, yeah.

Gary:  [1:24] I’m glad that was something I just bought. It just turned up.

Shaun:  [1:28] I have never heard of it. Who did you buy the DVD from?

Gary:  [1:34] Do you know what, I knew you were going to ask me that. I was just about to say it and I can’t even remember. It wasn’t Amazon, but it was another big online, it wasn’t play.com either, but it was a big online DVD retailer. [1:47] And I don’t know how they have this film in DVD; I don’t know why they’ve had it. It is 65 years old now, the film.

Shaun:  [1:53] Yeah.

Gary:  [1:54] But, I don’t know how they got it, but they had one so I bought it. And I can’t even, that is terrible, I can’t even remember who it was.

Shaun:  [2:00] They will be guttered. Now Gary, can you give us a little bit of background about yourself? How did you come to be Managing Director at The Diamond Store?

Gary:  [2:10] Yeah, sure. A bit of a weird journey actually. For most of my working time, I spent in real estate, as your would call it, or estate agency in London.

Shaun:  [2:20] Yep.

Gary:  [2:21] I was based in an area called Notting Hill, which is quite a nice area of London. And I was there for about, I think it was 17 years selling property. Anyway, that got a bit dull and a bit boring, and in 2003 I thought I would take a year off and just see where we go from there. Which I did, and me and my wife actually moved to Spain. And we took a year off, we didn’t do anything. We had a daughter, blah, blah, blah. [2:45] And then I started to think about what I wanted to do and I got into Internet marketing. And I was messing around doing a lot of Internet marketing trying to get things going and I met somebody who was a jeweler who was looking to go online. And so we teamed up and we formed The Diamond Store. And with his jewelry expertise and my Internet marketing skills.

Shaun:  [3:09] Excellent.

Gary:  [3:10] And that is now The Diamond Store came about.

Shaun:  [3:12] And The Diamond Store is a UK based store though, right?

Gary:  [3:16] It is a UK based store, yeah.

Shaun:  [4:31] Just tell me a little bit about The Diamond Store. What is special about the company?

Gary:  [4:42] The thing is jewelry is quite an… I don’t know how much you know about jewelry or anything but it is quite difficult…

Shaun:  [4:48] Very little.

Gary:  [4:50] It is a difficult item to sell. Because conventional jewelry like earrings or bracelets and necklaces, they are not that difficult, because they come, you can get them ready made, you can put them in a box and you can sell them. That is the easy bit.

Shaun:  [5:01] Right.

Gary:  [5:01] But, the reality is to sell jewelry on mass and to sell it in any scale you actually need craftsmen to actually make and adjust your ring. You know rings come in 50 different sizes, we sell our rings in. And we have a range of over two and a half thousand rings. So, we need the company to adjust jewelry, we need to make jewelry. Things do go wrong, so we need to repair jewelry. [5:31] And it is a lot harder product to sell than I ever thought it was. It is a lot harder product to maintain and to make available to marketplaces. It is not like getting a book off a shelf.

Shaun:  [5:41] Right.

Gary:  [5:43] And one of the things that we have which really I don’t see many other online pure play jewelers doing is we have got the cream of craftsmen, we have all those people in place. And not many companies have got that.

Shaun:  [5:54] OK. So, that is one of things that makes you different. I suppose if it is hard and you have found a way of doing it then you can have an advantage over some of your would be competitors.

Gary:  [6:03] Yeah. And to do it at a price which is attractive to a customer. That is the other trick. The pitfalls are that jewelry is a touch it, feel it item. A lot of people do want to touch and feel the jewelry.

Shaun:  [6:18] Yes.

Gary:  [6:19] Because there is a jewel bank there. And the other thing is that there is a large element of romance that is often attached to jewelry. And trying to install that onto an online experience can be quite challenging. I would say that is the most challenging thing. [6:35] Most women have a dream of buying an engagement ring and going to the shop and being pampered. Her husband saying I am buying it on line because I can get it half price is just not quite as romantic.

Shaun:  [6:47] I see an element of romance there, but that is just my perspective. How do you address those challenges? First of all you need to know rings come in 50 sizes. So, how does someone get measured up for a ring? How do they do that online?

Gary:  [7:06] We can’t do it online. We started off trying that, and some companies I still see do it. But, it is a recipe for disaster in our experience. We would say, print off this bit of paper and put your finger in a hole and see which size it is. Because we don’t know if people have their printers set up correctly. We don’t know if they are printing in PDF or 100 percent photo, we have given up with all that. [7:27] And we will either send people a ring‑sizing tool, which is a simple little tool. And it will be with them tomorrow if they will do it today. Or in most cases, actually the general buying pattern with our customers is that they generally have been to a High Street at some point. They kind of know the type of ring, or earrings or whatever it is they are going to buy. And if it is a ring, they need the ring size of course, and at some point as a couple they discussed it and they probably have been in to a shop and had a look and tried them on.

Shaun:  [7:58] Right. OK, so they know their size from that experience.

Gary:  [8:01] Ninety nine percent of the time. The exceptions are always the same thing. They are always the guys that will ring up; they are trying to get engaged secretly. They have never bought a ring before and they haven’t got a clue what size they need. [8:15] And in those cases, we try and push them to the normal size, to give the ring, and then we can either alter that ring or make them another one after they have popped the question.

[8:24] And the other time is Christmas where somebody may not have bought their wife or girlfriend a ring for 15 years and they just don’t know what size she is.

