Reviving Sales During A Global Pandemic
After selling fine jewellery for close to two decades from a brick and mortar store, the 2020 lockdowns in India sharply deteriorated Studio Tara’s sales.
I was part of a digitization project to take Studio Tara online and revive its customer base.
All information in this case study is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of Studio Tara or The Stewdio.
Studio Tara had been a long-time client of The Stewdio, however the scope of work was limited to social media marketing and production campaigns. Although there had been talks of an online store in the past, Studio Tara saw no compelling reason to invest in an e-commerce store as majority of its customers were local and repeat clients who visited the shop to make their purchase. In March 2020, India, along with the rest of the world, went into a complete lockdown and Studio Tara’s shop doors were closed. It was time to go online.
As the only digital designer at The Stewdio, I was responsible for the visual and experience design of the e-commerce web app. I led the end-to-end design process, producing all major deliverables between September 2020 and November 2020. I worked alongside a cross-functional team of one freelance developer, one content strategist and product manager. I was also responsible for communicating certain administrative requirements to the client such as setting up payment gateways and ensuring that action was taken on time.
A global business opportunity
Studio Tara approached us with two primary objectives — 1) showcase the brand story and products on the website and 2) make it easy for their existing customers to search and buy their jewellery online. The brand had secured a spot at a virtual trade show hosted by Metal + Smith, a turnkey event where 40 international indie designers would share their collections with editors, retailers, stylists and influencers. One of the requirements to be part of this show was that the brand have a website showcasing their products.
We saw a bigger business opportunity. Before Studio Tara had to close it’s physical store during the nationwide lockdown, the brand had a loyal customer base, most of whom had personal connections with the founding designer, Bharathi. However, building an e-commerce web app would allow the brand to go nationwide and even target a global audience.
This involved designing the Studio Tara online store and envisioning how we could use the web to cater to an international audience in an effective and meaningful way. We had a 3 month timeline as this was the submission deadline Studio Tara needed to meet to be a part of the Metal + Smith virtual trade show.
Fine jewellery in India was no longer reserved for the annual festive season. The modern Indian woman no longer wanted to wait until Diwali to wear her diamond chandeliers. Fine jewellery was now a part of her everyday wardrobe and popular Indian jewellery brands like Tanishq had taken note.
To differentiate ourselves in a competitive market, we needed to highlight Studio Tara’s uniqueness and values and evoke an emotional connection with its customers. Inspired by audacious women who can, and do have it all, Studio Tara was reshaping the meaning of grace and femininity through its elegant gemstones, handpicked to highlight their natural beauty. We were thrilled by the opportunity to create something meaningful for our client and their customers.
A collaborative culture rooted in UX research
We opted for an approach which emphasised research into Studio Tara’s customers, existing market trends and e-commerce UX. This sparked some great ideas and created a strong sense of ownership across the team.
Building trust through transparency
Sharing our methods and thinking from the outset helped to build a strong client relationship. Ample opportunities for input at all stages of the project built trust and created a comfortable environment to share ideas—forming a partnership which will serve much value beyond this phase.
Considering client UX
The plan from the get go was that once we were done designing the web app, the in-house team at Studio Tara would take over future maintenance. The in-house team consisted of salespeople and admin staff who had limited knowledge of web design. In order to develop a final product that they could maintain with minimal training. Our approach was to choose an e-commerce platform that was customizable for us (the design team), yet easy to learn for the Studio Tara team.
THE DISCOVERY PHASE
Give the customers what they came for
The discovery phase was a quick, high‐intensity effort that allowed us to audit existing content, review the competitor landscape, understand our client’s vision, and begin research into user needs, behaviours and pain‐points. We also kicked off a technical discovery phase to understand feasibility and constraints.
As the first phase of the product design process, we interviewed Bharathi, the founding designer of Studio Tara to identify who her existing customers are.
One of our goals for this project was to appeal to a global audience. Since this was a new market for Studio Tara, there was a lack of primary international customer data that we could collect. So, I went into academic research. I spent some time buried in academic literature that studied consumer behaviour in the global fine jewellery market. My research revealed that at the information search stage, consumers paid heavy attention to brand image and Word of Mouth referrals. However, at a purchasing stage, consumers considered product features and service experience as the main factors in their choice of jewellery retailers.
“I’d love to add a new set of gold earrings to my workwear collection!”
Expendable Income: $500-$700 per month
Background: Sarah is a child-free woman who is passionate about her career. She likes to “reward” herself for her personal accomplishments by treating herself to spa weekends or jewellery purchases. She loves pairing interesting everyday pieces with classic outfits.
Goals & Ambitions:
- To get further ahead in her career.
- To build a personal brand.
- Fine jewellery that looks cheap or like costume jewellery.
- Fine jewellery that is either too minimal or too bold.
Favourite Collection(s): Mulino
“I can’t wait to wear my new cocktail ring to ladies night this weekend!”
Expendable Income: $10,000-$12,000 per month
Background: Bindhya is a married NRI socialite who loves making a statement in her social circle. She loves high fashion and pairing bold statement pieces with trendy outfits.
