Editor's Blog

Fighting back against the algorithms

Now that the show season has cooled down, we head into the final quarter of the year, and begin gearing up for the Christmas sales period. The retail landscape remains challenging, but the UK economy continues to hold up in reasonable condition, and there are some significant reasons to be optimistic. Retail sales growth grew by 1% in August compared with the previous month, and were 2.4% higher than August last year, show the 52nd consecutive month that sales have risen.

Amazingly, the squeeze on wages and rising inflation have not put any brakes on the consumer appetite to go out and buy things. OK, perhaps spending would have been even higher without that downward pressure, but one can only look at the metrics and say if they’re up or down. For retailers this story is great news.

That is not to blithely gloss over the challenges that retailers of all hues face. As Leonard Zell points out in his piece this month, Amazon is making an ever more serious play for the jewellery market – with some success in the US, it must be said – and there is nothing to suggest that this performance cannot be replicated in the UK. But I just don’t buy the idea that people do not want to try a piece of expensive jewellery on before purchasing it – above a certain price point, the investment is too serious, too personal, to be made on the strength of a 250-pixel image on a website. Jewellery is the ultimate in personal expression, and who wouldn’t want to see that object in the flesh first, if it is going to physically adorn their neck, wrist, finger or ears?

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High street retailers have something that Amazon’s algorithms do not: customer experience. More than ever, jewellers need to make the in-store browsing and purchasing process fundamental to the experience of buying jewellery. Clued-up sales staff, pristine interiors with stunning displays, relationship building, intimacy – these are all things that Amazon cannot compete with.

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