Shaun:  [8:35] Yeah.

Gary:  [8:36] It is a tricky one, because it is important that the customer gets it as close as possible. But, most people have been to the High Street at some point and tried something on. And then the guys have gone online. [8:46] And most of our products are aligned; our ranges are aligned to the High Street. So what we sell is what you can find in most High Streets.

Shaun:  [8:55] Right. OK. And if someone does get the size wrong do you charge them extra to get it adjusted? Or do you make that all part of the cost?

Gary:  [9:05] There is a policy where if they get the size wrong there is a 15‑pound charge for readjustment.

Shaun:  [9:10] I see.

Gary:  [9:12] And if is a really expensive ring, or if we knew before we sold the ring that the guy was guessing we waive that very often.

Shaun:  [9:19] Right. OK. Cool. So, that is the sizing. So, how about the romance and trying to recreate that High Street experience. How do you do that?

Gary:  [9:29] Well, if I’m honest with you it is an ongoing challenge. What we are trying to do at the moment is actually get over the trust issues of buying jewelry online. And we do that through branding and through better imaging. [9:43] If you look at our website now we have some fantastic images of our rings. And actually if you go on to eternity rings or engagements rings, you will see that we have, 3D sounds a bit animated, but they are not animated, they are actual proper 3D imaging of the rings.

[10:02] And we also put them on our hands, and you can see them on our hand. And the hands will automatically move towards you and zoom in and then zoom out. So, you can actually try and get a real feel for it.

[10:11] The romance side of things is the ongoing challenge. The bit that we have cracked is the presentation. So, we sent it to a customer. We don’t gift wrap because what we found when we gift wrapped everything is that people tear it open because they want to make sure it is the ring they ordered before we give it anyway. So, we have done away with that.

[10:30] And what we do, we build the package in a box so that they can put all the components together and give it as if you have just walked out of Tiffany’s or somewhere like that.

Shaun:  [10:39] Fantastic. Cool.

Gary:  [10:42] Yeah.

Shaun:  [10:43] Tell me a little bit about the business. How fast have you been growing since your inception? And when was it, 2004?

Gary:  [10:54] Yeah. 2004 is when we got going, but we didn’t really have an online presence until ‑ I think we went live around November the 20th. It was quite late in the year before we actually got online. [11:13] The first couple of years were actually quite tough, because we were trying to find our way around it without spending a huge amount of money. And trying to understand how to sell online and get all the best practices in place.

[11:28] The last year has been fantastic, because what we have done is we have taken all those experiences we have had, we have given the whole website a whole redesign and we have addressed all the problems that we thought customers might have with viewing our products. One of which is how they find them and see them.

[11:44] And the last year has been brilliant. I was just looking at the figures today for February, and February 2010 compared to February 2009 is over double.

Shaun:  [11:55] Oh, fantastic.

Gary:  [11:57] Yeah. It is the last year or two that we have really seen it. I think also weirdly enough, this is kind of a weird comment; a lot of the big name High Street jewelers in the UK have been pushing their online channel.

Shaun:  [12:10] Right. And that has been helping you?

Gary:  [12:13] I think it validated the whole point about buying jewelry online.

Shaun:  [12:17] Interesting.

Gary:  [12:18] And that has only happened really in the last 18 months to two years. The Christmas before last, the big High Street retailers started pushing their website in their TV efforts.

Shaun:  [12:26] So, your competitors doing some marketing has helped you, or helped the reception of your customers.

Gary:  [12:34] I think they have helped the whole business. I think it validates the fact that you can do this. For many people buying jewelry online, as I said, a lot of people want to touch it and feel it. It is that whole how do I know it is real? How do I know what I’m getting I’m paying for? And all those kind of things. [12:49] But, once it starts becoming normal practice, once those things happen, then people are much more accepting of it.

Shaun:  [12:56] Cool. Part of your success is getting the site right so people can interact and can have the ring displayed nicely in a way that is appealing. How do you go about getting people to your site? How do you market yourself?

Gary:  [13:14] In all the normal ways that people do. Organic ranking in the search engines, pay per click in all the search engines. We have tried comparison sites but they don’t really work.

Gary:  [13:39] We do use email marketing of course. We have done general PR, off line advertising in all the glossy magazines and that kind of thing. [13:55] But, once you have been down the route of really working your online marketing well, going off line and advertising actually is quite a hair‑raising experience.

Shaun:  [14:06] It must be.

Gary:  [14:08] Because it is not actually measurable.

Shaun:  [14:10] Yeah, because you get used to being able to measure absolutely everything.

Gary:  [14:12] Yeah, you bet, yeah.

Shaun:  [14:13] You are still obviously doing that off line, marketing as well?

Gary:  [14:17] Yeah, we do. But, in all honesty, what we are trying to do is more attract the people that we know are looking online to buy jewelry, rather than trying to bring people online to buy jewelry, if that makes sense? [14:30] However, branding is a big part of what we want to change in the next year, so watch this space.

Shaun:  [14:35] That sounds interesting, we will watch the space. What do you say is your biggest opportunities coming up?

Gary:  [14:43] The jewelry market in the UK, rather than globally, is huge. Huge, huge market. And it is not even really big online yet. It is nowhere near saturated. There is this huge growth opportunity. I think part of the reason why we have done so well this year as well it is where, I hate to use the word crisis, but where times have gotten a little bit tougher people are looking a little bit more for value for money. And there is no way the High Street chains can compete with us on price. They can’t do it.

