Digital commerce executive vice president Lee Senderov discusses jewelry parent company Richline Group’s 2018 highlight reel, including strong holiday sales, enhanced conversion rates after making its customer service number prominent on its site, its plans to launch a loyalty program and leaving China.

Ecommerce is shining bright at Richline Group, says Lee Senderov, executive vice president of digital commerce. Richline is the parent company of web-only jewelry retailers Gemvara.com, Jewelry.com, Honora.com and Silpada.com.

Across all of its brands, online sales increased by a double-digit percentage last year, Senderov says, citing the holiday season as a key driver of sales, as the five-week peak season generated about 30% of the retailer’s annual revenue.

“Q4 has a tremendous impact on us,” Senderov says. “We really spend the entire year gearing up for Q4.”

However, the 2018 holiday season was distinct from previous years because sales came in waves, with more peaks and valleys than the previous year, Senderov says. Online sales surged starting the day before Thanksgiving, and the retailer had an “extremely strong” Cyber Monday that generated a lot more sales than anticipated, she says. Sales “calmed down” in the first week of December before picking back up toward the end of December before the retailer’s get-it-in-time-by-Christmas cutoff.

Senderov attributes these surges to a few factors, including shoppers waiting for deals to start shopping and then waiting for them to come again to finish shopping.

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“As an industry, we’ve taught consumers that deals are coming,” she says. “Every year, Cyber Monday gets pushed earlier—it starts earlier and ends later.”

Seasonality and gifting for the jewelry category

Besides the holiday gifting season, the retailer attributes part of its fourth quarter sales surge—at least on its Gemvara.com site—to the popularity of getting engaged around Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, Senderov says.

In addition to the holiday season, other calendar holidays, such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, are also popular for the jewelry category. However, jewelry is not as popular of a gift during this time period as Senderov initially thought, and she believes the flower category has much more of a boom during these seasons. Part of this may have to do with consumers being more apt to purchase services as gifts, such as spa gift cards, than they were in previous decades, she says.

Richline last year added a few new features to Gemvara to better assist consumers who are shopping for a gift for someone else. The retailer switched its customer service live chat vendor in late 2018 to now use Zendesk Inc. for more personalized initial chat messages.

For example, Gemvara sells high-end jewelry such as an engagement rings or wedding bands. Shoppers do a lot of research before making that purchase. And so, not every live chat should begin with, “How can we help you?” Instead, Gemvara now has the initial live chat prompts explain more about the product. For example, if the shopper is on an engagement ring page with amethyst stone, and it is the shopper’s first visit to the page, the prompt may be, “Did you know that most amethysts come from Brazil?” However, on the eighth visit to that page, the live chat prompt may be, “Are you ready to pop the question?”

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Phone conversations boost conversion

Another update that Richline made to Gemvara.com in the third quarter was to promote its customer service phone number across its site on the header of each page and using a phone icon button on its mobile site.

“I know it’s crazy to talk about phones in a world when everything is done on chat or text,” Senderov says. But jewelry is a high-trust category and shoppers need to feel like they trust where they are buying their product from, she says.

And so Gemvara’s customer service agents can help. Its agents are called jewelry consultants, as they’ve been trained to have jewelry knowledge to assist shoppers. For example, they can explain why shoppers should upgrade to 18 karat gold instead of 14 karat gold, which are nuances that may be hard to understand for the average consumers.

Shoppers call in with general questions, such as where the retailer sources its products, but often, they are looking for help making a decision: “My girlfriend loves emerald, how should I incorporate that into the ring?” or “How much bigger can the stone be if I use moissanite versus diamond?”

These phone conversations have an exceptionally high conversion rate compared with its normal web conversion rate, Senderov says. Because shoppers spend a significant amount of time researching the category, the retailer doesn’t have the average 2-3% conversion rate that other categories do. That’s why any boost it can provide can helps.

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Retailers in other categories often try to hide their phone number because of the costs associated with customer service agents and how much money they make per order. At Gemvara.com, an increase in phone calls is definitely worth the cost, Senderov says. In fact, the retailer hired another agent, to bring its total to five, to handle the volume.

Richline is considering making these changes—the enhanced live chat and promoting its phone number—in its other ecommerce sites but is first testing it on Gemvara. Because Gemvara has such a higher average order value than its other sites, from a margin standpoint, there are more margin dollars to be made there, which is why the site is prioritized, she says.

For 2019, Richline plans to launch a loyalty program. The retailer wants its high repeat shoppers to become more of an ambassador for its brand and then reward them for that, Senderov says. Currently, the retailer does not use its customer data to market across its brands. The retailer wants to look into creating different segment groups for shoppers that would be interested in its other products at a different brand. But Richline wants to be careful about not bombarding shoppers with messages that aren’t relevant, so it plans to thoughtfully segment its group, she says.

China exit

After three years of selling its Silpada products on the Tmall marketplace, Richline last year decided to finish 2018 and then suspend its operations.

Senderov points to several challenges including the language barrier, different consumer expectations and not selling an internationally renowned brand.

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“China is really hard,” Senderov says. “We needed to have a better grasp on our strategy before we poured more and more resources there.”

Plus, there is still plenty of room for growth in the U.S., she says. Both in terms of Richline’s market share and ecommerce in the jewelry category.

“There’s so much opportunity for innovation and it’s an exciting part of my job figuring out how we will be buying jewelry for the next five to 10 years,” Senderov says.

Richline is No. 42 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000 and Tmall is No. 2 in the Internet Retailer Online Marketplaces.

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