Leading retail jewellery brand, James Allen, has proven to be a major market disruptor with their highly immersive e-commerce store, JamesAllen.com. James Allen Schultz, co-founder and CCO of the brand’s parent company R2net Inc., recently featured on an AVIXA-sponsored webinar, hosted by managing editor of VMSD Magazine, Carly Hagedon, and chaired by Brad Grimes, senior director of communications at AVIXA. During the discussion, Schultz unpacks James Allen’s use of the latest AV technology to create a ground-breaking experiential retail location in Georgetown Washington.

MARKET DISRUPTIONS

JamesAllen.com is the brainchild of Oded Edelman, James Schultz, Michele Sigler and Dean Lederman, who combined their collective experience in jewellery, diamonds, retail and e-commerce to launch one of the world’s largest privately-held online diamond retailers in 2006.

James Allen CEO, Oded Edelman, has a long family tradition in retail jewellery and when it came time for him to launch his own enterprise, the self-described innovator was determined to marry his heritage with current trends in technology. “As the younger generation is reaching an age that they can afford fine jewellery, they also have an ingrained understanding that they can search and self-educate to find the best quality, selection and price,” Edelman said in a 2015 interview with Forbes. “This stands in sharp contrast to a few years ago when a consumer could only go to a few jewellery stores, see one or two diamonds in each of these stores, and end up purchasing one of the few they considered without the ability to understand what they see in the store.”

By contrast, JamesAllen.com offers shoppers the opportunity to browse through hundreds of thousands of conflict-free high-quality diamonds, all shot in 360⁰ HD, while learning about how to make an informed decision about purchasing diamonds and fine jewellery. James Allen sets itself apart as an e-commerce retailer by creating a highly immersive online experience, using state-of-the-art web design, e-commerce technology and 3D photography to create the most intimate, educational and detail-oriented platform possible.

To enable the high-tech 360⁰ imaging that best showcases diamonds on offer, R2Net launched a sister company, Segoma Imaging Technologies, which specialises in 360⁰ Diamond Display Technology specifically intended to assist traditional retailers display jewellery to online consumers.

In August 2017, listed diamond retail giant, Signet Jewellery, purchased R2Net for a staggering $328 million. In a statement following the deal, Signet explained that they decided to acquire R2Net Inc. to take advantage of the company’s expertise in transitioning traditional jewellery retailers into modern e-commerce platforms, while further developing James Allen’s stellar performance as a brand. “We’re excited to continue executing Signet’s customer-first, omnichannel strategy with this new shopping experience from JamesAllen.com, integrating both our digital and physical retail platforms. The world-class innovation and technology at the core of JamesAllen.com’s business will come to life in the new location, redefining the jewellery-shopping experience for our customers,” says Signet CEO Virginia Drosos.

THE BEST OF BOTH

While the majority of the shift in retail is from the traditional brick-and-mortar model to e-commerce, James Allen affirmed their reputation for breaking with convention when, in December 2018, it opened an experiential retail location in Georgetown Washington D.C.

“Following our acquisition by Signet Jewellery, we wanted to open a store that would serve as an incubator of new ideas and technology,” says Schultz. “Our business has been a 100% pure-play e-commerce enterprise, so opening the first store is the company’s foray into the traditional retail market.”

In line with the company’s innovative spirit and next-generation attitude, Schultz and his team set out to create a retail experience that would appeal to the millennial generation. “We wanted to make sure that the ‘technology first’ approach that we built on for the James Allen e-commerce store was also reflected in our physical store. We also wanted to make sure that the culture of our web-based company, which is very educationally driven, was also reflected in the store.”

The James Allen Georgetown experience retail location features a range of digital technologies, geared towards marrying the virtual and physical customer experience. “We have been sparing in our use of [display] cases, which is unusual for a traditional jewellery store. Instead, we felt that many of the people coming in would be able to use digital technologies to see our virtual inventory – rather than having thousands of pieces and millions of dollars of inventory that we would then have to secure and insure,” Schultz explains.

In line with their strategy to blend the physical and e-commerce experience, the James Allen’s retail space features a coffee bar with tablet-based technology that enables customers to browse and grade diamonds online and view peer-to-peer comparisons.  “To tie in our store with our website, we have a coffee bar in the store, and we have iPads sitting on the bar, where we display the same 360⁰ degree video of our products that you can see on our website – but we have ‘gamerised’ it. Customers can sit down and earn credits by grading diamonds, based on the cut, colour carat and clarity of the stone. This serves to educate the customer about what to look for in a diamond, all while hanging out at the coffee bar and enjoying a latte.”

AV BRIDGES THE DIVIDE

The James Allen experience space is designed around audiovisual technology, including virtual-reality edutainment experiences, senor-triggered multidirectional speakers, floating 3D holographic signage and dynamic digital displays.

Highlighting some of the more innovative and impressive aspects of the installation, Schultz points to the creative use of directional speakers to create a virtual sales agent on the floor. “We have three directional speakers installed in the space, one of them above the display case. There is a butterfly – which is the store’s logo – on the floor, and when you step on it, a motion sensor in the speaker realises that there is someone in front of the display case and they start to hear about the products that are in that case,” he explains. “We have also used directional speakers in a more playful ways. There is a butterfly motif on the floor in front of one of the green walls, and when a visitor stand on it, they can hear birds chirping. This has nothing to do with jewellery – but is delights the visitors when they come into the store.”

The retail space relies heavily on digital signage solutions, but the team have again displayed their understanding of the connected generation by employing social media in their approach. “We have incorporated sepia screens in the icon wall that faces the street. These screens show a loop of stories of young couples getting engaged. Importantly, the videos are produced by our customers, who share their engagement stories with us through social media, and we are re-sharing these stories within our store. It’s a great talking point because we can let clients know that the next time that they come in, it could be their story that is on display,” Schultz points out.

The team have been as creative with the use of digital signage by including Kino-mo Hypervsn hologram fans. “We can either display messaging across the tree fans, such as our name and logo and have the butterfly flutter away, or we can display some of our actual products, such as a holographic version of three of our best-selling rings,” says Schultz. The hologram fans are also motion-triggered, making the environment feel responsive and interactive.

A PERFECT MARRIAGE

James Allen has achieved a perfect blend between online shopping and brick-and-mortar experience-based retail. By bringing together virtual inventory, huge choice and customer education and a unique and immersive in-store experience that is worth remembering and sharing, James Allen is set to continue their trajectory as a trendsetter in a digitally connected, experience-driven world.