Shaun:  [15:23] Right, because they just have so many overheads compared to what you have.

Gary:  [15:32] The whole overhead and cost base of running a retail operation for jewelry is huge. It is just huge; it is mind boggling, because it is security involved, insurances involved, et cetera. You can imagine. And we work out of one premise. But, if we had a chain of 100, the cost aspect would be enormous.

Shaun:  [15:48] So, the fact that you can compete on price is one part of your opportunity and the fact that it is a relatively new market, because people haven’t really been buying online in mass is another part of the opportunity that you have. Am I right there?

Gary:  [16:06] Yeah, definitely. Just those two factors alone are hugely exciting.

Shaun:  [16:11] You were talking about the retail store. I was looking on the website and there was some hints that you may eventually like to open a retail store. Is that right that you would eventually like to be able to meet your customers?

Gary:  [16:28] Yeah. Every day, we get asked, “Can I come and look at your jewelry?” The problem we have with that is that a lot of our jewelry we make to order. And that is the secret, as well as how we keep the prices down. Now, if we don’t have to hive off a bit of the warehouse and make it nice. Because we couldn’t have it looking like a warehouse. People are going to come in and they have to look somewhat nice. [16:51] We then have to have available nearly every item of jewelry that we are going to sell. Because if somebody comes in, or if we open a shop around the corner, if a customer does come in and say, “Can I look at the ring I saw online?” Nature says they’re going to say, “What’s the one that’s slightly bigger? What’s the one that’s slightly smaller? Or have you got earrings to go with it.”

[17:10] And whilst all those things are fantastic, it means that we’re probably going to have to employ people to do that. We’re going to have to stock up. And we’re going down that route of having all those overheads.

Shaun:  [17:20] Yeah, it does take away your competitive advantage.

Gary:  [17:22] You’ve got it. At some point, we’re going to have to… In my heart, I believe that at some point, we’re going to have to bend the rules a bit and open up something. But, we haven’t got a way forward yet on that.

Shaun:  [17:39] OK.

Shaun:  [18:15] So, tell me a little bit about the technologies that you’re using to run your online store. What are you using? What’s working for you?

Gary:  [18:24] We’ve got our own in‑house web developer who we’re very lucky to have, a fantastic guy. And we basically, it’s probably one percent original e‑commerce package that we’ve got left, because we’ve rewritten everything else to suit us. [18:43] And I’m not just saying this because you’re on the phone, but I think the biggest thing that’s working for us right now is the way that we use SLI for our navigation.

Shaun:  [18:52] Right.

Gary:  [18:53] We used it for the search, I know, but we actually have started using it as our navigation. Again, the problem with jewelry is you might call something a solitaire ring, I might call it an engagement ring, and somebody else might call it simply a diamond ring.

Shaun:  [19:09] Yes.

Gary:  [19:10] And the problem we’ve always had is how do we get this cataloged and how do we find what they call it? How do they get into those things? And using your technology, on our site recently, has made that much easier, much, much easier for customers to get around.

Shaun:  [19:27] That’s great to hear. I’m pleased to hear that too. As someone who is using different names for essentially the same item, is it through the keyword search where they’re expressing those different names? Or is that reflected in the navigation as well?

Gary:  [19:43] Both.

Shaun:  [19:45] OK.

Gary:  [19:46] So, the keyword search will express that, but the facet navigation down the left‑hand side has allowed it… Instead of us calling something an eternity ring, for example, we just call it a full band. And a full band, most people conjure up as meaning a full band of diamonds, a half band of diamonds. So, we call it a full band of diamonds or a half band of diamonds. [20:04] Interestingly enough, we now sell a lot of eternity, what we call eternity rings, and traditionally have done, we sell them as wedding rings. Because people are buying a full band of diamond ring in their mind. And they had it, that visually, they had it as a wedding ring.

Shaun:  [20:18] Cool, because…

Gary:  [20:19] That’s the kind of thing that’s made it much better for us.

Shaun:  [20:22] That’s interesting. So, what are you biggest problems on your site at the moment? What are you working on?

Gary:  [20:30] The biggest problems we have… The biggest problems we have… Probably nothing on the site particularly. I would say the biggest problems we have, as every business will have, is meeting customer expectation. [20:43] As we’ve said, jewelry is a tricky business. We make a lot of the jewelry as we go along. People order wrong sizes. We get the sizes wrong occasionally, by just a fraction, half a sizing, and something goes wrong.

[20:56] The customer expectation, also, most people they order jewelry don’t do it on a whim. Most people are doing it for a birthday, an anniversary, an engagement, or something special. And they always have a deadline. And no matter how hard you try and emphasize throughout your website, or emails, or whatever you’re doing, please give us time to get your item ready for you, a lot of people have got tight deadlines. And that’s our biggest headache.

[21:22] And, of course, the flip side of that is, if we then have to have lots of lots of stock, waiting for somebody who has a deadline to buy, then the cost will go up. That’s our biggest headache is balancing the customer expectation with the reality of what we’re selling.

Shaun:  [21:37] So, how long does it take to complete an order when a piece has to be made?

