Two months back, just before Livyora , an online British brand for fine jewellery, was launched formally at the British high commissioner’s residence in Delhi, Shefaly Yogendra, its founding chief operating officer, sat at the recently redone Oxford Book Store in Connaught Place, discussing the challenges of selling precious jewellery online. Especially in India, as the website does not yet offer the option of cash payment (the most preferred way for Indians to buy jewellery).
Would a primarily “made in India” design strategy (so what’s new, you wonder) be enough to seduce a global clientele? Yogendra, however, was optimistic, arguing that saving shopping time in malls and retail outlets is becoming more important for sophisticated customers across the globe. She herself began shopping online in 1997, and never buys from stores now.
Livyora jewellery, made in 18-carat gold and hardened with palladium, uses high-clarity diamonds and is created in the UK, Mumbai and Bikaner. A hallmark certificate, accompanied by one that verifies the component metals and stones, comes with each purchase. The brand, says Yogendra, attempts designs that transcend cultures. Besides Yogendra, who leads product design and strategy, the other two co-founders are Chirdeep Chhabra, a business technology professional, and Tarudeep Vaid, a gemologist—they speak 10 languages between them. Here Yogendra tells us why stone-studded jewellery has a growing market globally despite the rise in gold prices. Edited excerpts:
Did you do a market study to gather the confidence to launch a fine jewellery brand online?
One of our co-founders, Tarudeep Vaid, is a senior gemologist and jeweller who brings a solid understanding of the supply chain. India’s jewellery market is valued at an estimated Rs.1.2 trillion by various sources, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, India. Only 5% of this market is branded or organized. There is, therefore, a fabulous opportunity to create a new fine jewellery brand. As for the online aspects, India is well ahead on e-commerce in certain categories, such as travel, and is gaining confidence buying other goods online too. We see the emergence of several unique payment and selling models in India, not seen in other markets. As an increasingly sophisticated Indian consumer of fine products and design emerges, we decided it was time to bring in Livyora.
Most of your designs have an Indian design aesthetic. So who is your primary clientele?
The Overture collection launched in India was inspired by Mughal architecture and art so it may appear that the aesthetic is Indian. However, Mughal architecture contains elements of Persian and Turkish aesthetic, which is not a stranger to non-Indian audiences. In fact, the Web being borderless, we are encouraged by the keen interest in the Overture collection expressed by persons, not of Indian origin, from London and New York. Our ideal buyer is a woman who is at home in many cultures, roles and situations. Her directional Livyora jewellery serves her wishes, rather than constraining her to specific roles or situations. In terms of socio-economics, we would say she is SEC A1/ A2 (the top two consumer segment classifications).
Where do you stand in comparison with other Indian jewellery brands in terms of competitiveness of design, pricing, ease of shopping?
Our design ethos is our unique selling proposition. We aim to create directional capsule collections that transcend cultures. Our target customers in India have found our pricing competitive and the finish and quality of the products nonpareil. Large spending on purchasing goods online is still new to Indian customers, so we are holding private viewings where they can see the product, meet us, place orders and start building a relationship with us.
Recent fluctuations in gold prices have made fine jewellery a complicated buying experience. How does it affect Livyora?
We focus on the adornment and bequest aspects of jewellery. These are discretionary purchases for our target customer. She does, of course, make investment in gold but delicate, designer jewellery is not for her gold investment. We understand and empathize with the Indian customer, who sees gold as an investment and whose decisions are influenced by gold price fluctuations and the uncertainty. However, gold jewellery contains gold mixed with strengthening metals; especially that studded with precious stones is not something that can be easily converted to liquid cash. When such jewellery is converted to cash, a large per cent of the growth in value, sometimes up to 25%, may be lost to what Indian jewellers delicately call “wastage”. Gold bullion is definitely smart investment but the widely-held belief that studded gold jewellery is an ideal way to hold gold investment needs to be thought about more critically.
All payments on your site are through the National Electronic Funds Transfer (Neft) or Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) in India. This is not how Indians traditionally buy jewellery. How will you get past this? What about payment modes for other countries?
We are a British company working to British standards of governance, transparency and compliance. In India, consumer preferences regarding paying for purchases of gold or jewellery may sometimes be at odds with what the Indian government requires companies to do for transparency and governance. This conflict makes it harder to do business in India with the mass market.
Luckily our target audience is the woman, who neither needs permission nor must give an explanation for her jewellery purchases. Typically, our customers are professionals, whose incomes are fully accounted for and who prefer to write cheques, make bank transfers, or pay by a debit or credit card. Cash customers willing to identify themselves and provide a bona-fide address are no different. In India, this is a substantial market opportunity.
Currently we offer mainly Neft for Indian customers and plan to roll out credit or debit card payment facilities shortly. In other markets, the option to pay online will be available to Livyora’s customers, right from the beginning.