“I want to be the Sephora of jewelry,” says Joanne Ooi, founder and creative director of online fine jewelry retailer Plukka. “Sephora only does cosmetics and they have their own stores—and their expertise is peerless.” The aspiration is, of course, sky-high. But Ooi, a longtime brand and marketing expert who divides her time between Hong Kong and Suffolk, England, is undoubtedly on her way to building something big, and eventually even disruptive, within the jewelry industry. Plukka debuted as an innovative flash-sale site for high-end, one-off fine jewelry. But in 2014, Ooi rebooted the company as a clicks-and-bricks jewelry firm, albeit far from a traditional one. Plukka, which has hosted a series of high-wattage pop-ups in major cities since launching, currently has physical shops in London and Hong Kong, but will add more in to-be-announced locations. The firm recently revamped its cool View on Demand (VOD) service—an option that lets online shoppers order a selection of jewelry delivered to their home by a trained sales consultant. There’s no telling if the service will flourish, but Ooi likes experimentation. “Whatever I’m doing, I’m trying to be way out in front,” she says. “I never hesitate to take risks.”
What made you pivot away from the flash-sale business model?
It’s still a genius premise. But you need a huge level of scale when you’re selling a product in that high price range. We realized that we didn’t have the audience share to make that model sustainable—in less than a three-year period, at least. Then we said, “Let’s do made-to-order product in a catalog.” So the next iteration was introducing designers, and that brought us to a whole new chapter. We realized the demand for content around designers was big; it seemed like it was the leading edge of engagement in terms of newsletter content. People are thirsting for stuff about designer personalities. We were still doing flash sales, but we realized that in the long term, the lifetime customer value for that [flash sale] person is very questionable. On the other side, you have people who are crazy about the dream, crazy about the creativity. They were being seduced by the discovery machine. So we eliminated flash sales in 2014.
What was behind the decision to have physical stores?
We opened a pop-up boutique in Hong Kong’s most [prestigious] shopping mall. And it became very obvious to us that the conversion we could achieve was excellent with a brick-and-mortar boutique. I was also exposed to a McKinsey report that guided our decision-making to do a bricks-and-clicks strategy full-force. It basically said that jewelry is a high-sensory category requiring touch. It also talked about how the jewelry industry was massively localized and massively fragmented. We decided we needed to become the single best retail and marketing solution for independent designers. The brick-and-mortar creates a kind of marketing halo, too. Having boutiques in places like the Peninsula hotel in Hong Kong or on Madison Avenue—those are invaluable cues to the consumer that we’re not some fly-by-night thing.
How would you describe Plukka to a jewelry designer?
Right now we are the only plug-and-play marketing and distribution solution for independent jewelry designers. You don’t have to do anything if you work with us. You can come to me with your collection and we’ll do everything. We’re basically a jewelry marketing company and retailer mashed into one. We’re end-to-end. It’s superefficient. You’re a designer and you have a sample collection of 100 pieces. You don’t want to have to make consignment collections for Lane Crawford, Barneys New York, etcetera. And with those department stores, their primary business isn’t jewelry anyway. We, as your parent company, tell your story with romance and integrity. There is no freestanding international multibrand fine jewelry retailer—we are the first. Our company is about being reactive, dynamic, nimble, and making decisions on the fly, based on statistics.
Photograph by Marta Kochanek