Luxury start-ups have many challenges, but when you inherit a 200 year-old family jewellery business, it can be daunting to make drastic changes. Nick Withington explains how he was able to build a successful online business on the solid foundations of very traditional values.
William May Jewellers is the online business of Mays Pawnbrokers and Jewellers, a Manchester family business that first opened as a department store before becoming a jewellery specialist. For almost two centuries, the business provided customers with specialised, high-quality watches and pre-loved jewellery and so it was important to build on this tradition when I entered the business in 2009.
Don’t underestimate the importance of great customer service
The company has always been extremely proud of its established reputation for putting the customer service experience first in everything we do. It was from this starting point that we decided to launch the William May website in 2014, combining our trusted customer service with a gap in the market for high quality investment pre-owned pieces of jewellery and watches, which are a fraction of the normal price.
It’s important for any business looking to move from bricks and mortar to online, to always put customer service at the forefront of everything you do. In the luxury market, and particularly when it comes to fine jewellery and watches, consumer trust is paramount. This was a strong foundation on which to build a new digital business. Our customer service
focus is entwined into the shopping experience, from visiting and browsing our site, right through to our speedy and secure delivery service that ensures you get your item quickly, in perfect condition, and in beautiful packaging.
One of the things we are most proud of is our low number of returns, which is down to the quality of our in-house photography, and very detailed information about all our products. We have also had very few issues with shipping and fraud because of the processes we’ve had in place since the launch of the site, which is important to get right from the start. At William May we set out to make the purchase journey as enjoyable and personal as possible, always aiming to give five-star service, which should be at the very heart of any luxury business.
Focus on well planned, well executed digital transformation
Our digital transformation began in 2014 when we launched the William May brand. The name pays homage to the first store opened by the Mays group in 1825. I was the new generation that came into this very traditional business to make the initial push to move online. I could see where the market was trending and was able to bring in a new set of digital skills with our web team.
Over the years, as the business has grown, it has been important to constantly re-evaluate our skills; expand the team as necessary and bring in key partners and agencies in specialised areas. It is vital to implement new technologies as they emerge to make the online shopping experience as easy as possible for the customer, and as cost-efficient as possible for the business.
Having said this, it is also important to invest as much, if not more, on a digital platform as any business would in bricks and mortar. We are investing in a new platform this year and will always be looking at ways to improve and grow. A digital transformation is not something that is done once but needs to be constantly evolving.
Keep an eye on consumer trends
The move to ecommerce was prompted by market changes. We saw the rise of the ecommerce giants, selling a cross-category range of products, but could also see a clear gap in the market for the pre-owned jewellery sector, which gave us the confidence to make the jump.
We very much tap into a general consumer movement away from fast fashion to more sustainable trends. Vintage has been a big trend for a while now and people generally are becoming more interested in products that you don’t just buy and throw away after a few wears. I could see that the pre-owned jewellery market was very fragmented, being a
mixture of larger companies such as eBay and Etsy along with smaller independents. So we have been able to compete extremely well by having an extensive product offering with a plethora of unusual unique items at very reasonable prices all on one website.
My advice for any luxury business would be to really get to know your market: who your customer is, what your competition is doing and where the gaps are in the market you can fill, so that you can target customers effectively and efficiently without wasting resources.
Finally, don’t skimp on marketing
On our site, we really do have something for everyone and one of our key USP’s is the sheer number of unique jewellery designs we stock. To cater for this, we have had to cast a wide net in our targeting, with a high level of marketing consistently running on all key digital platforms. We are also proud of our high Trustpilot ranking, which we highlight in our messaging to potential customers, and we’ve been honoured to have won jewellery industry awards in recognition of our work to revolutionise the way pre-owned and vintage jewellery is sold in the UK.
Nick Withington is owner and MD of William May Jewellers and was given a Retail Titan Award in 2021 by Professional Jeweller Magazine for his outstanding work to successfully revolutionise this traditional family jewellery business. www.william-may.co.uk