Building a Successful Web Site

After years of trying to justify brick-and-mortar prices to consumers brandishing Internet diamond quotes, Jeffrey Bong of Bongs Jewelers in Corning, N.Y., decided to build a Web site of his own.

Bong, a fourth-generation shop owner, is developing a site to reach out to customers who’ve moved from the community. To help serve long-distance shoppers (some from as far away as Europe), the site will include store hours and merchandise descriptions, among other features. Bong also can e-mail photos of merchandise to consumers, a technique that proved its effectiveness when he used it to sell a $700 diamond tennis bracelet to a longtime customer who relocated to Texas.

“I e-mailed five photos of bracelets to the man, and he narrowed his selection to two,” says Bong. “I mailed the two bracelets to him in Texas, and within a week he bought one.”

Jewelers like Bong are learning the importance of catering to online jewelry shoppers. More than half of the 265 jewelers surveyed by JCK in January have a Web site. Of those, 34% are informational only.

Are Web sites a wise investment? Consider: More than half of all Americans have a computer. Of those, 80% are online, according to Harris Interactive, a research firm in Rochester, N.Y. And according to Forrester Research, Internet jewelry sales are expected to reach $925 million by 2003.

Jacques Voorhees, president of Polygon, a Dillon, Colo., company that creates Web sites for the jewelry industry, believes Bong has the right idea. Voorhees compares the necessity of a Web site to that of a telephone: “If you’re still asking yourself if you need one, you’ll be out of business in five years.”

Acquiring an online presence. Creating a Web site is fairly easy. If you want to join the online retailing community, a few simple steps will get you there:

Choose a domain name. The good ones are going fast (see “Get Your Internet Name Now,” JCK, August 1999, p. 50). Before securing a domain name (or names), you must determine if the one you want is available. You can conduct a free domain name search—which takes less than a minute—at www.hostindex.com. Ten minutes and $70 later, the name or names will be reserved by Network Solutions, Herndon, Va. After two years, you must pay an annual $35 fee to keep the name.

Get a host/designer. You’ll have to decide between internal and external hosting and design. Alternatively, you can join a trade association that offers a free Web site.

Voorhees recalls a jeweler who created his own site. He took a course, bought the appropriate hardware and software, scanned in photos of jewelry, and proudly went “live.” “It was the ugliest site I ever saw,” Voorhees says. If the manufacturers of the branded merchandise the jeweler touted had ever seen the site, he adds, “they would have been horrified.”

If you’re unsure of your design capabilities, seek out professionals. Find local designers in the phone book under “Internet Services” or “Web Site Design Services.” Compare rates and talents, too, advises Rich Goldstein, president of iJeweler in Austin, Texas, an Internet consulting firm serving the jewelry industry. And call your advertising agency for direction.

Many companies will host your Web site for a fee. For example, Communitech, Kansas City, Mo., will do the job for $23 to $100 per month (find the company at www.hostindex.com). Set-up fees are waived (a savings of $35 to $100) if you opt for a 12- to 24-month contract. But before you contract with any Web hosting company, take advantage of the resources on www.hostindex.com. Jewelers can conduct a free search of more than 2,200 Web-hosting companies to find an appropriate provider by feature or location. And if you’re confused by the terms—virtual vs. dedicated servers and UNIX vs. NT developers—a glossary at www.hostindex.com provides answers. Also, “Web resources” leads you to companies offering free traffic counts and other services.

Check out additional free site-building advice and e-commerce research at:

Join a trade association. Joining a trade association may be the easiest and cheapest way to get online. Retail jewelers who are members of Jewelers of America, Manufacturing Jewelers & Suppliers of America, the Independent Jewelers Organization, or the Retail Jewelers Association automatically get a free Web site. Polygon hosts all these sites. They include jewelers’ business and association information, an e-mail link, space for 500 words of text, an optional virtual boutique of manufacturers’ jewelry sold by jewelers on their sites, and space to post one logo image. Manufacturers can post 12 product images on MJSA sites.

Some trade association members are slow to customize their sites. Only in the past year did a substantial number of JA’s members—1,000 out of more than 10,000—update their material. And John Harvey, MJSA’s director of communications, says that he didn’t see interest in Web sites increase dramatically until about two years ago. Four and a half years ago, one in 25 MJSA members was actively involved in his or her site. Now, with the help of Polygon, one in five manufacturers loads images and updates text.

