“As internet connectivity continues to improve and more and more customers adopt e-commerce, online jewellery retail will continue to benefit from this transition.”
Breaking all the traditional codes of selling jewellery in India, CaratLane.com was founded in 2008 to cater to jewellery needs of millennial Indian women and today, it is noted among the top 20 e-commerce portals in India. Adding new chapters to its success story, it has set up 21 physical stores across India and partnered with jewellery retail giant – Tanishq. Mithun Sacheti, co- founder and CEO of CaratLane.com has realised the potential of e-commerce in scaling up the jewellery business in India and thus laid the blueprint for CaratLane.com. In an exclusive interview given to Praveer Sinha, Deputy Editor, Floroscent, he sheds light on his strategic online venture, association with Tanishq and broadly, on how e-commerce can bring about a transformational change in the jewellery retail landscape of India.
For the benefit of our readers, tell us about the evolution of CaratLane.com, how has been its growth so far as an online retail jewellery brand and the company’s key milestones and accomplishments.
I come from a family of jewellers and my passion to expand my family business drove me to set up our first store (for Jaipur Gems) in South India (Chennai). However, I started to realise the huge potential of online retail in India and also that consumers didn’t necessarily have a lot of choices when it came to jewellery. Gold prices had been continuously rising. We spoke to dozens and dozens of women across the country, hundreds, actually, about their tastes, their lifestyles, what was important to them. We discovered a crazy paradox. Despite their love for jewellery and how important jewellery is for their personal style and individuality, most women were forced to keep their jewellery in bank lockers where it was safe but unwearable on an everyday basis.
We started CaratLane in 2008 to address these concerns. We started by designing jewellery that was modern and affordable. Jewellery that would fit today’s lifestyle and could be worn everyday and not relegated to the lockers. Then, we made them available on the web for anyone to browse and purchase from anywhere in India. We put up our jewellery, the specifications and the pricing transparently online – something that traditional jewellers never did.
Selling solitaires and diamond jewellery over the internet from 2008, it’s been a journey of crossing milestone after milestone for CaratLane. Since the inception we have challenged the traditional codes of jewellery by innovating with the product and retail environment – both online and offline. We were India’s first truly omni-channel jewellery brand. Another key milestone for us is Titan’s majority acquisition into CaratLane. With this partnership, the best of India’s jewellery brands now belong together. Jewellery lovers can look forward to more choices and designs, as a result of the partnership and India’s jewellery buying experience continues to evolve, only faster. Through this partnership, we have been able to make greater progress in making beautiful and affordable jewellery even more accessible.
Apart from offering one-of-a-kind jewellery, what other services the company provides to engage with consumers?
There are a few things signature to CaratLane – few, but very effective in bringing together a jewellery buying revolution. It begins with our innate quest to combine art and technology, which we brought together through our StreamLaneTM system. It eliminates inefficiencies from the supply chain. It keeps our overheads low, enables us to get our items delivered efficiently and results in savings of up to 20 per cent over traditional retail stores.
Our jewellery is designed to minimise unnecessary gold weight and instead focus on the aesthetic appeal of the jewellery. It is designed to suit modern lifestyle needs, so that women can wear it every day.
Our philosophy at CaratLane is driven by the fact that we want people to be able to buy our jewellery through whichever channel they are most comfortable. For instance, if they are comfortable buying online and getting the product delivered directly to their house, then they can buy the item through our website or our mobile app. If, on the other hand, they would prefer to touch, feel and try on the product before buying, then they can visit our stores.
What are the major changes that took place in the gem and jewellery industry because of e-commerce?
E-commerce has enabled a whole new channel for the gems and jewellery industry to explore. Customers are spending more and more time online and many jewellers are beginning to recognise this fact. However, as an industry, we have only just started building on the e-commerce opportunity. We have a long way to go before this becomes a dominant channel for many jewellers.
At present, who do you think are the consumers who buy jewellery online?
There has been a fundamental shift in the consumer outlook. The consumer is simultaneously on more than one channel. One in three consumers is simultaneously on his or her cell phone while watching television. While the traditional place of discovery used to be the store or word of mouth, today this has shifted to become the social and digital media. Our key focus has really been to build a stronger connect with the consumer through our omni-channel presence.
Our customers are largely in the age group of 25 to 45 years, with the core segment being young, successful and financially independent Indian millennial women – breaking through stereotypes to forge a new identity which reflects in their sense of style. These women base their decisions on the power of knowledge and access to information. Moreover, when it comes to jewellery, they no longer wear jewellery to look beautiful or to elicit compliments but because it makes them feel beautiful.
What are some of the key challenges in the jewellery e-commerce business and how CaratLane is planning to address them?
Our biggest challenge has been to build trust and to be able to get consumers a ‘touch and feel’ experience, even though we started as an online jeweller. Over the years, we rolled out various initiatives such as our Try@Home facility that allows customers to shortlist items online and then, request for a free trial at their home and the Perfect Look App which is the world’s first virtual 3D jewellery try-on app that allows our customers to virtually try on earrings and see how it will actually look on them. More recently, we started opening stores making us a truly omni-channel retailer. The investment by Titan and the partnership with Tanishq, India’s leading jewellery brands, has certainly infused a greater degree of trust amongst potential buyers at CaratLane.
Does it make better business sense to have a regular brick-and-mortar store as well as an online business simultaneously?
Yes certainly! There is an opportunity for online and brick-and-mortar set-up to leverage each other’s strengths. We already have 21 retail stores across India and are planning to open more stores in the coming months. Our stores are very different from the typical Indian jewellery store, which tend to be very large, with a guard and an usher who walks you in. Our stores are designed for the customer who walks into a mall or a duty-free shop. There is no glass and you can walk right up to the products. You can touch, feel and experience the jewellery without any pressure. It’s more inviting than what the retail store environment currently is in India. Our stores allow our customers to touch, feel and experience the brand and with such format, it only helps our business. Our brick-and-mortar presence complements our online presence rather than compete with it.
How you look at the number of regulatory changes brought about by the central government (PAN card rule, demonetisation and GST)? Do you see an upheaval in the online market place?
With so many regulatory changes, there has been a fair degree of uncertainty in the industry. However, as a business practice, we stay focussed on our vision and don’t let these changes distract us. As and when a change happens, we adapt our business to address it. We have not seen any long term impact in the behaviour of online buyers due to any of these regulatory changes.
How do you see the growth of online jewellery retail in the next five years?
There is a huge opportunity for online jewellery retail In India and is expected to see reasonable growth in the coming years. Online retailing provides immense benefits to customers, including the ability to browse through a large portfolio of products without going to a physical store. It also brings in a new level of transparency, with product specifications and prices clearly mentioned on the website. As internet connectivity continues to improve and more and more customers adopt e-commerce, online jewellery retail will continue to benefit from this transition. There is a dynamic change in consumer preferences due to exposure, which has made the customer more astute and aware about trends and quality. I expect the online jewellery business to continue to grow well ahead of the retail market growth over the next five years.