Ecommerce v instore: The Pros and Cons


Modern Retail spoke with Reading-based independent jewellers, Jacobs the Jewellers about the pros and cons of ecommerce and instore. Having started the business in 1948 and being based in various premises over the years, Jacobs the Jewellers have grown to also offer an online store, adapting to meet customers’ preferences.

MR: Outline your approach to ecommerce

AJ: Online, we have a website which is transactional. We include 35% to 45% of our catalogue online because with around 3,500 pieces for sale at any time, it is not a valuable use of our resources to spend time putting them all on our site. We treat our website as our 5th shop window essentially. We have enough online to tempt people into the shop and that is our key goal with it.

Strategically, our website is set up to communicate who we are, entice them to come into the shop, generate customers and interest while encouraging them to make contact with us.

It’s all about having good content on the website for us. There’s a specific academy site where people can learn about diamonds and our items for sale. We communicate that we are experts, educate and give customers a fair chance of making an informed decision. People recognise that they can trust us and that we know what we’re talking about. Because of this, they have the confidence to choose from our range which is varied and unusual. 

MR: Why did you initially opt to sell online?

AJ: It’s something that needs to be done. We wanted to give customers the choice to buy online if that is their preference. All retailers can benefit from getting online and live, so I wanted to create something sensible and appealing, showing customers that we are capable of delivering online as well as instore without it becoming a mega budget ecommerce project.

MR: What have been the biggest learning curves with ecommerce?

AJ: We have made it more possible to edit content ourselves so we are not reliant on an outside provider, meaning we can update, edit text, write articles and have the flexibility to react quickly and do a lot of this ourselves. This also means we can easily make links to the site from newsletters and not have to outsource or wait for this to be done. We also introduced an online chat this year, giving customers another method of communication in case they prefer that.

MR: What are the benefits of having a brick-and-mortar shop?

AJ: For a product like ours which ought to be presented with service, we can offer an experience which is impossible to replicate online. Selling a unique object which isn’t available just anywhere, there is a lot more to our business than the mechanical aspect of transacting. 

For many of our customers, it’s a life-changing decision like buying a wedding or engagement ring. There are of course people who prefer to buy online, but there are so many who want to physically see items, get involved and learn about them before or during a purchase. We’ve also benefited from external events to get out to customers with pop-up boutiques.

MR: What have been the biggest learning curves of having a physical shop?

AJ: There are so many tiny details which go into designing and improving a successful physical shop. You have to have great people in it and the right range, as well as thinking about the style, where the lights are and even the fragrance. It’s completely different to a website where you do the same things again and again. It’s vital to have a high consistency and good, bright people who deliver the values and service.

MR: How can retailers combine ecommerce and brick-and-mortar?

AJ: We have always looked to give people a choice of how they make a purchase, depending on their own preferences. Having the ability to communicate or sell over the phone, online chat, online store, online forms and instore means every type of customer is catered for and you can keep everybody happy. It’s important to keep branding and content consistent across all platforms and channels, and deliver the highest possible level of customer service online and instore.