Make Your Website Shine: Expert Tips for Jewelry Brands with Michael Burpoe, Director of User Experience for Punchmark-Part 1

Episode 131

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why you won’t see results if you have a “set it and forget it” mentality about your website
  • Why jewelers should give their website as much attention as a brick-and-mortar location
  • How jewelers can use tricks of the trade to encourage customers to purchase items online, even if jewelry is traditionally bought in person 
  • How jewelry brands can take advantage of the new shopping feature on Instagram
  • Why the jewelry business is more like Crate & Barrel than Sephora—and why that distinction is important

About Michael Burpoe

Michael Burpoe is Director of User Experience for Punchmark, a digital marketing agency that specializes in the jewelry industry. Michael created Punchmark’s UX team, which was assembled to take very specific initiatives toward fine-tuning tools and features, and improving the platform on both the front-end and back-end. Since early 2019, Michael has also headed up the strategy, planning, and execution behind Punchmark’s Livestream Education program, the In The Loupe podcast, and the Punchmark Community on Facebook. Originally from Saranac Lake, NY, in Michael’s spare time you can find him practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or painting cityscapes. 

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After working with jewelry brands of all sizes for the last several years, Michael Burpoe has learned a thing or two about the strategies that make jewelry businesses more successful online. As Director of User Experience for Punchmark, Michael has helped even the most hesitant jewelers invest in their websites and reap the rewards of a fine-tuned digital marketing strategy. He joined the Jewelry Journey Podcast to explain why selling jewelry online is only going to become more common; how to make customers feel comfortable buying luxury items online; and how jewelry companies can use digital marketing tricks to increase sales. Read the episode transcript here. 

Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey Podcast. Today, my guest is Michael Burpoe with Punchmark. Michael is the Director of User Experience for this marketing agency, which specializes in creating effective and compelling websites for the jewelry industry. Today, Michael will talk with us about his journey into the world of jewelry. He’ll also share with us some of the secrets about what it takes to create an effective website, one that drives revenue. Michael, welcome to the program.

Michael: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Sharon: We’re so glad to have you. How did you get into the jewelry industry? I’m sure that’s not where you started out when you decided to take this path.

Michael: Yeah, great question. The starting point is, I went to school for design. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology, which is called RIT, in Rochester, New York, and while I was there I was studying graphic design. I knew I wanted to study user experience. For people who aren’t fully aware, that’s the overall shopping ease when it comes to websites. It can extend beyond that, but that’s where I was most focused. While I was doing a lot of application design and things that were related to e-commerce, I was scouted by this guy, Daniel Sirois, who is my CPO at Punchmark. He hired me on, and I’ve since found myself in a niche when it comes to e-commerce strategy and web design. I now am Director of User Experience at Punchmark. I lead our dev team as well as the overall production strategy when it comes to that. 

Sharon: That’s really interesting. I’m so surprised to hear you say you went to RIT because that’s a heavy design school. All kinds of art jewelers come out of there.

Michael: Yeah, it has a major, I think, in metal design as well as jewelry design. What’s crazy is they do these installation pieces. I’m sure you’re already aware of these pieces that almost orbit around the head, these really dynamic pieces. It might be one of the only master’s programs in the U.S. for jewelry design. These pieces are absolutely stunning. They almost install around the head and then have a singular earring. It’s all about how the piece is presented. It’s very fascinating. I went to a couple of their shows, unbeknownst to me that I end up in the jewelry industry in the end.

Sharon: I guess I thought you’d say you studied computer science. You were saying e-commerce. 

Michael: Yeah.

Sharon: What does Punchmark do, and why the name Punchmark for the company?

Michael: The original idea behind Punchmark, as it’s been told to me by the founders, is that a coin is just metal until it is punched with the original insignia that denotes its value. For example, a quarter is made of the same type of material as a dime; it’s just a punch that makes the difference. That’s how we see ourselves in bringing brands and businesses to life: everybody starts out, more or less, on the same footing. It’s what you add to the process that adds the value. 

We try to our best to stay ahead of the cutting edge and see where the ball is going, so that way we can lead our leaders. We were one of the first people to be doing serious e-commerce websites for the jewelry industry. Now, with a lot of things shifting toward e-commerce in addition to brick and mortar, what we call an omnichannel solution has had a definite, huge rise in popularity. It’s really exciting to be a part of.

Sharon: I really like that. That’s an interesting concept. It’s all the same; it’s just what size, which President is on the face. We talked a little about this, but tell us more about the transition you’re seeing with jewelers getting into the e-commerce space.