Gary:  [21:45] Well, a lot of things we do… I’m making it sound like we’ve got nothing in stock. But earrings, pendants, bracelets, if we get an order for that this evening, providing we get that order by about 5:00 pm that day, it will go out that day. And it will be to the customer the very next day. [22:01] Where we’ve got a problem is that if the customer wants a size two and a half ring and we might only stock one size which is an M, so we’ll make them a two and a half. If it’s a solitaire ring, an engagement ring, traditionally that takes… We ask for a week to do that. But, if push comes to shove, we can do it in a day. But, it means somebody else has got…

Shaun:  [22:26] Has been pushed back.

Gary:  [22:28] Something else has got to give somewhere else.

Shaun:  [22:30] Yeah.

Gary:  [22:31] It’s mostly to do a ring and it’s mostly to do with non‑standard sizes, where it takes the time.

Shaun:  [22:39] So, how are you trying to address that?

Gary:  [22:42] As we get more and more data, and as we get more ideas of the lines which are selling more proficiently, and what sizes people like to buy, we’re able to preempt and actually premake a lot of the items up. And as our numbers of sales grow and as you get patterns emerging, then that’s what becomes easier to deal with. [23:05] This Christmas just gone, for example, was hugely busy. I mean, we were really busy. But, luckily, in about August, we’d worked out most of what we were going to need to stock up on based on the previous three or four years that we’ve been doing. So, it does get easier, over time, as you see patterns emerging.

Shaun:  [23:23] Right. That makes a lot of sense. So, do you have any changes that you’re looking to make in the coming year? That you’re working on at the moment.

Gary:  [23:35] Nothing that the customer are going to see. Last year was about changing things for the customers. So, it was about improving images, improving the navigation. The whole look and feel of the site changed. [23:47] This year, there’s several things that we’re doing for ourselves, at the back‑end, slightly better systems, all back‑end things that the customers aren’t going to see. So, nothing really other than sort of streamlining everything on our end and in the warehouse. Nothing really big this year. Next year, we’ll probably change our minds and do something else.

Shaun:  [laughs] [24:07] Excellent.

Gary:  [24:09] Nothing really that big this year. The thing I’d love to overcome a bit more is trying to engage a bit more with the customers while they’re on the website. We’ve got an idea on how to do that. I’ve never been a fan of live chat. I mean, it doesn’t really work. So, we’re trying to come up with our own version of something for that.

Shaun:  [24:27] OK. Oh, that sounds interesting as well.

Gary:  [24:29] If we could talk in real‑time, but with an open forum. I can’t articulate very well what we’ve got in mind, but we’ve got something in mind we’re working on.

Shaun:  [24:39] Well, we’ll watch that space as well. [laughter]

Shaun:  [24:43] And in terms of that interactive, do you have videos on your site?

Gary:  [24:47] No, videos is something else we’re looking at using. More to explain the different styles, and shapes of diamonds, and the different qualities you can buy, etc. Videos are becoming commonplace. [25:01] Also, for us, we actually thought about doing this when we first started. The problem was that most people didn’t have the capacity to download the video quick enough. And then it got put on the back burner and then other things come along. And video is something we’re actually going to get back into as well.

Shaun:  [25:16] Cool. Interesting.

Gary:  [25:18] I think it’s pretty important stuff actually.

Shaun:  [25:20] Yeah, yeah. Well, Gary, I think we’ll wrap it up there. But, I just want to thank you very much for sharing your experience today with our audience. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff there.

Gary:  [25:33] OK. Brilliant.

Shaun:  [25:35] Thank you very much. And that was Gary Ingram, Managing Director of The Diamond Store. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and that was the Ecommerce Podcast. [music] 

Shaun Ryan:  [0:04] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems, and this is the Ecommerce Podcast. Today, I’m talking to Gary Ingram, the Managing Director of The Diamond Store in the UK. [0:13] Welcome Gary.

Gary Ingram:  [0:15] Hi Shaun.

Shaun:  [0:17] Now, a traditional question to get us started. What was the first thing you ever bought online?

Gary:  [0:20] I was thinking about this, and I think it was fight tickets, in probably about 1999, something like that.

Shaun:  [0:27] 99, can you remember where you went?

Gary:  [0:30] Probably Easy Jet. Because at the time in the UK Easy Jet was really the pioneers to buying things online flight wise and travel wise. And I do remember going to Spain in about 99 and buying my tickets online. And it took a leap of faith just to buy flight tickets, but there you go. Times have changed I think.

Shaun:  [0:48] And they turned up and they worked?

Gary:  [0:50] Yeah, yeah.

Shaun:  [0:52] Can you remember what your most recent purchase was?

Gary:  [0:55] Yeah I do. I grew up in a fishing village in Cornwall and in 1945 there was a film that was filmed there, and I think it was called Johnny Frenchman. And I was messing around the other day on the Internet and I searched it and I found someone selling a DVD of it and I bought it.

Shaun:  [1:10] Oh, fantastic.

Gary:  [1:11] Yes, it was a bit of a weird one, that. I try not to buy conventional things anymore because my wife does most of the conventional online shopping and stuff. So, I don’t really buy that many things if you see what I mean?

Shaun:  [1:23] Yeah, yeah.

Gary:  [1:24] I’m glad that was something I just bought. It just turned up.

Shaun:  [1:28] I have never heard of it. Who did you buy the DVD from?

