Akshay Matkar, Head of Marketing at Candere, takes us through his journey as a marketer and explains the growth strategy behind the growth of Candere as an online jewelry shopping destination. He shares the brand strategy and insights into the mindset of jewelry shoppers and establishing Candere as an omnichannel brand. Akshay discusses the merger of Candere with Kalyan Jewelers and how AI-driven personalization is a heavy focus for their online strategy. He discusses the importance of replicating the family jeweler personalized customer experience online and also talks about the responses and implications of the COVID-19 on marketers in this space.
Research NXT: Let’s start with your journey as a marketer to the senior leader in marketing and your role at Candere.
Akshay Matkar: I come from a background in computers. I joined engineering because those were the days when everyone was doing engineering, and I followed the flow. While I was studying, I and some friends experimented with selling firecrackers online, trying to utilize our newly learned programming skills. That was in 2009 when digital was gaining popularity, witnessing the evolution of eCommerce and digital devices. During this venture, I researched deeply into digital marketing and was fascinated.
I decided to switch my career after college. I joined a digital agency, working for close to two years in a digital account manager role, handling a portfolio of clients into real estate. Then I wanted to get into the eCommerce side of the business – to explore more towards data, user journeys, and getting to witness the completion of funnels from top to bottom. I joined Candere in 2015 as a part of the marketing team, where we were expanding and got funded. A few years later, I was promoted to manage the marketing duties. Here, I would say, I learned the art and science of marketing, along with growth and innovation for business expansion.
I took on the role of heading marketing in 2019; I was in a managerial role earlier. The entire infrastructure of marketing – building systems, setting processes, and getting agencies – I was able to witness all. The foundation of marketing as the whole we had to build, and I closely worked with the internal stakeholders to build up the marketing to where we are right now.
We were nowhere in the picture when I joined. Now we are in the top three. The second and third position is very competitive. We got associated with Kalyan Jewelers in 2017, and it expanded our horizons.
How to tightly integrate offline and online and provide an omnichannel experience, is the next big journey we at Candere are working on.
Research NXT: You are selling a very traditional product online. Are there any specific challenges you have faced that you think usual brands wouldn’t face when selling a product online?
Akshay Matkar: Jewelry is a higher ticket size product. If you see the buying pattern, I would say that maximum jewelry purchases happen via family jewelers. So the experimentation is less, and there is a lot of emotion attached to the jewelry. It’s not just another product like buying a mobile phone, which I’m not very emotionally attached to because I’m changing it frequently. But there are pieces of jewelry which I’m keeping for a considerable amount of time in my life, say 25 years or more. So there are a lot more emotions attached, hence convincing users to come to digital is a challenge.
But with respect to the entire development of technology, there are modern age shoppers who do not hesitate to experiment as long as they are getting services because that’s their usual buying pattern. They are the ones who like to shop online not only for their essential needs but also for non-essentials, and they like experimenting with different apparel, beauty, and electronics brands. These are the set of audiences we are also catering to.
Research NXT: Candere merged with Kalyan Jewelers, one of the largest conventional retail chains in India. Did this result in any challenges w.r.t technology implementation, customer management, and whats the journey ahead?
Akshay Matkar: When we merged with Kalyan Jewelers, the entire question was, how do we capitalize on the audience of Kalyan Jewelers? They have a huge audience base, and they are also at the same time looking for purchasing online. So how do we make the entire omnichannel experience for their customers?
We also witnessed that many jewelry purchases that are happening in Kalyan stores, but decision making is done online. Some users like to browse the products, select what they want, and then walk into a store and purchase. Second, some users would like to purchase online but take delivery at stores.
So this is the audience we are catering to, and the entire agenda is how we capitalize on this. How to tightly integrate offline and online and provide an omnichannel experience, is the next big journey we at Candere are working on.
Personalization is not a trend – it is a marketing volcano which has erupted! So every marketer needs to adjust their strategy towards personalization now – that’s the new mantra.
Research NXT: Extending further on the omnichannel experience, is there any use of personalization to make smarter decisions around pricing and promotions across these channels?
Akshay Matkar: I think every new age buyer likes personalization. That’s done and dusted. All our offers are personalized according to activity and behavior. We don’t have a single offer for all users. Once the user enters the website, we collect a lot of data signals. Through that, we have constructed our very personalized offers based on the behavior on the website.
With regards to inventory, we don’t hold any large stock; our products are made to order. We have a very interesting product called double gold protection, which is designed for buyers who can purchase and safeguard their gold value. So you can book the product at 10% of the total cost and pay monthly installments for the rest. We do have some ready inventory
, which are among our fast-moving products – mainly our best sellers.
Here we use the power of AI for prediction of sales and how we pre-manufacture and keep ready inventory, depending on seasonality. So prediction modeling comes into the picture, and the power of AI helps, so that’s one advantage we get.
