Spring (and early summer) often get pegged as the seasons of love and romance — which is perhaps not a totally unfair reality, given that when the weather is warm and the flowers are blooming, the majority of the nation’s weddings occur.
But all of those weddings started, of course, with engagements, and engagements tend to cluster around the holidays.
“I’m not getting a lot of calls around the clock from people who are shopping for diamonds. Everybody likes to propose around Christmas time, New Years and Valentines Day; those are the big three days. And Thanksgiving does surprisingly well. People like to get engaged when they are with their entire family. And, you know, honestly it’s not just people getting engaged. Diamonds are very popular Christmas gifts; no one is ever disappointed in diamond jewelry.”
That is Mehul Sompura, the founder of Diamond Hedge, a first-of-its-kind eTailer that wants to make it easier for customers to buy the right ring online via the first augmented reality retail platform for such purchases.
“I grew up in the diamond industry on the wholesale side and have [been] working in importing and exporting diamonds all over the world for my entire life. I also know where the gaps in the industry are, particularly when it comes to serving the consumer,” Sompura said.
But as much as people love buying diamonds, the purchase is not exactly low-stress, particularly when that diamond is set in an engagement ring. Separating out the massive amount of emotional significance engagement rings have, the purchase is also on, a very practical level, a major investment of one’s money. The average price Americans pay for engagement rings is slightly north of $6,000, and a lot of consumers are looking to do way more than average when it comes to making the buy.
For many people, Sompura said, this jewelry purchase will end up being the third-most expensive thing they ever buy — only edged out by a home or a car, which means comparison shopping is the norm.
And comparison shopping isn’t exactly easy in this arena.
“Guys in my experience do a lot of research on this subject. They would come into my office having made entire Excel sheets that they are sweating over just so they can compare diamonds. And I saw this and I was like, God, there has got to be a better way for these guys to do this other than building it manually. It should be easy for these guys to be able to, at a glance, see and compare each carat, each cut, each clarity, each price — but for diamonds that just wasn’t really the case,” Sompura said.
So, he decided to build it himself, offering a single, automated platform where customers could input their various criteria and consolidate that entire comparison shopping building project of a few weeks into a few minutes — letting the software do the work and using the output to guide the customer toward the ring and jeweler that best suits their needs.
“This is a big-ticket item, so consumers are looking to trust who they are buying from. It’s why, when I was building the platform, I focused on large and very known names in retail sales and making agreements with them: the Signet brands (Jared, Zales, Kay, etc), Blue Nile, Butani — just so customers would know immediately they could be comfortable with them.”
Diamond Hedge does more than just offer an informative platform and an easy path to purchase for those in the market for diamond jewelry, though those services are useful on their own, said Sombura. The firm has also chosen to focus on incorporating augmented reality (AR) technology into the digital buying process, giving customers a chance to virtually “try-on” items before purchasing.
“I really think this is the wave of the future, and so when I was thinking about the building this platform, the natural approach was to think about getting ahead of AR.”
To “try on” rings — a sensible thing to do on an expensive item — Diamond Hedge AR gives users the ability to scan their own hand in and view the various rings as they would actually look on their own hands.
“What you tend to see a lot,” Sombura said, “is rings modeled with a generic hand model’s hand, which is basically totally uninformative for a shopper unless they also happen to be a hand model with the same shaped hand.”
Diamond Hedge allows customers to see how a specific ring would appear on their hand, allowing customers to make changes to the ring and modifications to “perfect” the look by changing the setting or varying the cut of the stone.
Sombura noted that feature works whether the shopper is using a mobile app (Android or iPhone) or if they are simply shopping online via a desktop computer.
“It’s very hard if you want to build for the web, as opposed to just embedding this feature in a native app. But customers are sometimes hesitant to add new apps to their phones, so we wanted this to be something that would work wherever the customer is. The customer has all the options here because that is the best way to meet them,” he said.
The technology is still evolving. It’s harder to use the program on a browser than it is with the native mobile app, and it’s still early days for developers trying to figure out how to best program AR for commerce.
After a lifetime of selling diamonds, Sombura said the writing is on the wall, and the diamond industry as a whole could use a digital upgrade. Consumers love buying shiny things, he stated. And for something as expensive and meaningful as an engagement ring, the buying experience needs to be pretty shiny as well.