“A friendly, risk-free shopping experience” is one of the taglines on Jewlr.com, the Toronto-based online retailer specializing in personalized jewelry. The 4-year-old company, which was launched in 2009 by software engineer Tony Davis, isn’t just calling out its stellar customer service; Jewlr.com is silly with consumer-friendly qualities. Prices for merchandise on the site are extremely competitive—a direct result of in-house manufacturing that regularly kicks out new styles on 3-D printers. The resulting low overhead means Jewlr.com can comfortably offer consumers a 99-day full-refund return policy, even on engraved items. But Davis claims the profitable company’s “secret sauce” is the website itself, which was designed to be supremely user-friendly while incorporating consumer tools that have never existed before. “It’s very difficult to sell jewelry online—it’s taken six of us software designers a long time to figure it out,” says Davis. “But because we designed the site in-house, if we want to change something or try something new, we can just do it.”
What was the original concept for Jewlr.com?
We’re basically Internet entrepreneurs—software guys. I didn’t know anything about jewelry four years ago. Nothing. We started it as a test to prove things about e-commerce marketing. We thought personalized jewelry would work really well online. It resonates with what is going on in Internet retailing right now. Getting into the jewelry industry, it was a big clash of cultures for me, coming from the software industry. We were used to doing things that moved rapidly and dynamically. So the jewelry industry was kind of frustrating. I was asking for things that people didn’t know how to do—or wouldn’t do. I wanted different jewelry for different markets and they would say, “We’ve been doing this for 30 years—what do you want us to do?”
How did you finally merge the two industries?
We started looking at how this stuff gets made, rendered, and designed. We started to look at all the 3-D printing and 3-D CAD designing. We started taking courses in design. At this point, we’re manufacturing in-house, so we can experiment with different techniques. We also have outside manufacturers, but all our mass production takes place in North America. And we obviously ship worldwide.
What makes the site so special?
The site is very sophisticated. If you’re competing with stores like Zales and Wal-Mart, you have to have something different. We’re about giving people the freedom to create their own jewelry. Showing people what they’re getting is what makes us [special]. Nameplate necklaces, for example, have been available forever. But there’s never been an easy way to see what you’re getting in every font; usually a retailer will show you one font with [sample] initials. We use 3-D technology that’s used in the movie industry, so people can tap their name in and know exactly what it’s going to look like in every font. A monogram is very difficult to show online; I don’t know anyone else who does it like us. We got guys in Sweden to create fonts for us, and we put in technology that allows you to sort of futz around with it. Instead of spending $1,000 on a necklace that might not look so great, we use some innovative technology to show you exactly what you will get. And if you’re using a browser like Chrome or Firefox, you can get a 3-D view of certain pieces.
How does 3-D printing enhance your business?
Everything we do is designed in 3-D. Regular casting is a multistep process, where you develop a model and you have to make a rubber mold so you can create waxes. It’s a long and laborious process. With 3-D printing, we test and create different models very quickly and easily.
What’s next for Jewlr.com?
The site is continuously moving. We want to market to people through different verticals. Guys like us have the ability to go off into small markets. Take yoga jewelry: There are all sorts of jewelry [styles] that go along with yoga—poses and symbolic images, chakras. That’s one in maybe 300 examples of different niche markets that you can go after. That’s where online guys have the edge.