Gary:  [1:34] Do you know what, I knew you were going to ask me that. I was just about to say it and I can’t even remember. It wasn’t Amazon, but it was another big online, it wasn’t play.com either, but it was a big online DVD retailer. [1:47] And I don’t know how they have this film in DVD; I don’t know why they’ve had it. It is 65 years old now, the film.

Shaun:  [1:53] Yeah.

Gary:  [1:54] But, I don’t know how they got it, but they had one so I bought it. And I can’t even, that is terrible, I can’t even remember who it was.

Shaun:  [2:00] They will be guttered. Now Gary, can you give us a little bit of background about yourself? How did you come to be Managing Director at The Diamond Store?

Gary:  [2:10] Yeah, sure. A bit of a weird journey actually. For most of my working time, I spent in real estate, as your would call it, or estate agency in London.

Shaun:  [2:20] Yep.

Gary:  [2:21] I was based in an area called Notting Hill, which is quite a nice area of London. And I was there for about, I think it was 17 years selling property. Anyway, that got a bit dull and a bit boring, and in 2003 I thought I would take a year off and just see where we go from there. Which I did, and me and my wife actually moved to Spain. And we took a year off, we didn’t do anything. We had a daughter, blah, blah, blah. [2:45] And then I started to think about what I wanted to do and I got into Internet marketing. And I was messing around doing a lot of Internet marketing trying to get things going and I met somebody who was a jeweler who was looking to go online. And so we teamed up and we formed The Diamond Store. And with his jewelry expertise and my Internet marketing skills.

Shaun:  [3:09] Excellent.

Gary:  [3:10] And that is now The Diamond Store came about.

Shaun:  [3:12] And The Diamond Store is a UK based store though, right?

Gary:  [3:16] It is a UK based store, yeah. The warehouse is in London. All the products, or 99 percent of the products we sell is in London as well.

Shaun:  [3:25] OK. But, you are still based in Spain?

Gary:  [3:27] I am personally based in Spain. Which does strike a few issues now and again. When you want to meet people quickly that is not always doable.

Shaun:  [3:36] Yes.

Gary:  [3:38] But, on the whole, because the business has two separate parts to it, my main role is kind of running the general day‑to‑day business. And the websites and all the marketing I run from here. Because we can do it on the phone, we can do it on webinars, we can do all those things.

Shaun:  [3:52] Yes.

Gary:  [3:53] We are finding it a bit of a challenge now, where we are growing and growing and it is getting to be a challenge. But, it has worked well for the last four years, three and a half years we have been doing it.

Shaun:  [4:03] Yeah, and you don’t have any huge commute most of the time.

Gary:  [4:07] No. I mean I am going to London next week on Wednesday and I am coming back on Thursday.

Shaun:  [4:13] Well, that is a huge commute.

Gary:  [4:18] But, compared to you my commute is nothing. But in an ideal world I think it would make sense if the two bits were closer together, but it is just where we are at the moment.

Shaun:  [4:25] Yes.

Gary:  [4:27] And I like the sun and I like going to the swimming pool when I get home from work.

Shaun:  [4:31] That sounds great. Just tell me a little bit about The Diamond Store. What is special about the company?

Gary:  [4:42] The thing is jewelry is quite an… I don’t know how much you know about jewelry or anything but it is quite difficult…

Shaun:  [4:48] Very little.

Gary:  [4:50] It is a difficult item to sell. Because conventional jewelry like earrings or bracelets and necklaces, they are not that difficult, because they come, you can get them ready made, you can put them in a box and you can sell them. That is the easy bit.

Shaun:  [5:01] Right.

Gary:  [5:01] But, the reality is to sell jewelry on mass and to sell it in any scale you actually need craftsmen to actually make and adjust your ring. You know rings come in 50 different sizes, we sell our rings in. And we have a range of over two and a half thousand rings. So, we need the company to adjust jewelry, we need to make jewelry. Things do go wrong, so we need to repair jewelry. [5:31] And it is a lot harder product to sell than I ever thought it was. It is a lot harder product to maintain and to make available to marketplaces. It is not like getting a book off a shelf.

Shaun:  [5:41] Right.

Gary:  [5:43] And one of the things that we have which really I don’t see many other online pure play jewelers doing is we have got the cream of craftsmen, we have all those people in place. And not many companies have got that.

Shaun:  [5:54] OK. So, that is one of things that makes you different. I suppose if it is hard and you have found a way of doing it then you can have an advantage over some of your would be competitors.

Gary:  [6:03] Yeah. And to do it at a price which is attractive to a customer. That is the other trick. The pitfalls are that jewelry is a touch it, feel it item. A lot of people do want to touch and feel the jewelry.

Shaun:  [6:18] Yes.

Gary:  [6:19] Because there is a jewel bank there. And the other thing is that there is a large element of romance that is often attached to jewelry. And trying to install that onto an online experience can be quite challenging. I would say that is the most challenging thing. [6:35] Most women have a dream of buying an engagement ring and going to the shop and being pampered. Her husband saying I am buying it on line because I can get it half price is just not quite as romantic.

Shaun:  [6:47] I see an element of romance there, but that is just my perspective. How do you address those challenges? First of all you need to know rings come in 50 sizes. So, how does someone get measured up for a ring? How do they do that online?