Goals & Ambitions:
- To write a book
- To hold an iconic status
- Generic fine jewellery pieces
- Low quality jewellery and gemstones
Favourite Collection(s): Dali, Frutti, Bespoke
Insights from our discovery work indicated areas where we should focus our efforts to deliver a stellar user experience:
Showcase the brand
It was important that visitors immediately understood what that brand was as this was a key factor in ensuring that the visitor moved forward in their purchasing journey.
Give the customers what they want
“The interest in fine jewellery and engagement rings has definitely not died down,” says Katie Reusch, the marketing director at Canadian jeweller Birks. “We started selling diamond engagement rings online, which in the past (during pre pandemic times) was never something that we were thinking of, because we saw such an interest,” says Reusch.
Our research allowed us to understand how customers interacted with similar websites and what they expected from them.
A smooth online service experience
We had to translate the seamless in-store service experience to the online platform. Our research showed that customers who shopped in-store appreciated advice from the salespeople during their decision making process and enjoyed the simple checkout process.
Introducing Studio Tara
Our vision was to create a simple, clean web app that showcased the brand and its products along with an intuitive user journey and checkout process.
Where are the customers at?
In the first quarter of 2021, mobile devices generated 54.8 percent of global website traffic, consistently hovering around the 50 percent mark since the beginning of 2017. Additionally during our conversations with the client, we discovered that the brand has a loyal following on Instagram who often reached out through DMs to enquire about products featured on Studio Tara’s feed. Having a website would allow the brand to direct potential customers to product pages through Instagram. This meant that the online store needed to be mobile optimized to provide a positive customer experience.
One of the challenges that we addressed earlier in our process was the need for a CMS that the client could learn and use without supervision in the future. After researching the available applications of the market, we narrowed down our choices to Woocommerce/Wordpress and Shopify. Then, we did a comparative analysis of both platforms. While set up costs were higher for Shopify, it had Woocommerce beat when it came to onboarding and ease of use, which was an important consideration for our project.
Building a sustainable structure
Once we spotted the challenges that we needed to address in our user flows, we started working on the information architecture. Our main goal here was to help customers find the products they were looking for and guide them towards the checkout process. Another consideration was to build a scalable framework that could accommodate product and business growth.
Devising a solution on a limited budget
Studio Tara had looked into going online back in 2015, but had to wrap out these plans due to a lack of budget. Now, going online was the only way to survive amidst a nationwide lockdown. However, budgets were still tight. Custom coding a Shopify theme was out of budget for the client, so we had to come up with creative ways to design an effective online shopping experience with a sea of design limitations.
I researched existing Shopify themes on the market that could inherit the user flows we had built. My focus was on the user experience and I was prepared to adjust to any visual design limitations, as long as we were able to achieve the user experience that we had strategized. After meticulously studying what was on the market, I narrowed down my choices to Narrative and Debut. The visual design features of Narrative were more aligned to Studio Tara’s brand, so that was my final choice.
CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY
Getting the homepage right
We had to pay special attention to the homepage because that is what users see first and it is the most important one among the touchpoints. Since we had a tight schedule, we had to find a UX research method that made creating and testing the iterations really fast.
We used the story-framing method, a UX technique that works especially well for landing pages, homepages, or long-scrolling pages that are trying to tell a unified, cohesive story.
Based on our research and the visual features of our chosen theme, I had a homepage concept in mind. We used Google docs to design the page with words and existing brand images and build the brand story. Then, we made quick iterations – we could easily modify the copy, swap out images and change the order of the text blocks making the iterations very quick.
Guiding customers’ purchase journeys
Our research showed that customers who shopped in-store were guided by salespeople in their purchase journey and enjoyed the simple checkout process. We wanted to translate this service experience to the online store.
We structured the store to allow customers to shop by product or shops by collection. Studio Tara had a small inventory so we did not have to include filter features. By steering the customer to shop by jewellery type or collection, we guided their exploration of Studio Tara’s products in a way similar to how the salesperson would have guided them in-store.
We also took into account the Self-Gift Sarah persona, who often knew exactly what she wanted to purchase. To facilitate her purchase journey, we used the “Buy it now” CTA below the “Add to cart” CTA. This allowed customers to skip going to their shopping cart and jump straight to checkout.
Designing a stress-free checkout
All of our personas became stressed at the online checkout process, being afraid of technical problems or security issues, especially due to the high price point of the products.
We used a straightforward web checkout process with three simple steps:
- Information: To collect customer email and shipping address
- Shipping: To show shipping methods and related charges that the customer can select from
- Payment: A secure checkout process that offered multiple popular local and international payment options
The progress bar at the top allowed the customer to see their position in the process and they could also easily go back to a previous step.
Our research showed that in online shopping, customers perceived the checkout process trustworthy if:
- We reiterated that their payments are processed securely
- They could use the interface easily and have an overview of all the steps
- Trusted partner companies (banks, shipping companies, etc.) were mentioned