Looking at our customer demands, we have created a complete bundle of offerings for different customers.
Research NXT: Since you have an omnichannel brand, Is there any AI in use for this personalization and experience you are creating for your customers, please share some use cases that you have been working on.
Akshay Matkar: While our one hand is selling gold, the other hand is busy collecting gold, which is none other than data. Our current roadmap is to have a tighter handshake between all the systems and tools we are using. There is no bigger threat than data sitting in silos; that’s what we believe. We are focusing on investing our resources toward building customer experience.
We’re also working on a chatbot project for a shopping assistant, so that’s one use case I would like to expand upon. Currently, when you are purchasing jewelry, it’s not like a very usual eCommerce purchase. We have observed that 50% of shoppers require shopping assistance. Currently, we have our customer relations team, which is helping them during the purchase cycle.
Now we have started the process of getting a chatbot – which via its AI algorithm handles many queries from customers, and at a certain point, if required, it passes on to our customer relations team. We are also planning to automate our call center by the end of this year – wherein the entire call centers could also work using AI and not necessarily have to reach out for agents. Wherein automation as the whole can come into the picture and help us resolve the maximum number of queries.
We have been using AI-led personalization for the past two years – right from our listing page, to offers, to communications. Everything is personalized based on signals collected from user’s activity. We have witnessed about 2X growth year on year on our personalization based campaigns.
Personalization is not a trend – it is a marketing volcano that has erupted. So every marketer needs to adjust their strategy towards personalization now – that’s the new mantra.
The war on customer experience has started. Brands not paying attention to this are going to shut their shop in the next five years. We strongly believe customers are our best teacher, and we try listening to them as honestly as possible.
Research NXT: Are there any specific trends in the jewelry space you have observed when users are buying online versus offline?
Akshay Matkar: There are two interesting data points. We have seen that although many purchases are coming from the metro regions, our primary market, we have also witnessed purchases coming from tier 2 cities, and the ticket size is very high. This is mainly because they don’t have the facilities available in their locations or to get the new design trends. Even if they have a store in their location, it might not be carrying trendy collections as in the metro cities. So I think there is a desire of customers to buy how people in metros are purchasing.
The second is about the digital journey. We have witnessed that the first purchase is not significant in terms of ticket size. They will experiment small, and if the right service is provided, then the journey follows. So those are the trends we have observed.
Research NXT: Is there any specific segmentation that you see in your target market, and are there any personalization strategies around that?
Akshay Matkar: The war on customer experience has started. Brands not paying attention to this are going to shut their shop in the next five years. We strongly believe customers are our best teacher, and we try listening to them as honestly as possible.
All our development at Candere revolves around customer needs at the center. We hustle to fulfill those demands day in and day out. We also continue reaching out to customers for taking opinions via various mediums.
The jewelry funnel is very different – unlike other industries, it is more of a planned purchase and less impulsive buying. So there are purchase decision influencers – it’s not necessarily the buyer always making a decision. Decision-makers can be a spouse, parents, or children helping parents by doing the research and getting validation on social media. So we are targeting not only buyers but also decision-makers segments.
On the personalization of jewelry, a good point to mention is that personalizing your jewelry is an age-old practice followed by local jewelers for ages. That’s why local players manage 90 % of the industry, and most customers purchase from their family jewelers. We are trying to provide the same experience provided by local jewelers – by understanding the buying pattern. On the digital front, this is very fresh and new, but in the offline world, it is the main buying pattern – where my family’s jeweler knows my mind and will recommend the product based on my budget, taste, etc.
We are just trying to make the same experience on the website.
Research NXT: eCommerce is one space that has picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic. So what are your thoughts on how marketers can react and optimize their operations in the current scenario?
Akshay Matkar: Innovation is going to play a key role in driving the business for the next six months, right from the marketing campaigns to business offerings.
Users are slightly hesitant to make purchases offline, and this trend is going to follow for a few months until we return to normal. There is a lot of research data coming in about a lot of different reactions happening amongst buyers. The purchasing pattern between different age group audiences has shifted.
What we had planned and what we are currently experiencing – it is a complete reset scenario. Reworking on the strategy or planning the media buying, the brand campaigns we had decided – much alteration needs to be done.
For us, it has reacted well – we don’t see a huge dip in our numbers during COVID-19.
Also, businesses need to alter their offerings and do modifications to suit the existing situation and address the COVID-19 situation.
Like I mentioned, we have a product known as double gold rate protection. So we made slight changes, and now it is suiting the requirements of our consumers. Users who have a wedding or many bigger occasions planned towards the end of the year, have started to invest in gold rate protection and are safeguarding themselves from the rising gold rates.
So these are things every marketer should understand. It is a difficult situation, but we don’t have to panic. As a marketer, there is always a race for numbers, but the one who plays smartly wins the race.