Gary:  [7:06] We can’t do it online. We started off trying that, and some companies I still see do it. But, it is a recipe for disaster in our experience. We would say, print off this bit of paper and put your finger in a hole and see which size it is. Because we don’t know if people have their printers set up correctly. We don’t know if they are printing in PDF or 100 percent photo, we have given up with all that. [7:27] And we will either send people a ring‑sizing tool, which is a simple little tool. And it will be with them tomorrow if they will do it today. Or in most cases, actually the general buying pattern with our customers is that they generally have been to a High Street at some point. They kind of know the type of ring, or earrings or whatever it is they are going to buy. And if it is a ring, they need the ring size of course, and at some point as a couple they discussed it and they probably have been in to a shop and had a look and tried them on.

Shaun:  [7:58] Right. OK, so they know their size from that experience.

Gary:  [8:01] Ninety nine percent of the time. The exceptions are always the same thing. They are always the guys that will ring up; they are trying to get engaged secretly. They have never bought a ring before and they haven’t got a clue what size they need. [8:15] And in those cases, we try and push them to the normal size, to give the ring, and then we can either alter that ring or make them another one after they have popped the question.

[8:24] And the other time is Christmas where somebody may not have bought their wife or girlfriend a ring for 15 years and they just don’t know what size she is.

Shaun:  [8:35] Yeah.

Gary:  [8:36] It is a tricky one, because it is important that the customer gets it as close as possible. But, most people have been to the High Street at some point and tried something on. And then the guys have gone online. [8:46] And most of our products are aligned; our ranges are aligned to the High Street. So what we sell is what you can find in most High Streets.

Shaun:  [8:55] Right. OK. And if someone does get the size wrong do you charge them extra to get it adjusted? Or do you make that all part of the cost?

Gary:  [9:05] There is a policy where if they get the size wrong there is a 15‑pound charge for readjustment.

Shaun:  [9:10] I see.

Gary:  [9:12] And if is a really expensive ring, or if we knew before we sold the ring that the guy was guessing we waive that very often.

Shaun:  [9:19] Right. OK. Cool. So, that is the sizing. So, how about the romance and trying to recreate that High Street experience. How do you do that?

Gary:  [9:29] Well, if I’m honest with you it is an ongoing challenge. What we are trying to do at the moment is actually get over the trust issues of buying jewelry online. And we do that through branding and through better imaging. [9:43] If you look at our website now we have some fantastic images of our rings. And actually if you go on to eternity rings or engagements rings, you will see that we have, 3D sounds a bit animated, but they are not animated, they are actual proper 3D imaging of the rings.

[10:02] And we also put them on our hands, and you can see them on our hand. And the hands will automatically move towards you and zoom in and then zoom out. So, you can actually try and get a real feel for it.

[10:11] The romance side of things is the ongoing challenge. The bit that we have cracked is the presentation. So, we sent it to a customer. We don’t gift wrap because what we found when we gift wrapped everything is that people tear it open because they want to make sure it is the ring they ordered before we give it anyway. So, we have done away with that.

[10:30] And what we do, we build the package in a box so that they can put all the components together and give it as if you have just walked out of Tiffany’s or somewhere like that.

Shaun:  [10:39] Fantastic. Cool.

Gary:  [10:42] Yeah.

Shaun:  [10:43] Tell me a little bit about the business. How fast have you been growing since your inception? And when was it, 2004?

Gary:  [10:54] Yeah. 2004 is when we got going, but we didn’t really have an online presence until ‑ I think we went live around November the 20th. It was quite late in the year before we actually got online. [11:13] The first couple of years were actually quite tough, because we were trying to find our way around it without spending a huge amount of money. And trying to understand how to sell online and get all the best practices in place.

[11:28] The last year has been fantastic, because what we have done is we have taken all those experiences we have had, we have given the whole website a whole redesign and we have addressed all the problems that we thought customers might have with viewing our products. One of which is how they find them and see them.

[11:44] And the last year has been brilliant. I was just looking at the figures today for February, and February 2010 compared to February 2009 is over double.

Shaun:  [11:55] Oh, fantastic.

Gary:  [11:57] Yeah. It is the last year or two that we have really seen it. I think also weirdly enough, this is kind of a weird comment; a lot of the big name High Street jewelers in the UK have been pushing their online channel.

Shaun:  [12:10] Right. And that has been helping you?

Gary:  [12:13] I think it validated the whole point about buying jewelry online.

Shaun:  [12:17] Interesting.

Gary:  [12:18] And that has only happened really in the last 18 months to two years. The Christmas before last, the big High Street retailers started pushing their website in their TV efforts.

Shaun:  [12:26] So, your competitors doing some marketing has helped you, or helped the reception of your customers.

Gary:  [12:34] I think they have helped the whole business. I think it validates the fact that you can do this. For many people buying jewelry online, as I said, a lot of people want to touch it and feel it. It is that whole how do I know it is real? How do I know what I’m getting I’m paying for? And all those kind of things. [12:49] But, once it starts becoming normal practice, once those things happen, then people are much more accepting of it.

Shaun:  [12:56] Cool. Part of your success is getting the site right so people can interact and can have the ring displayed nicely in a way that is appealing. How do you go about getting people to your site? How do you market yourself?

Gary:  [13:14] In all the normal ways that people do. Organic ranking in the search engines, pay per click in all the search engines. We have tried comparison sites but they don’t really work. Shopping sites work better for us rather than comparison sites. Because a lot of jewelry is not like buying a Sony TV where there is a model number, where you can just put the model number in and compare prices.

Shaun:  [13:38] Right.