Michael: Absolutely. Whenever people ask me about the shift towards e-commerce—obviously Covid had a huge impact on the jewelry industry, especially right in March 2020, the reason being that prior to those events, the vast majority of sales were done inside of brick-and-mortar stores. When I refer to jewelers, I’m referring to jewelry retailers. We also work with vendors and production companies and technology companies, but specifically jewelry retailers. They were doing so much of their business in their stores. When their stores were forced to close at that time, there was this real uncertainty about what they should be doing. I hate to say I told you so, so I won’t, but I will say that we’ve been constantly pushing people as much as possible to take their online presence seriously. One of the things we are always saying is that your online store should be considered just as important or require as much time as any of your brick-and-mortar stores. Some of our retailers, they have three brick-and-mortar stores, and their website should their fourth. That’s how we see it, and that’s because it takes a lot of work and a lot of extra stuff.

Sharon: That’s a great way to look at it. It does; it takes a lot of nurturing, a lot of care and feeding to get it right.

Michael: Absolutely.

Sharon: I’m thinking about the dealers, maybe not so much the retailers that I’ve talked with. I remember an antique jewelry dealer telling me they had resisted for a long time even doing a website—this was years ago—and the first online sale they made was one of the largest sales they ever made. I know there’s a lot of talk about, “Well, everybody has to touch and feel,” but I think a lot of people are getting past that. What do you think?

Michael: I think it comes down to who the target customers are. What you just mentioned, being loath to adapt to these online businesses, it’s very understandable. Tech is constantly changing, constantly evolving, and it can be extremely overwhelming to get into. That said, it’s like learning a language. Once you learn, you learn how to learn, and then you learn how to adapt and pick up new things. That online presence, what we’re seeing is—say you’re a 60-year-old or 70-year-old retail jeweler. Your shoppers are not all 60 to 70-year-old shoppers. A lot of the target consumers are going to be younger. 

Now millennials are buying engagement rings and jewelry in general. Gen Z is starting to have enough money that they can start shopping. These generations and Gen X as well are very tech fluent, extremely tech fluent. Speaking for myself as a millennial, I was brought up with a computer. I have had the internet as a part of my life for as long as I can remember, so the idea of me spending $200, $300, $400 online for a product that I have not touched is not as foreign to me as some retailers seem to assume because it’s true for them. We’re seeing that a lot of shoppers that are coming through are first-time jewelry shoppers, first-time ring buyers. 

We run a podcast; we sometimes interview consumers for engagement ring buyers, and we’re finding that people love the idea of sitting home alone. It’s the middle of the night; their significant other might be in bed, and they’re shopping online, finding information, getting an idea of what that engagement ring should look like. Whereas before, they walk into a store to buy that engagement ring, and it is intimidating because the store owner is—not breathing down your neck, but very interested. Some people just have social anxiety, and they don’t want to talk to anybody. The idea of having all that information in front of them is very attractive to them.

Sharon: That’s really true. You mentioned two things I want to follow up on. First of all, you mentioned your podcast called In the Loupe, which is a great name; I love it.

Michael: A jeweler’s loupe, yep.

Sharon: Tell us a little bit about that.

Michael: Sure. In the Loupe actually started as a different podcast called the Jeweler Survival Kit. This launched in March 2020. Like I mentioned before, there was a lot of uncertainty when it came to how the pandemic was going to impact these businesses. There was all this silence from the movers and the shakers in the jewelry industry, and we decided to come through and be like, “Alright, here’s how you do it. You should cash up your inventory by selling your unwanted products, selling them at a discount or doing Facebook sales and stuff like that.” As we did a couple of episodes of it, we realized that Coronavirus wasn’t going to go away in one month or two months. We decided to shift to In the Loupe and make it more of a podcast along the lines of educating and advocating. So, not just telling people how things worked, but also saying, “You should be doing this about emerging technologies in the e-commerce space.” We talk about things like SEO, digital marketing, selling online, stuff like that. It’s since evolved into a comprehensive look at the jewelry industry, and it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.

Sharon: It sounds very interesting and necessary, but I could also visualize a lot of jewelers, retailers, manufacturers shutting it off and saying, “Forget it.”

Michael: Yes, we started it like, “Alright, we’ve told you a million times that you should get SEO, which is search engine optimization. It’s how you rank higher in Google. Well, we’re going to tell you how it works.” We talk about Google and how it works, hoping that even if they don’t buy SEO with us, they start to think, “Maybe I should get SEO.” 

What we’ve learned is that trepidation and hesitancy towards these techniques, that doesn’t go away in one day or one week or one month; it’s a long-term process. I see myself as a steward for the industry in that if I do my job right with In the Loupe, which is a partnership with the Smithee Group, who we coproduce it with—if I do my job right, fewer jewelry stores will fall upon hard times in this really uncertain state. More jewelry stores will adapt and be ahead of the curve instead of being behind the curve, which the jewelry industry historically has always been.

Sharon: Do you have people who have worked in the jewelry industry on your team? The reason I ask because I can see prospects pushing back and saying, “What do you know about it?”

