One of the great levellers the internet has brought with it is that now, almost anyone can be a retailer.As long as you have a supplier, space for your stock – which can be anything from a rented warehouse to a spare room in your home – and an internet connection, you have the fundamentals in place to start making sales. But this facility presents a new challenge: how do you convince customers that your company is legitimate and trustworthy? For some online retailers, this might not be such an issue. If you’re selling relatively low-cost items and your site is credible and supported by positive customer feedback, most online shoppers will be willing to take a chance and buy from a place they haven’t been to before. When you’re retailing what would be considered big-ticket items, however, customers can be understandably hesitant to deal with a company they’ve never “met”. In spite of the growth of online retail, this is one area where the high street is still king. Bricks and mortar offer reassurance – you’re dealing with real people with whom you can talked over purchasing options, and the store will (presumably) still be there in a few months if you run into any problems. Before we launched 77 Diamonds, we knew this would be one of the challenges we’d face. Apart from the issue of establishing a reputation as a trustworthy dealer, there were the diamonds themselves: jewellery is such a tactile commodity, and who doesn’t want to hold a diamond in their hands before they buy it? We knew that we wanted to trade online, because the efficiencies of online retail gave us one of our strongest USPs: the same quality items at a lower price than high street jewellers. But how could we convince people to make transactions involving hundreds, even thousands of pounds with a business that has no visible physical presence? My background is in online marketing, and one valuable lesson I’ve learned is that no retail business “operates online”. You may be using the internet as a tool to reach your customers, and your customers may be using it to place orders, but at the end of the day your business is built on real products and real people. This is why it quickly became clear that we would need a showroom: somewhere customers could come to meet us in person, take their time to browse through the diamonds themselves, and generally reassure themselves that we do everything a traditional high street jeweller does. In our new Mayfair showroom, to which we relocated last summer, we go through the same step-by-step process with our customers as if they were buying from us online, even using tablets to produce bespoke CAD jewellery designs while they’re with us. In some ways, the showroom is an extension of the website – but it’s a vital one, and one that generates referrals, repeat business and satisfied customers. Succeeding as an online retailer depends on a great many factors, but one that that’s held true since the bricks and mortar era is that people appreciate being treated as individuals, not as orders to be filled. As more and more retailers shun the high street and migrate online, the ability to provide the personal touch will increasingly become a differentiating factor that can make – or break – your business. Tobias Kormind is the founder of 77 Diamonds.
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