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Bec ClarkeAstleyClarke.com, an online retailer of exclusive jewellery, launched its redesigned website this week, as well as a revamped showroom in London. 

The company has been trading for three years, and received £2.75m of investment from Index Ventures in 2008.

I've been talking to Founder and MD Bec Clarke about the company, the thinking behind the new website, and the challenges of selling luxury goods online...

When did you launch AstleyClarke?

We've been trading now for almost three years. I think that there is a new luxury consumer out there who is very much an online shopper, this applies to both men and women. They are looking for unique and exclusive products online and sites like ours are appealing to these consumers.

We source jewellery from all around the world, and everything on the site is exclusive to us. We have built up a loyal following of customers.

What was the thinking behind the site relaunch?

We raised £2.75m in funding last year from Index Ventures and have used this investment to set about professionalising the website and honing our proposition.

There were certain elements that we needed to upgrade to meet the requirements of our customers, which is the reason for the relaunched site. They are looking for inspirational content, as well as better product photos and features.

Which new features / tools have you added to the site?

The old version was very basic, but this new website is a big step forward. There are a number of new additions, as well as improvements to existing features. For example, we have introduced showcase featuring for high-end products between £2,000 and £20,000.

Also, the connoisseurs, customers who have a lot of knowledge of jewellery can now search by specific gems, we have made the faceted navigation very granular.

The new website offers a functional but luxurious feel. We have added more content from people like Tiffanie Darke, the Editor of The Sunday Times Style magazine, who lists her ten favourite things on the site.

The site aims to offer validation and reassurance through content and photography. We make an effort with product descriptions too, looking at detailed descriptions of products and their provenance.

This is key when you are asking people to buy expensive jewellery. After all, cheap jewellery can also look good, but the difference is that it isn't made exclusively by one lady in Milan, so this provenance and exclusivity needs to be emphasised to consumers.

You have a showroom in London, did this come before the website?

The showroom was launched after the website, we opened it partly for for press and promotional events such as VIP evenings. We do have customers who prefer to come into the store, though we're not precious about how people want to shop.

Our internet presence is the main source of business, and it gets us before a much larger audience than our showroom, and 95% of sales through the website.

The company is all built around the site though, and the vast majority of our customers come via the internet, though we do have some VIP customers who prefer to come into the store and try items on, though online customers can try things on and send them back if they aren't satisfied.

The store is something that helps to build our brand experience, which is very high-end. It also provides the opportunity to talk to customers and get some valuable feedback from them.

When you first launched, and before your brand / website was known to consumers, was there an initial reluctance to buy such big ticket items online? How did you overcome this?

We did have an initial job of building trust with customers, something we managed to do through a combination of factors; good content on the site, the next day delivery option, having the option of receiving support at the end of the telephone through our personal shoppers, as well as having clear contact details on site, a central London address. 

This had the effect of building trust around the products and the content on our website. Then, once customers has made their first purchase and were happy with both the products and service received, we gained their trust and many were happy to shop with us again.

How does the personal shopper option work?Do many customers use it?

The option is provided on our product pages and throughout the site, and we empl;oy two people who are experts across our entire product range, and that is our personal shopper and customer service combined.

Customers will often want to discuss particular products and seek some more information or reassurance about them, while others will call looking for recommendations e.g. men looking to buy a gift for their wives who need some advice to find the most suitable gift.

Is the company in profit?

Not yet, as we have invested in the business and website over the past year. We have a policy of not talking about it publicly, although we do expect to be in profit late next year.

What delivery options do you offer?

There are a few different delivery options, but nothing slower than next day, We do have a same day service within the M25 area, and this has been valuable, as  some people might want their goods that evening, or as urgent anniversary presents. Same day delivery makes up 10-15% of our total orders.

How have you approached the marketing of the site?

Our approach has been to use a little of everything: plenty of consumer PR and private customer events, as well as paid search and SEO, and have affiliations with other luxury brands. We have also built up a valuable email database of 60,000 people.

Have you used social media?

We have people blogging for us, as well as a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but at the moment it's hard to tell how effective these have been. We have quite a grown up, customer base, many are in their 40s or over, so I'm not sure whether we will be able to recruit these consumers through social media.

Graham Charlton

Published 24 September, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (2)

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George - Planet Anarky

This is an interesting article, both in terms of how a startup can make inroads to becoming a successful, predominantly-online business model during financially testing times - and purely in terms of how they look to achieve this through a well-built and nicely-designed site.

It'd be good to see what kind of impact social media is (or isn't) having on the site given their 'mature' user base. Plenty of search agencies offer sentiment monitoring and similar services, and this could be a great way of getting a better idea of whether this approach is working for them.

Similarly, they mention 'people blogging' for them: I'd be interested to know in what context this is happening, and whether this could be augmented by a slug of marketing budget towards things like advertorials and so on to help with natural search.

over 6 years ago

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selina howells

A niche, online business like this - I'd guess products are made to order and it carries no stock - should be profitable from day one if it is going to work at all.  £2.75m in funding from Index Ventures? Madness.

over 6 years ago

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