Gary:  [13:39] So, comparison sites, not so good, because it is not clear what the comparisons are. We do use email marketing of course. We have done general PR, off line advertising in all the glossy magazines and that kind of thing. [13:55] But, once you have been down the route of really working your online marketing well, going off line and advertising actually is quite a hair‑raising experience.

Shaun:  [14:06] It must be.

Gary:  [14:08] Because it is not actually measurable.

Shaun:  [14:10] Yeah, because you get used to being able to measure absolutely everything.

Gary:  [14:12] Yeah, you bet, yeah.

Shaun:  [14:13] You are still obviously doing that off line, marketing as well?

Gary:  [14:17] Yeah, we do. But, in all honesty, what we are trying to do is more attract the people that we know are looking online to buy jewelry, rather than trying to bring people online to buy jewelry, if that makes sense? [14:30] However, branding is a big part of what we want to change in the next year, so watch this space.

Shaun:  [14:35] That sounds interesting, we will watch the space. What do you say is your biggest opportunities coming up?

Gary:  [14:43] The jewelry market in the UK, rather than globally, is huge. Huge, huge market. And it is not even really big online yet. It is nowhere near saturated. There is this huge growth opportunity. I think part of the reason why we have done so well this year as well it is where, I hate to use the word crisis, but where times have gotten a little bit tougher people are looking a little bit more for value for money. And there is no way the High Street chains can compete with us on price. They can’t do it.

Shaun:  [15:23] Right, because they just have so many overheads compared to what you have.

Gary:  [15:32] The whole overhead and cost base of running a retail operation for jewelry is huge. It is just huge; it is mind boggling, because it is security involved, insurances involved, et cetera. You can imagine. And we work out of one premise. But, if we had a chain of 100, the cost aspect would be enormous.

Shaun:  [15:48] So, the fact that you can compete on price is one part of your opportunity and the fact that it is a relatively new market, because people haven’t really been buying online in mass is another part of the opportunity that you have. Am I right there?

Gary:  [16:06] Yeah, definitely. Just those two factors alone are hugely exciting.

Shaun:  [16:11] You were talking about the retail store. I was looking on the website and there was some hints that you may eventually like to open a retail store. Is that right that you would eventually like to be able to meet your customers?

Gary:  [16:28] Yeah. Every day, we get asked, “Can I come and look at your jewelry?” The problem we have with that is that a lot of our jewelry we make to order. And that is the secret, as well as how we keep the prices down. Now, if we don’t have to hive off a bit of the warehouse and make it nice. Because we couldn’t have it looking like a warehouse. People are going to come in and they have to look somewhat nice. [16:51] We then have to have available nearly every item of jewelry that we are going to sell. Because if somebody comes in, or if we open a shop around the corner, if a customer does come in and say, “Can I look at the ring I saw online?” Nature says they’re going to say, “What’s the one that’s slightly bigger? What’s the one that’s slightly smaller? Or have you got earrings to go with it.”

[17:10] And whilst all those things are fantastic, it means that we’re probably going to have to employ people to do that. We’re going to have to stock up. And we’re going down that route of having all those overheads.

Shaun:  [17:20] Yeah, it does take away your competitive advantage.

Gary:  [17:22] You’ve got it. At some point, we’re going to have to… In my heart, I believe that at some point, we’re going to have to bend the rules a bit and open up something. But, we haven’t got a way forward yet on that.

Shaun:  [17:39] OK.

Gary:  [17:42] Security is also another huge issue for us with that. That’s why we can’t do it in our warehouse. We’d probably have to do it in a shop around the corner.

Shaun:  [17:48] Yeah, I imagine it must be. It must be… It seems that all the movies about diamond thieves seem to be based in London.

Gary:  [laughs] [17:56] Yeah, and we’re in a very secure warehouse, etc. But, there are always those… We can’t let anybody… Our insurance company won’t allow us to let customers on to our premises in the current format of those premises. So, it’s just a no‑go. It’s just a no‑go area for us at the moment.

Shaun:  [18:15] Understood. So, tell me a little bit about the technologies that you’re using to run your online store. What are you using? What’s working for you?

Gary:  [18:24] I’ll tell you what, we’re using a very basic e‑commerce package. We’ve got our own in‑house web developer who we’re very lucky to have, a fantastic guy. And we basically, it’s probably one percent original e‑commerce package that we’ve got left, because we’ve rewritten everything else to suit us. [18:43] And I’m not just saying this because you’re on the phone, but I think the biggest thing that’s working for us right now is the way that we use SLI for our navigation.

Shaun:  [18:52] Right.

Gary:  [18:53] We used it for the search, I know, but we actually have started using it as our navigation. Again, the problem with jewelry is you might call something a solitaire ring, I might call it an engagement ring, and somebody else might call it simply a diamond ring.

Shaun:  [19:09] Yes.

Gary:  [19:10] And the problem we’ve always had is how do we get this cataloged and how do we find what they call it? How do they get into those things? And using your technology, on our site recently, has made that much easier, much, much easier for customers to get around.

Shaun:  [19:27] That’s great to hear. I’m pleased to hear that too. As someone who is using different names for essentially the same item, is it through the keyword search where they’re expressing those different names? Or is that reflected in the navigation as well?

Gary:  [19:43] Both.

Shaun:  [19:45] OK.

