Retailers are cultivating fans, followers, and clients worldwide with these free websites that turn photos into social media stars
Nowadays, about 60 percent of Liz Zusev’s online sales come from out of state—a phenomenon she can only attribute to active use of photo-intense social networking websites. The social media director of Somewhere in Time Fine Jewelry in Carlsbad, Calif., relies on both Pinterest, a virtual bulletin board, and Tumblr, a micro-blogging site, to connect with customers both old and new.
Thousands of people see the images of antique jewels she posts a few times a week, and she’s even sold a few items. In early March, a 14k white gold filigree and amethyst ring went to a buyer in Kentucky, and later that month, an Art Nouveau dragon brooch with an opal center sold to a woman in Maryland. Both customers were new, and the images “got a ton of views on both sites,” says Zusev.
Sales ultimately take place through the store’s website or Etsy account (SIT Fine Jewelry), making it difficult to determine a customer’s entry point. But the link between post and purchase is becoming more apparent. “When I blog on Tumblr and pin on Pinterest, it widens our audience so much for people who would have never otherwise been able to walk into the store,” she says.
Raymond Lee likes to show off its prize pieces, like these Van Cleef & Arpels coral, green onyx, and diamond earrings
Zusev is among a growing contingent of retail jewelers who are flocking to community image-sharing sites. Fans of the websites believe that they help expose merchandise to more people, and ultimately help sell items faster. (An average of just three months pass from post to sale, Zusev says, versus the typical one-year turn common in many jewelry stores, according to the 2011 Jewelers of America Cost of Doing Business Survey.)
When fans share pictures, they inadvertently increase traffic to original posting sites, where businesses can provide more information about products and how to buy them. Plus, these sites generate more fans on Facebook pages and followers on Twitter, which helps keep firms top-of-mind for enthusiasts.
According to Denise Wakeman, an online visibility expert from Los Angeles, the sites help build communities of fans, enable more communication with them, and create more intimate feedback. “They are especially great for businesses that sell physical products because they have an opportunity to reach much wider audiences than they may have locally,” she says.
Another Raymond Lee estate special: Cartier Pasha with sapphire cabochons
And perhaps most important: Image-sharing sites are free to use—not to mention infectiously entertaining, poising them for rapid growth. Data from a recent JCK/W magazine study of luxury consumers showed that Pinterest and Tumblr, as well as Instagram—purchased by Facebook in April for $1 billion, the photo-sharing app allows users to apply different filters to pictures—have huge awareness: Pinterest boasts more than 10 million registered users, Tumblr gets 13 million page views a month, and more than 100 million people have uploaded photos to Instagram in the past eight months. And according to comScore, Pinterest had 17.8 million unique visitors in February—a 52 percent increase from January.
“Pinterest allows businesses and customers to share common interests and develop relationships more quickly,” says Calvin Smith, owner of Calvin’s Fine Jewelry in Austin, Texas. That, in turn, helps break barriers, and creates “meaningful leads that can be converted to multiple sales and loyal customers,” he adds.
Liz Edmunds realized the power of Pinterest last year when she was invited to beta test it. “There was no reason why we shouldn’t have been using it,” says the social media director of Raymond Lee Jewelers in Boca Raton, Fla. “It’s a great way to get product out there, interact with customers, and get them to see what we have if we can’t get them into our showroom.”
The boards on Raymond Lee Jewelers’ Pinterest page correspond to the daily themes on the store’s blog.
Edmunds pins anywhere from two to 50 items a day to her store’s account, and blogs on Tumblr from two to four times daily, all of which supplement the store’s primary blog. Her approach is extremely editorial: Each day of the week has themed content—for example, men’s fashion on Mondays and weddings on Wednesdays—so the store’s social media efforts (including tweets and pins) tie into the theme.
Zusev’s posts to the sites vary, but she essentially divides them into estate and bridal images. Tumblr visitors see vintage Hollywood and old makeup ads—“fun, kitschy, retro things”—in addition to estate jewelry. Pinterest fans, meanwhile, see a more wedding-oriented mix. One popular pin, an antique three-stone opal ring, had received 1,300 views at press time.
Smith tracks item popularity by the number of pins and/or comments products receive, tailoring the assortment accordingly. “It’s a great marketing tool that leads viewers to our website,” he says. And the store shares reciprocal social networking attention with other Austin-area businesses. “We have boards such as Photographers We Love, Floral, and Baked Goods,” he adds.
And considering Tumblr’s large number of users under age 25 (half by some estimates), the store can target much-younger consumers. “This is an incredible opportunity to reach new bridal customers before the prime marrying ages of 25 to 30,” notes Smith.
A customer ordered this $1,800 Jennifer Meyer diamond initial necklace after seeing it on Ylang23.com’s Pinterest board.
Kelly Silva, owner of de Silva Collections in Wooster, Ohio, launched a Tumblr blog in fall 2011 after taking a webinar on lost retail opportunities. She came away from the instruction feeling that she needed more than just a wordy website—she needed a much more visual experience to engage younger customers where they spent time: online. The Tumblr presence helps her store to stand out in a town rife with competition: A Kay Jewelers is located across the street, and five other independents operate nearby. And while her staff hasn’t yet deduced the ratio of online sales to Tumblr posts, in general, they seem to be growing in unison.
Instagram users, meanwhile, can apply varied creative effects to their own shots, just for fun. For example, Edmunds gives clients behind-the-scenes looks into the life of a retail jeweler by applying the Lo-Fi filter (her favorite) to photo outtakes from the store’s bimonthly educational segments. “It adds a film photo feel that makes our color jewelry pop,” she says.
All platforms are meant to work in supporting roles: You can’t purchase pieces on Pinterest, Tumblr, or Instagram, but these sites can drive traffic to other sites where buying takes place. “We’ve used them for brand awareness, posting new custom jewelry, and to let clients know about store events,” says Irelia Mejia-Cortes, owner of Irelia Fine Jewelry in San Diego.
While sales aren’t part of Edmunds’ current equation, they could be eventually. “We are viewing these sites as a source of ‘some day’ customers, rather than trying to turn them into a point-of-sale place now,” she says. Still, other merchants struggle to understand their return on investment. “We get calls about pieces from interested people, but I can’t say we’ve gotten any direct sales yet,” says Joe Schubach, CEO of Joseph Schubach Jewelers in Scottsdale, Ariz., whose store has been on Pinterest for about 10 months.
Of course, there are also retailers like Joanne Teichman, the Dallas-based owner and managing director of Ylang23.com. (She now identifies her store as a dot-com because she wants to encourage out-of-state business.) She tweets, pins, blogs on her store’s website, and Instagrams—which posts to her store’s Tumblr site—in addition to using Facebook and Foursquare. (“I use it when I travel to keep a file of restaurants and special places,” she explains.) While she says that it took her a while to figure out which content was appropriate for each platform, using them all now is second nature. “My family wishes I would unplug a bit more,” Teichman admits.
Ylang23.com’s Pinterests range from Chanel nail lacquer to Cathy Waterman jewels to happy-couple photos.
She photographs so many items, from bracelets to candy wrappers, that fans can’t help but follow her to see what she’ll post next. A favorite: sharing pictures of trunk shows to boost the intimacy factor for those who couldn’t attend. And while sales resulting from her photo-sharing efforts are growing, she doesn’t really keep a log. “Social media is like attending a cocktail party; you meet a lot of people and have a wide range of discussions, including about your business, but once you leave you cannot monetize the result,” she says.
That may be true, but business is, indeed, growing. “I have gotten questions late at night that I answered immediately, with links to how to buy,” Teichman says. “And there were orders placed by morning.”