Global pandemic changes Australian jewellery industry forever

The Australian jewellery industry has undoubtedly endured its fair share of hardships. Whether it was the Dot-com bubble or the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, the…

The Australian jewellery industry has undoubtedly endured its fair share of hardships. Whether it was the Dot-com bubble or the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, the Australian jewellery industry has always found a way to weather the storm. This time is different, this time it is not a marketcaused crisis but a health crisis that is causing an economic crisis. Indeed, this is the first time in history where nations around the world, ours included, have willingly closed their borders, shut down their economies and plunged them into recession for the sake for public health.

Whether this great social experiment works out will undoubtedly be written in history books. In the meantime, we took the opportunity to reach out to a couple of big players in the Australian jewellery industry, to get their take on these unprecedented times, what it means for the Australian jewellery industry, and for Australian business more broadly.

How jewellers are coping with the pandemic.

Jewellers across Australia have had to make sweeping changes to their business practices and implement widespread cost-cutting measures in order to remain afloat. Founder of online personalised jewellery brand Belle Fever Sarah Saputra said that they consider their staff like family, and tried hard to cut costs in other places before considering laying anyone off. “The steps we took were, firstly, cutting costs and services that we didn’t really need or could do without for now and move those required tasks to our staff that were not as busy as usual; secondly we had to reduce hours for each person so that we could all carry the weight and make it as little of an impact as possible,” she said.

It was a similar story over at Pastiche, where director Amy Bradley also had to implement some cost-cutting strategies. “Economic strategies included reducing staff hours and reducing some overhead costs,” she said. “This was done early, swiftly and in consultation with all stakeholders.” Both brands also had to radically change the way their workplaces operate. Amy said they had to arrange for non-operational staff to work from home, deny access to external people in their office, allow contactless pickup/drop-off for couriers, migrate systems to allow for staff to work remotely, and disinfect their workstations daily.

“These changes were started early March and enabled us to confidently control contact tracing within the warehouse,” she said. The change in working arrangements were as drastic at Belle Fever, where Sarah had to set up the workflow to be able to be carried out by each staff member from home with minimal travel to the workshop. “This proved to be very difficult but once we ironed out the challenges, it became a new normal we had to adapt to,” she said. “We have always had technology as a big part of communication and processes so meeting online through Zoom and having our task and project management software was very helpful.”

Increased growth despite consumer hardship.

One might expect that with mass unemployment, fewer savings and much less disposable income, that this would subsequently lead to decreased consumer spending on luxury items like jewellery. Fortunately both brands we spoke to have actually had some increased growth. Amy said that following the shutdown, orders to traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers have reduced, but Pastiche has seen an increase in alternative channels as consumer demand shifts.

“Our online channels and our online wholesale accounts have seen growth, limiting any large downturn on our business,” she said. Sarah said that initially Belle Fever’s sales took a little dip while her team were focused on making sure their back-end and processes were smooth. However, once that was done, they directed their efforts on their marketing initiatives, to be able to engage their audience and customers more and get back to the basics of communicating more with their customers.

“From all these efforts, our sales began to increase and miraculously brought us ahead of our sales from last year,” she said. “While yes, more people are spending less on luxury items, speaking to customers’ needs and understanding them more will help make the support of your business grow through that.”

How will the Australian jewellery industry recover?

Even once the shutdowns end, and the restrictions lift, it will take some time for businesses and the Australian jewellery industry to recover. Amy predicts that there will be a surge in sales for wholesalers once restrictions are lifted. “People will be excited to get out and shop in a traditional way,” she said. She said other factors that will play a role in how long recovery takes, such as how long until a vaccine is developed or how long the domestic and international borders remain shut. “We should expect that the impact of this will be felt for many years, and that this pandemic will change the way consumers buy.” Sarah thinks it will take at least 3 to 6 months to get back to typical consumer buying behaviour when it comes to luxury items like jewellery. “The hardest thing about this is the difficulty of holding on while waiting for things to recover,” she said.

How consumer behaviour will change.

For brick-and-mortar jewellery retailers, the change in consumer behaviour is expected to last for some time. Sarah said that for these retail jewellers, if social distancing is still a requirement, it will mean having limited customers in store at one time, making business harder to maintain.

“However, on the other hand, as soon as people can start going out, they might rather feel like doing shopping in store as they may have missed doing that,” she said. “But, it could be the other way, where customers have now developed that habit and ease of shopping online in their own time, their own way and feel that they like it that way more.” Amy predicted the latter situation to occur, especially as restrictions to go out for non-essential items will likely be in place for another three months. “This is leaving people only with the option of shopping online,” she said. “Many stores have online websites set up and if they can market that correctly to their local customers then they should be able to still see sales coming through.”

Growing the digital market to remain afloat.

Compared to other industries, Sarah feels the jewellery industry has taken the longest to adapt to digital marketing and online trends. “I think taking this time to reassess one’s online presence and how it can incorporate into a business and customer journey will be very beneficial for the industry as well as the customers,” she said. Amy also lauded the boons of the online market, as it has seen huge growth for Pastiche.

“During early to mid-March we were preparing ourselves for months of very slim sales, at one stage discussing potential hibernation options, however we have been surprised by the strength of our online channel,” she said. “If stores have any way of getting online and promoting themselves then they should, as consumers are still buying gifts and are sourcing local companies to purchase from.” She recommended brands should start by growing their social pages and build on their loyal followers.

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