Taking Your Business Online
For both retailers and wholesalers of diamonds and diamond jewelry, the development of an online strategy is no longer a marketing alternative but rather a strategic imperative. Consumers today almost invariably begin their decision-making process with an online search, even if they prefer completing the sale face-to-face with the supplier. In conducting that search, they are looking for more than just information about the vendor, but also for the specific products they wish to purchase.
The solution for retailers and wholesalers is to include on their company website a search module, enabling prospective customers to look for the specific diamonds the company is able to supply. The data being searched does not necessarily include merchandise in the possession of the vendor, but rather is contributed by retailer or wholesalers’ own suppliers, with the actual goods being delivered only if required.
For diamond and diamond jewelry companies that are beginning the task of taking their businesses online, or firms looking to upgrade their existing online operations, a myriad of options are available. The one that should be selected is that which best meets the strategic goals of the company, its budget and its technical capability.
MID House of Diamonds is happy assist its clients in making the online journey, providing counsel, support and actual tools that enable them to display the MID inventory as their own.
The following is brief guide to the process that should be followed.
What you’ll learn in this article:
DEFINING AN ONLINE STRATEGY
Before selecting actual tools and services, it is important to delineate what you plan to achieve with your online service.
It is important to appreciate that the online service is a tool designed to achieve a business objective, and not an objective in and of itself. And just as your business goals may change with time and experience, possibly expanding in scope and becoming bolder, so will you be able to upgrade your online offering.
1. The exclusively marketing option
In this case, your goal is to make contact with prospective clients and convince them that your store is able to fulfil their product needs. Actual sales take place offline, in the store itself, meaning that viable clients must reside within a given geographic area.
2. The hybrid option
Here, the online service is both a marketing and sales tool, meaning that it is designed to both draw clients into stores, where they can interact with sales staff transactions will be finalized face to face, as well as provide the option of completing sales online. This means that the company can develop a customer base that extends far beyond its physical location. However, because goods will have to delivered long distance, the strategy demands a more sophisticated logistics capability than the exclusively marketing option.
3. The virtual store option
This the all-in alternative, where there is no physical store and the entire business is managed online, from marketing through sales. Consequently, the company’s entire operational budget will be invested in the development of its online capability, as well as the logistics required to deliver merchandise and to service its customer base. Because these businesses do not enjoy the luxury of face-to-face communication with their clients, competitive pricing and a preferential relationship with their suppliers are of paramount importance.
SET UP YOUR ONLINE BUSINESS
The simple approach
It is possible to set up an online sales service literally in minutes, and at reasonable cost. This can be done by way of an aggregator, which is a trading network that accumulates inventory data that has been uploaded by multiple diamond suppliers, and then enabling jewelers to display those goods on their own websites as their own.
Among the most widely-used aggregators are Rapnet, IDEX, Polygon, GemFind and Virtual Diamond Boutique. Companies who subscribe to their services can select which diamond suppliers they prefer to work (one of which is MID House of Diamonds), or alternatively they can display goods uploaded by all suppliers, according to the criteria that they themselves have supplied.
So that aggregator subscribers may enable their own clients to run searches and display the results, the aggregators offer predesigned widgets, which are templates of diamond search tools. These are embedded into an iFrame on a page of the subscriber’s website, simply by cutting and pasting a line of HTML code supplied by the aggregator.
The search tools are generally quite flexible, including the types of search criteria that will be provided and the information about the diamonds listed. If a company wants to display prices for specific stones, they can provide fixed markups. They also can link to grading reports, photos and 3-D images.
If diamond retailers or wholesalers would like to include their own merchandise in the search being conducted on their websites, they can do so by signing up as vendors with their aggregators, and then selecting themselves as one of their own suppliers. By listing their own goods via the aggregator, they also will have the opportunity of selling through other retailers, but, if they choose not to, they can select a setting by which other subscribers will not be able to see their diamonds.
ADDING A SALES CAPACITY
To be able to make sales online, one requires shopping cart software to manage orders, collect shipping information and enable payments. These applications also include search modules, and their back offices may facilitate real time inventory updates.
The least expensive shopping cart options generally involve hosted ecommerce software, providing everything from domain name registration to the tools you need to build the website. However, they generally are limited in the degree to which they can be customized. Among the better-known brands are Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix and Volusion. More customizable hosted platforms are Opencart, Woocommerce, Prestashop and Magento. Some require the services of professional support staff.
The third approach is to custom build your ecommerce site, providing it with a look, feel and customer experience that is unique to your brand, with exactly the features and functions you require. This option almost certainly demands the largest investment, requiring designers, programmers and support staff. But for companies running large virtual stores, it often is the favored approach.
Once you have set up your ecommerce website, you need to populate it with inventory. These come by way of APIs (application programming interfaces), which allow the businesses to display merchandise from outside data feeds that prior to a sale remains in the possession of stones’ supplier, but are displayed so they appear to be the ecommerce site’s own offering. To these the ecommerce operators can add inventory that they have in their possession.
The data received may come by way of one the major aggregators, in a readable file formats such as CSV, XML or JSON, and include the inventory of multiple companies, which can be selected by the ecommerce site (among them MID House of Diamonds), with the ecommerce website operator selecting exactly what information will be received and displayed. The data feeds are updated on a regular basis.
But feeds from aggregators do have their drawbacks. One is that that the same stone is frequently displayed on multiple websites, with prices that may be widely divergent, and certain of diamonds listed may no longer be available. The alternative to develop a close working relationship with one or more trusted diamond suppliers, which have the capability of independently provide their own API feeds. One of the most prominent diamond companies offering the service is MID House of Diamonds.
For companies selecting to obtain data directly from MID House of Diamonds, the company has created an easy-to-use online API module, via which the ecommerce retailer is able to set criteria as to what specific stones should be included from MID’s inventory, and what specific data should be displayed after a search, including links to images of the diamonds and their respective grading reports. MID listings provide links gem-grading reports, phots of the diamonds, and 3-D images, which can be turned and manipulated in the same way one would do if examining the stone physically under a loupe. These have been produced using the Vision 360 system.
LISTING SERVICES PROVIDERS