Not everyone recommends taking advantage of free sites. “The addresses are funky,” says Rich Goldstein, referring to the associations’ practice of tacking a code number—not a name—onto their own URLs to create URLs for their members. (URL stands for “uniform resource locator,” computerese for

Internet address.) For example, Bong’s JA Web site address is www.jewelers.org/~20354. And unless you register with search engines, addresses are difficult for users to find.

Joe Romano of Scull & Co., a jewelry consulting firm in North Bergen, N.J., sees another problem with free sites: unoriginal content. But originality has a price. Romano’s clients have paid independent design firms from $2,000 to $250,000 for stellar sites.

Polygon can help jewelers without that kind of cash. As host for all the associations’ free sites, it can customize individual member sites for a minimum fee of $350.

Select your features. After you’ve built your informational site, including name, address, and directions to the store, it’s time to check out your competitors’ sites and consider making upgrades to your own. Traffic-building strategies include e-mail price quoting, sophisticated product search engines, and high-end interactive tools, such as panoramic virtual reality authoring for novelty effects.

“Take a diamond ring and let consumers have a panoramic look at it,” suggests Joe Dysart, an e-commerce specialist in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He says such “gimmicky” tools can help drive traffic to your site.

Another interactive tool allows users to build jewelry online. De Beers says it has seen a healthy increase in online traffic since it permitted consumers to custom-design diamond engagement rings on the Diamond Information Center’s site (www.adiamondisforever.com) a year ago.

Consider online ordering. Voorhees warns jewelers of causing resentment among consumers who visit a site but can’t make purchases. He suggests adding a “quick gift section,” such as the virtual boutiques many association member sites offer. Customers can select from a limited number of items that are always in stock and that can be picked up on the way home from work.

Build traffic. Designing a site is easy, says Mike Cunningham, president and chief operating officer of Gemkey, New York. “Getting the online community to use it is the tough part.”

While national sites such as Miadora and Blue Nile raised consumers’ expectations of jewelry Web sites, Voorhees reminds jewelers not to compete with national companies. “Jewelers want to reach consumers in their market,” he says.

To do so, slap your URL on everything you print, advises David Peters, Jewelers of America’s director of education. Post it in your display window, print it on promotional pens, register with search engines—for free—or hire an advertising agency to do it for you.

Goldstein notes the ease of registering: “Go to a [search engine] site, insert your URL, and you’re done.”

Referral links—swapping Web site banner ads with other companies—represent a highly effective marketing tactic. Peters advises jewelers to team up with local florists to promote each other’s products. “Partnerships are a very powerful thing,” he notes.

Treat the Web site like an extension of store hours, says Cunningham. And compare your site’s features with those of other stores in your area. Make sure your store’s strengths—be they custom-designed pieces or special Web prices—stand out on your site.

Jewelers need graphics, but be sure your site loads them quickly. “People click away if graphics take too long to view,” says Dysart.

Measuring success. Susan Carter, comptroller of the International Diamond Center, Clearwater, Fla., expects store sales to increase as much as 10% within two years of the launch of its revamped Web site. An enthusiastic Carter says her company is bulking up its informational site with e-commerce and hiring a full-time person to handle orders and shipping. How can Carter and other jewelers determine if their Web sites are a success? Experts say sites should:

  • Communicate your store’s strengths to visitors.

  • Be graphically pleasing while quick to download.

  • Be easy to navigate.

  • Be well-advertised.

Voorhees says the type of Web site you have established should determine how you measure its success. If you permit

e-commerce, for example, you measure success by sales. On the other hand, “if your site is simply meant to be part of your overall marketing strategy, then the site is a success if it’s up and looks nice,” Voorhees says.

Top 10 Markets for E-commerce

Market % of Adults in Market
1. Austin, Texas 17.7
2. San Francisco 16.9
3. Dallas/Fort Worth 13.8
4. Washington, D.C. 13.7
5. Boston 13.5
6. Norfolk, Va. 12.7
7. Seattle/Tacoma 12.6
8. Raleigh/Durham, N.C. 12.4
9. Jacksonville, Fla. 12.3
10. Baltimore 11.8
Source: 1999 USADATA.com/Scarborough Research

Treat your Web site like an extension of your store hours, suggests Gemkey’s Mike Cunningham.