The sales fluctuations most online retailers contend with are predictable—Q4 means big holiday business while mid-summer is often flat—but it’s a different story for e-retailer JM Bullion.
“Volatility drives our business,” says founder and CEO Mike Wittmeyer. That’s because JM Bullion sells precious metals such as gold and silver online, and it prices products in line with live market prices, plus a small markup. That means when the market price of a metal goes down, customer interest rises and JM Bullion gets an influx of sales. “If silver goes down 10% tomorrow, we will have big sales,” Wittmeyer says.
Events that trigger nervousness from investors also translate into precious metal sales. For instance, the period following the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union —Brexit—was one of the busiest times of 2016 for JM Bullion. “People look to metals as a safe haven,” Wittmeyer says.
JM Bullion began riding the precious metal roller coaster as an e-retailer five years ago. Wittmeyer, now 26, previously built informational websites with high search engine optimization value. In turn, he used those sites to work with e-retailers as an affiliate, referring traffic from his sites to theirs in exchange for a fee. In the precious metals space, Wittmeyer operated BuySilverBars.com and says he had an ongoing affiliate arrangement with a major precious metals seller.
But when the metals seller chose to end the affiliate arrangement, Wittmeyer decided to sell precious metals online himself and he redirected the traffic those SEO-rich sites were getting JM Bullion’s way. He self-funded JM Bullion’s first year in business, took on two angel investors in 2012 and started a business arrangement in 2014 with a publicly traded company in the precious metals space. Wittmeyer declines to name the company but says its involvement allows for “unlimited financing” to acquire inventory and for Wittmeyer and the 40-person JM Bullion team to focus on customer acquisition and marketing.
“It is very capital-intensive. To have a deep inventory costs a lot of money,” Wittmeyer says. JM Bullion hedges against the price of precious metals in the futures market to avoid feeling the impact of price swings on its own balance sheet.
The unnamed investor warehouses all of JM Bullion’s inventory and handles incoming inventory and outgoing fulfillment—a big and necessary change from the e-retailer’s earliest days when it stored millions of dollars’ worth of inventory in its offices.
The Dallas-based e-retailer took 600,000 orders in 2015 worth a total of $665 million, and 2016 sales will surpass that total, Wittmeyer says, declining to be more specific. Orders primarily come from two types of customers. The majority of JM Bullion’s customers are what are known in the precious metals industry as “stackers” who consistently order a “few hundred dollars-worth” of product from JM Bullion about every other week and stockpile it, Wittmeyer says. Investors make up the other primary customer segment and tend to place big orders when the price of metals changes. “This is the customer who, when the markets move violently, comes in with a $100K order,” he says, adding that some of these customers make precious metals part of their IRA savings plan. For IRA orders, the average order value usually is 50 times greater than JM Bullion’s typical order value.
To keep consumers engaged and buying, particularly when precious metal prices aren’t moving up or down much, JM Bullion commissions the production of several custom products available only through the e-retailer. For instance, it is working with the Royal Canadian Mint on six coin designs to appeal to collectors. The e-retailer also offers a different product each Monday at a deep discount. “This helps keep our core clients engaged,” Wittmeyer says.
All JM Bullion orders ship free to customers, and JM Bullion ships any order of $1,000 or more with UPS Next Day Air service as part of a high-value program UPS offers. These high-value orders are backed with private insurance and the short transit time means there is less of a chance of theft or loss.
The e-retailer employs three people full time whose jobs are to vet every transaction for risk. “We are always having to figure out the latest thing fraudsters and criminal rings are trying to do. We look at almost everything,” Wittmeyer says. The in-house risk team routinely verifies orders by phone or sometimes calls banks to verify wire transfer transactions. The e-retailer also works with payment processing and security service CyberSource, which is owned by Visa Inc. As part of its contract with the vendor, a CyberSource employee works on JM Bullion’s account full-time.
Wittmeyer says JM Bullion is on track to have a “good finish” to 2016 and sales have picked up since the U.S. general election. “Quite frankly, what happened in the election will put more focus on our space. It’s quite likely that there will be more questions or worry than there was last year.”