This article is sponsored by CaratLane.
The world was a different place back in 2008, when CaratLane was founded. That was the year the Nano hit the roads, the Kindle changed our reading habits, the younger generation of professionals routinely began earning more than their parents did at retirement and had only begun to experiment with buying things online, because e-commerce seemed risky.
But CaratLane co-founder and CEO Mithun Sacheti saw the scenario a little differently. Gold prices had been continuously rising, jewellery stores were getting bigger, and still, the consumer didn’t necessarily have a lot of choice. “We spoke to dozens and dozens of women across the country. Hundreds, actually. About their tastes, their lifestyles, what was important to them. We discovered a crazy paradox. Despite their love for jewellery – and how important jewellery is for their personal style and individuality – most women were forced to keep their jewellery in bank lockers, where it was safe but unwearable on an everyday basis,” says Sacheti.
Moreover, the contemporary Indian woman was no longer wearing jewellery to look beautiful or to elicit compliments, but because she appreciated beautiful jewellery that drew out her compelling individuality and made her feel beautiful, rather than just look good. A large store or even a chain of stores, Sacheti decided, was not going to solve this problem. His target customers – young, successful and financially independent women – were breaking through stereotypes to forge a new identity. These women based their decisions on the power of knowledge and access to information. His business, Sacheti decided, would leverage the same things. He decided to change the process of discovery by building a jewellery business that was online, effectively disrupting the existing jewellery retail business model.
Sacheti started CaratLane with a mission to democratise jewellery – to make beautiful jewellery accessible, affordable and forever wearable. A refreshing and courageous objective at that time.
He says that the experiment to take the business online started at his earlier jewellery store, Jaipur Gems. When he saw that he could sell expensive solitaires based on the power of information alone, without actually carrying any inventory, he realised that CaratLane as a business could happen.
“Whenever I mentioned the idea of CaratLane, my co-founder Srinivasa Gopalan would hear me out patiently, but I don’t think he had the conviction that this would work out. But when Gopalan witnessed a customer at Jaipur Gems purchasing a diamond worth $30,000 without seeing it and only based on the specifications available, he was finally convinced that if someone could spend this kind of money based on information alone, then an online jewellery store might actually work.”
Sacheti talks passionately about how he has learnt so much from customers. “A 75-year old lady spoke to us enquiring about a diamond she wished to purchase. We showed her an image of the diamond and took her through the specifications in details. She did her own research with other retail stores and came back to us, not only was our price much lower but also because we invested our time in educating her about the diamond” recounted Sacheti. This interaction taught him that customers had no age bar and one of their biggest needs for decision-making was transparency and education.
CaratLane hasn’t looked back since. What’s interesting is that while their core customer is a young, independent woman living in India’s larger cities, there are so many more who relate to this thought process and don’t always fall in this demographic. Veena S. Kumar is a retired school teacher and dedicated CaratLane customer. She says, “I am quite finicky about buying jewellery. But my experience with CaratLane has been really good. The jewellery is not only genuine but also, reasonably priced. After buying the Princess ring, I had it evaluated. The diamond and pearl were genuine and the gold was 18K, as advertised. And now I keep buying jewellery for my daughters-in-law as I don’t have a daughter!”
CaratLane has also found a surprise following among men. “The percentage of men who shop with us is far greater than the number of men who would walk into a jewellery store. Men definitely find it more intimidating to walk into a store. It’s not a great experience. Buying jewellery online makes the entire process much simpler and transparent for them.” says Sacheti.
CaratLane has also grown from being one of India’s first online jewellery stores to being an omni-channel player. It has expanded to 12 offline stores and plans to have 20 stores across India by August 2016. Their app, which is now available on the Android and Apple store, has about 100K download mark. But what distinguishes the app is the fact that it was created out of the need for women to be able to try jewellery before they buy. The Perfect Look app is the world’s first-ever virtual jewellery try-on app. “The app already accounts for 20-25 percent of our business now. We are focusing towards driving traffic in that direction. Our growth has been completely organic,” Sacheti adds. The experience of the app has also been extended to CaratLane stores with a no-barrier access to all jewellery, which is on open display and magic mirrors for virtual try-ons.
Sacheti says that there are plans to expand their retail footprint to Tier 2 cities although they are yet to achieve saturation in Tier 1 cities. This is because of an increasing portfolio of customers from these cities. Anjana Aggarwal lives in Ranchi and has been a regular customer for a while now. “I was initially reluctant but now buy up to three items a year. We even buy from CaratLane to gift at weddings. I have also received compliments from many people when I wear jewellery brought from CaratLane. The other day my 80-year-old mother-in-law asked me to buy a pair of diamond earrings from the site that she wanted to gift her grandchild.”
As CaratLane completes seven years and is soon approaching the 10-year mark, what is their vision for the future? “The path is clear for the next three years. We have to put our heads down and work. We need to focus on talking to our consumers. We want to open our next 50 stores across geographies in India. We are a collection-led brand, and launch a collection every three weeks,” Sacheti explains, adding, “In three years, we need to be a strong, large and profitable business in a self-sustaining mode. We don’t want to be dependent on VCs or PE funds. We had initially raised $51 million in funding from Tiger Global and have not tried to raise any after that. Now if we take funds, it would be for growing. By 2020 we want to be Rs 1,500 crore business. That’s the goal, and I am very open about it, because then I can hold myself accountable.”
The world has indeed changed in the past seven years. And while ecommerce has become widely accepted in India, it has taken steady and sustained focus to democratise jewellery-buying online. From a website for easy shopping to allowing women to explore jewellery through apps to discovering interactive mirrors and providing a no-barrier access to precious jewellery in stores, CaratLane has transformed jewellery-buying in India.
More importantly, it continues to strive to create precious jewellery for the women of today, making it accessible, affordable, wearable and reliable, thereby providing options that resonate with her personality. CaratLane’s track record of quality and service delivery have debunked myths and broken through the mind-blocks to establish trust, and in its wake, a loyal customer base of confident, assertive and independent individuals.