Over the next few posts I want to share a little about my experiences with Gemvara. Why it shut down, what I learned from it, and what I had hoped would happen.
In theory, Gemvara is a no-brainer. There’s no inventory (aside from returns) as everything is rendered, priced, sourced and crafted on the fly. Customers are given an unimaginable level of choice that no traditional jewelry store could match outside of true (and expensive) custom design. And we were able to get everything (no matter how unusual) delivered to a customer in two to three weeks. It provided a solution for every person who went to every local jeweler from their high-end independent to their mass-mall jeweler, but didn’t see themselves in the cases. Gemvara (and more importantly the Gemvara team) embraced any combination our customers could imagine, and this is something we are not great at as an industry (more on that in the next post).
The reality is that Gemvara was challenged before it was acquired. And while there are lots of reasons why, two really stand out: shifts in digital marketing and e-commerce evolution.
The Shift from SEO to SEM
Beyond being the right idea at the right time, Gemvara was able to thrive early on as it generated a ton of organic traffic on Google based on what’s known as the “long tail.” These are less common (or literally longer) combinations of keywords for products that traditional jewelers don’t want to sell or could not sell. When given full control of their metal and gemstone choices, you cannot imagine what customers will choose (and surprisingly love) to create. I can’t overstate the extent to which the merchandising mix at Gemvara broke my brain. Especially as someone who has spent his career collaborating with merchants to maximize revenue in a finite space (or finite time during Honora’s time working with QVC).
Gemvara was all about the near infinite. A 100 billion potential designs sounds amazing. And it was while Google was focused on organic search results. But as Google shifted from organic to paid search results and as other jewelry brands expanded their keyword strategy, the business began to struggle. In response, Gemvara narrowed to just a few categories ahead of its acquisition, ultimately focusing on gemstone bridal. It never found its way out of that niche.
Ecommerce Alone Isn’t Enough
While early days were plagued by shifts in marketing, the later years struggled with changes in e-commerce. By the time Richline acquired Gemvara it was clear that e-commerce alone was not going to be enough (especially as customer acquisition costs continued to climb). So the team launched an entirely new B2B initiative in time for holiday, less than six months from the time of acquisition. We returned to Gemvara’s origins within retail stores. Early efforts were promising at the time, but in hindsight, we made one critical mistake. We didn’t call it Gemvara.
Omnichannel (a unified experience that’s centered around the customer, regardless of what channels they use to interact with a business) was not as prominent in 2016 as it was today and at the time, white labeling seemed like the right decision. Looking back, I wish we had turned Gemvara into the first true omni-channel brand (I’m still not entirely sure that one exists yet, btw…), one that would take our unique selling proposition of unimaginable choice and partner with jewelers instead of trying to provide an alternative. While I can’t say for certain, every part of me believes Gemvara would be thriving today had we taken a more holistic approach back in 2016. We ended up focusing too much on what technology could do and not enough on Gemvara.
These obviously are not the only reasons, but they’re the ones that stand out most to me. When I take a step back, shifts in marketing led to Gemvara needing to sell, and inefficient use of the Gemvara name led to us shutting it down.
I still believe in the brand and the technology. And I really believe in the team, especially the insanely talented group of engineers who not only built, but regularly iterated on decade old technology to craft entirely new fine jewelry experiences. (Several of which never got to see the light of day.)
Much as it has been hard to say goodbye, I learned so much from the experience. I feel like I see the industry in a completely different light. One that gives me hope for the future. One that’s driven more by the customer than by the jeweler. One that embraces technical expertise as much as jewelry expertise. And one that manages to pair all of the possibilities technology can offers jewelers with a thoughtful simplicity that creates a better customer experience.
But more on that in my next post. (Speaking of, if you haven’t yet, please subscribe here to receive future posts by email.)