Michael: We have a GIA-certified gemologist as our CEO. He actually spent a considerable amount of time in the jewelry industry working at a jewelry store. That’s how he got his founding. Also, our CTO spent a considerable amount of time in the jewelry industry—

Sharon: CTO, you’ll need to explain it. Go ahead.

Michael: CTO is Chief Technology Officer. The Cockerham brothers, they spent many years in the jewelry industry. They grew up at a jewelry store and have done many trips to Antwerp, Belgium for different buying trips. The reason why we got into jewelry is because we have roots in the jewelry industry and we can relate to these jewelers on a deeper basis. 

Sharon: First of all, you said something and then we jumped about. You said something about “we’re going to tell you how to do it.” Could you just repeat that and then stop?

Michael: Yeah. We’re going to tell you how to do it.

Sharon: What you’ve told me about your team, it sounds like you have deep jewelry experience on your team. Do you find that prospective clients breathe a sigh of relief when you say that? 

Michael: It depends. Punchmark was founded in 2008. We’ve been in the jewelry industry for quite a while, and we have a history in the jewelry industry and have made a name for ourselves. We call ourselves the largest online provider for jewelry websites. We have almost 500 clients, and we can see the statistics that are inside our network. I’ve seen people be, again, loath or behind the curve when it comes to pushing forward with this emerging tech, but at the same time, we’ve also taken jewelers who are very slow to adapt and turned them into making frequent sales online. It only seems impossible before you start.

Sharon: That’s great. I have to remember that it only seems impossible before you start. I remember a lot that my father taught me, but one thing that always sticks in my mind and is very motivating is that he would say, “All beginnings are hard.”

Michael: Yes. I also think anything that’s worthwhile in business doesn’t come out of the box, ready to rock and roll. There is some setup. It does require a little bit of hard work, and it requires some communication. You need to be on your email and, like I said before, it needs to be seen as a significant branch of your business if you want it to be a significant part of your business. The thought of, “Oh, I’m just going to load it up with some images and they’re going to sell,” well, in reverse, let’s think about it yourself. Would you buy a piece a jewelry if you have a photo of this necklace that’s going for $1,000, and you took a photo through the display box window, and it’s kind of grainy and the details about it are, “This necklace has 14-karat gold and it’s $1,000.” Well, that seems crazy. I would never buy something with that little information, because who knows? It could be a scam. How do I know the details are there? Also, it doesn’t look good. 

That’s why we’re always advocating through In the Loupe saying, “If you want to sell, you almost need to market to yourself.” What would you look for in this jewelry? For me, at least, I want good photos, lots of details. I want to know everything about the piece of jewelry. I want to be assured that if I’m going to buy a $1,000 bracelet or watch or whatever have you that I am not going to get scammed. It’s real; it’s available, and I need to be assured about that.

Sharon: It sounds like you are marketing to yourself. As director with user experience, you really are looking at what’s going to build that trust in terms of, “this isn’t a scam.” Let me ask you this: somebody we had on the podcast, a dealer, said they thought the most important thing when it comes to user experience is the return policy. What do you think about that?

Michael: Absolutely. Return policies, warranties, shipping information, data policies, all of those accoutrements for an online sale, all of that information is what comes in for the trust factor. We can’t get around it: jewelry is a luxury good. You can even think about a wallet or a pocketbook; these are all luxury items. When it comes to that kind of stuff, you can do without it. That’s the nature of luxury; it’s a want, not a need, but what ends up happening to it is that the other factors are just as important. If I buy this watch and it breaks the first day, am I SOL or am I going to be able to come back and have it refurbished? If I need a new battery, can I come in for that? If it gets shipped to me and it gets lost in the mail, am I out $1,000? All of those things are the trust. 

At least with millennials and Gen Z, we’re finding that they are so tech fluent that they know how to comparison shop much better. If they’re not shopping at your store, if they see that there’s no information and it feels like a risk, they can easily comparison shop and find the exact same product or a similar one somewhere else. That’s the battle you’re always going against. You want to have all of the checks in your box as much as possible.

Sharon: I think that’s such an important point, no matter what industry. If somebody is shopping for something, whether it’s a service or whatever, and they go to one website and there’s no information or it takes a long time to load, they’re gone. That’s it; they’re on to the better website.

Michael: We see that all the time with things like bounce rate. That’s the rate of someone visiting your website and then leaving within, I think, 10 seconds. That means you need to load quickly. You also need to have eye-catching imagery and what we call “above the fold,” which is the information that loads that’s visible on the screen first. 

At lot of times, shoppers, they don’t even know what they want when they start shopping. They start out as an open shopper. They’re going in and they know they need to buy something for their significant other, and they know they like fancy jewelry. Well, they don’t know if they want a hoop earring or a stud; they don’t know that answer. It’s up to you to convince them and show them the way so they can shop without feeling stupid or intimidated. I think that also has to come into the above the fold information.

Sharon Berman