Gary:  [19:46] So, the keyword search will express that, but the facet navigation down the left‑hand side has allowed it… Instead of us calling something an eternity ring, for example, we just call it a full band. And a full band, most people conjure up as meaning a full band of diamonds, a half band of diamonds. So, we call it a full band of diamonds or a half band of diamonds. [20:04] Interestingly enough, we now sell a lot of eternity, what we call eternity rings, and traditionally have done, we sell them as wedding rings. Because people are buying a full band of diamond ring in their mind. And they had it, that visually, they had it as a wedding ring.

Shaun:  [20:18] Cool, because…

Gary:  [20:19] That’s the kind of thing that’s made it much better for us.

Shaun:  [20:22] That’s interesting. So, what are you biggest problems on your site at the moment? What are you working on?

Gary:  [20:30] The biggest problems we have… The biggest problems we have… Probably nothing on the site particularly. I would say the biggest problems we have, as every business will have, is meeting customer expectation. [20:43] As we’ve said, jewelry is a tricky business. We make a lot of the jewelry as we go along. People order wrong sizes. We get the sizes wrong occasionally, by just a fraction, half a sizing, and something goes wrong.

[20:56] The customer expectation, also, most people they order jewelry don’t do it on a whim. Most people are doing it for a birthday, an anniversary, an engagement, or something special. And they always have a deadline. And no matter how hard you try and emphasize throughout your website, or emails, or whatever you’re doing, please give us time to get your item ready for you, a lot of people have got tight deadlines. And that’s our biggest headache.

[21:22] And, of course, the flip side of that is, if we then have to have lots of lots of stock, waiting for somebody who has a deadline to buy, then the cost will go up. That’s our biggest headache is balancing the customer expectation with the reality of what we’re selling.

Shaun:  [21:37] So, how long does it take to complete an order when a piece has to be made?

Gary:  [21:45] Well, a lot of things we do… I’m making it sound like we’ve got nothing in stock. But earrings, pendants, bracelets, if we get an order for that this evening, providing we get that order by about 5:00 pm that day, it will go out that day. And it will be to the customer the very next day. [22:01] Where we’ve got a problem is that if the customer wants a size two and a half ring and we might only stock one size which is an M, so we’ll make them a two and a half. If it’s a solitaire ring, an engagement ring, traditionally that takes… We ask for a week to do that. But, if push comes to shove, we can do it in a day. But, it means somebody else has got…

Shaun:  [22:26] Has been pushed back.

Gary:  [22:28] Something else has got to give somewhere else.

Shaun:  [22:30] Yeah.

Gary:  [22:31] It’s mostly to do a ring and it’s mostly to do with non‑standard sizes, where it takes the time.

Shaun:  [22:39] So, how are you trying to address that?

Gary:  [22:42] As we get more and more data, and as we get more ideas of the lines which are selling more proficiently, and what sizes people like to buy, we’re able to preempt and actually premake a lot of the items up. And as our numbers of sales grow and as you get patterns emerging, then that’s what becomes easier to deal with. [23:05] This Christmas just gone, for example, was hugely busy. I mean, we were really busy. But, luckily, in about August, we’d worked out most of what we were going to need to stock up on based on the previous three or four years that we’ve been doing. So, it does get easier, over time, as you see patterns emerging.

Shaun:  [23:23] Right. That makes a lot of sense. So, do you have any changes that you’re looking to make in the coming year? That you’re working on at the moment.

Gary:  [23:35] Nothing that the customer are going to see. Last year was about changing things for the customers. So, it was about improving images, improving the navigation. The whole look and feel of the site changed. [23:47] This year, there’s several things that we’re doing for ourselves, at the back‑end, slightly better systems, all back‑end things that the customers aren’t going to see. So, nothing really other than sort of streamlining everything on our end and in the warehouse. Nothing really big this year. Next year, we’ll probably change our minds and do something else.

Shaun:  [laughs] [24:07] Excellent.

Gary:  [24:09] Nothing really that big this year. The thing I’d love to overcome a bit more is trying to engage a bit more with the customers while they’re on the website. We’ve got an idea on how to do that. I’ve never been a fan of live chat. I mean, it doesn’t really work. So, we’re trying to come up with our own version of something for that.

Shaun:  [24:27] OK. Oh, that sounds interesting as well.

Gary:  [24:29] If we could talk in real‑time, but with an open forum. I can’t articulate very well what we’ve got in mind, but we’ve got something in mind we’re working on.

Shaun:  [24:39] Well, we’ll watch that space as well. [laughter]

Shaun:  [24:43] And in terms of that interactive, do you have videos on your site?

Gary:  [24:47] No, videos is something else we’re looking at using. More to explain the different styles, and shapes of diamonds, and the different qualities you can buy, etc. Videos are becoming commonplace. [25:01] Also, for us, we actually thought about doing this when we first started. The problem was that most people didn’t have the capacity to download the video quick enough. And then it got put on the back burner and then other things come along. And video is something we’re actually going to get back into as well.

Shaun:  [25:16] Cool. Interesting.

Gary:  [25:18] I think it’s pretty important stuff actually.

Shaun:  [25:20] Yeah, yeah. Well, Gary, I think we’ll wrap it up there. But, I just want to thank you very much for sharing your experience today with our audience. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff there.

Gary:  [25:33] OK. Brilliant.

Shaun:  [25:35] Thank you very much. And that was Gary Ingram, Managing Director of The Diamond Store. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and that was the Ecommerce Podcast. [music]