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Over the past decade, UK luxury jeweller Boodles has shifted its strategic focus from growing as a retailer to growing as a brand, with the launch of an e-commerce site its latest move. One of the 6th generation members of the owning family, James Amos, spoke to Euromonitor International about his ambitions for e-commerce and its relevance to future plans for international expansion.
James Amos is upbeat about Boodles’s new e-commerce platform. He has been its mastermind and ambassador, after all. And while he acknowledges that the development of an
online channel to sell luxury jewellery still has its doubters, he is committed to winning them over. “It’s about changing people’s mind-set”, he told Euromonitor International.
The first week of going live bodes well for him, with online sales coming on stream from cities as wide ranging as Hong Kong, New York, Liverpool and London. Mr. Amos draws particular attention to the sale of a piece of jewellery in Hong Kong. This came from someone who landed on the site by keying “Boodles online shopping” into Google. It is exactly the type of windfall new customer he had hoped for.
That Hong Kong customer spent around £3,000, which as a price point is probably going to be the sweet spot of Boodles’s online opportunity. The e-commerce site offers jewellery ranging in price from £500 to £20,000. But, the company recognises that customers are unlikely to buy high end pieces such as single stone diamond rings or one offs online, so the emphasis is on more affordable, repeatable jewellery (Boodles’s so-called iconic range).
“£10,000 is probably the glass ceiling, but we’ve got iconic pieces up to £20,000 if it suits someone to spend more”, explains Mr. Amos. He believes that e-commerce has potential to fuel around 10% of the company’s sales, at least that is the “big picture” goal. He concedes that a share of 3-5% is the “probable reality” over the next few years.
Selling jewellery on the internet is a far cry from the days when Boodles operated as an old-fashioned, albeit highly respected, jewellery retailer in the northwest of England. James Amos’s family has been in the business since the 1890’s, when Boodles merged with another jewellery business, Wainwrights. The company grew steadily over the next century where Boodles was a buyer and seller of traditional jewellery, from carriage clocks to engagement rings.
The shift from a jewellery retailer to a jewellery brand began when Boodles started designing its own luxury pieces and commissioned a creative agency to drive its profile. The home base effectively shifted from Liverpool to London. And, these days, international customers, particularly in the Bond Street shop and stores inside Harrods and the London Savoy Hotel, are among the key drivers of sales.
The development of an online footprint is seen as integral to the company’s strategic shift, and is also part of a wider international agenda that will take shape over the next five years. Boodles piloted its first non-UK position last year, in Hong Kong, through a presence in the department store Lane Crawford.
However, Mr. Amos believes that the future in Hong Kong in a standalone store is about getting the timing right. “We are trying to build up our international presence in Hong Kong and Asia before going it alone”, he says.
This is where he hopes the online platform will help. As a window on the world, the internet is a way of building a bigger international customer base that will act as a complement, possibly even a springboard, to new standalone stores both in developed and emerging regions. As such, the company sees international expansion and online development as going hand-in-hand.
There are myriad challenges ahead, of course. The company needs to work on improving how the online site looks, which Mr. Amos says is his next project. It also needs to ensure the design of its jewellery right if it is to maximise opportunities in China and emerging Asia.
China’s new generation of high net worth individuals are known to be demanding and specific in what they want and expect from luxury products. Luxury goods retailers and manufacturers have to align their portfolios with China, therefore, rather than the other way around.
Mr. Amos believes that the Boodles brand – in its current guise – might do better in the United States than in China, at least in the early stages. Boodles has inimitable British heritage, after all, and that works well with US consumers. This is clear from US demand for Boodles jewellery in London. Furthermore, fellow British luxury goods company, Mulberry, has seen some of its strongest sales in its New York stores over the past two years.
A Boodles store in New York would also grow the prestige value of Boodles with new emerging market consumers. As things stand, there is no clear strategy for the US. But, one gets the sense that it is only a matter of time before we see a Boodles outlet in New York’s SoHo or Madison Avenue.
Mr. Amos is clear that, as attractive as e-commerce might be as a corridor into a wider global audience, it is no substitute for bricks and mortar when it comes to building a stronger international position. “The international picture is the big one and e-commerce slots into it”, he says. “If it can help – which I’m sure it will – then great. But, the international move and the timing is a much bigger project.”
No matter how the e-commerce site develops, Boodles will always be about the personal touch. That is what the company has built much of its reputation on, and it is what the
company knows best. For example, I asked James Amos what his policy would be if a customer bought a £20,000 piece of jewellery online, but then wanted to return it. He stated that there is a clear and transparent refund policy and if someone wanted a refund they would always be given one. In the instance of a £20,000 figure he would probably hand deliver the piece himself so could discuss it there and then.
Boodles has moved into the art of branding, but has not lost sight that there are multiple layers to selling an expensive piece of jewellery. “Human to human interaction is always going to be better than human to computer, so we’ve got to be realistic about that, but I think e-commerce has to be there to sit in tandem with everything else, to give (consumers) that option.”