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21 september 2020

ali_pastorini_zz.pngAli Pastorini is the co-owner of Del Lima Jewelry and President of Mujeres Brillantes, an association which brings together more than 1,000 women working in the gold and diamond trading sector, mainly from Latin America, as well as from Turkey, Spain, Italy, and Germany. The mission of Mujeres Brillantes is to help women in the jewelry and watchmaking sectors consolidate their business in order to exchange professional skills and experience. In the immediate past, Ali Pastorini was also Senior Vice President of the World Jewelry Hub in Panama.

In this interview with Rough & Polished she tells about the situation in the jewelry industry in the context of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

How does Del Lima Jewelry feel about the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?

In our case, I believe it helped a lot our speed in understanding and reacting to what was happening. We cut expenses where we could cut, without affecting the functionality and service to our customers. In this way, we were also able to keep with our employees. We had the humility to learn from our mistakes in the past and today everything that we plan to do it´s with the awareness that the project can go right or wrong, what will make the difference it´s how fast we react to both scenarios.

An interesting thing happened at Del Lima, is that our customers who are used to purchase high luxury pieces still have the same "appetite" to buy these pieces, while the younger consumers who used buy more affordable pieces ,were the ones that most reduced consumption or even did not buy any piece during the pandemic. These consumers are more afraid of the future and consequently chose not to buy.

In terms of sales and numbers, Del Lima was not strongly affected, but what will change is our behavior in the current situation. We learned that before we used the virtual as a complement to the physical. Today we understand that the digital will become the protagonist, will not completely replace the physical, but will play a fundamental role in the growth of sales. And the faster a brand understands this, the more it will take advantage to get many customers who are buying during this quarantine.

As a co-owner of a jewelry company, please tell us what unsatisfied consumer demand looks like after two or three months of isolation.

This surprises me, because at the beginning of the pandemic I believed, I even spoke in an interview about it, that people would considerably decrease their purchasing power due to the new reality. But months later, what we at Del Lima are seeing is greater loyalty to the values of our brand, and consequently a good demand in pieces with precious stones such as diamonds.

I believe it was a mixture of behavior, from the need for people to want to consume since they were being forced to stay at home, along with how Del Lima behaved by practicing positive marketing from the beginning. There was a quarantine period where the number of deaths was growing very fast around the world, and we chose not to post anything on our social medias or even communicate with our customers about the brand. I think that decisions like this have gained empathy with our customers and greater loyalty.

However, as I said before, younger consumers or those consumers looking for more affordable collections (before Covid19) were the ones who reduced the amount of purchase and in some cases there was no purchase. But we realized that they continue to interact with us, which shows that they also approved the brand's behavior during the Pandemic not presenting ourselves with futility and lack of empathy at the moment that we are going through. We realize that when these consumers are able to go back to consuming, they will look for us because they like to know that they are using a unique product from a brand that respects their moment and the society.

What advice could you give to industry businesses on how to overcome the crisis with the least losses and maintain their competitiveness?

Do not think that things have not changed. Be humble to cut costs, but do not cut all costs where it affects the quality of your services. Be transparent with your employees about your current situation. Do not make promises this year because we still do not know what exactly will happen in these next months.

Look for or reinforce your partnerships and collaborations. It is better for you to earn less than to earn nothing and leave the market. I have always said, with or without crisis, collaboration and partnership contributes to many things within a brand, from reducing expenses to reaching new customers and expanding the brand. Our sector still has an individualistic thinking, I believe when we allow ourselves to look at the scenario in a broader way it facilitates the keep relevant in the market, even in the crisis.

Are consumers still attracted to diamond jewelry?

More than ever! This behavior on the part of the jewelry consumer also surprised me because I believed that this desire and demand would decrease somewhat during the quarantine and the consumer would buy pieces with less diamonds. But the opposite occurred, I believe that this behavior is due to how the future is still uncertain, the consumer when purchasing a product wants something that will pass somehow security and stability in the future. Gold and diamonds convey this message of solidity and stability, I believe that this made the difference on the customer's decision when buying a diamond jewelry.

Talking to colleagues in the industry, I realized that, like my brand, the majority who work with diamond jewelry suffered less losses than jewelry with other material or precious stones.

Sales of raw diamonds in recent months are still very low. Do you share the view that opening borders is required to resume trading at a more normal level? Can Russia's recently registered Sputnik V vaccine, which Brazil has already shown interest in, speed up this process?

Undoubtedly, opening borders and allowing travel to return to normal will increase and facilitate business between countries. In addition, tourism increases, which contributes to the increase in the consumption of products, mainly luxury products, since people usually buy this type of product when they are traveling instead of buying locally. But we also have to understand that while people are anxious to get back to their normal routine, travel and do business, they are still afraid of this virus and consequently prefer to wait for the vaccine.

I think that any vaccine, as long as it follows the proper steps and research before being applied to humans, will be welcome. What we cannot do is in a hurry to find the antidote, to make hasty and irresponsible decisions because we are anxious to return to our normal routine.

We have to understand that this virus has affected the lives of many people economically, and consequently the trade and industries around the world. I, as a business owner, know how much this months' stoppage will seriously affect the economy of many countries, but that does not mean that we have to hurry and make decisions that could make the situation worse. The vaccine, whatever country it comes from, needs to be well tested so as not to run the risk of not being effective and in a few months we are all in social isolation again.

How do you think prices on the diamond market can be supported in the medium and long term?

I am seeing a movement of new platforms looking for solutions to this theme. In fact, on the Business Talk platform I conducted during the quarantine through my Instagram @ali_pastorini, debates with the creators of some of these platforms.

I think that at a time like this, common sense on all sides is the most appropriate. I do not know if in practice those who read this interview will become aware that all sides should give in a little, but I hope that perhaps due to the atypical moment we are experiencing, there is this awareness of negotiating and understanding the other side. If companies do not see this, they will gradually lose their customers, because due to the emergence of new companies offering other business possibilities and for more competitive prices, I think that the company that insists on doing business as it did before Covid19 will lose not only medium or long term, but also permanent.

Can we expect further growth in online sales of diamonds and jewelry?

For sure! It is good to understand that digital sales are here to stay, before Covid19 we could question when all companies would go digital and be in the virtual world. Now that debate has changed, we are talking about a reality that is already present and that will increase and be part in the consumer's life.

As I said earlier, I don't think that digital will completely replace the physical, because people will still want to see each other, will want to visit your store, will want to touch the jewelry before buying, and will want to receive a special service that a store offers, so it is a fact that it will not replace, but it will have an important role in the interaction with your client, relationship building, post sales communication and simultaneous launch in several countries. It will also contribute to the purchase of different products at the same time and even in the way of ordering something more special. So I say, that although it does not replace and does not have the magic that a physical experience provides, it does not mean that it should be ignored and less invested, after all it will be your "door of introduction" to new customers and build their loyalty with your brand.

Consequently in numbers this will lead to an increase in online sales because the customer will create confidence in purchasing offline or online of your product, in other words, your list of customers will increase when you allow your brand be in both channels.

I don't see this theme as a reason for jewelers to be afraid, I see this theme as a great opportunity to get more customers and sell more.

COVID-19 probably affected MUBRI's agenda as well. What are your plans for the near future?

We adapted the World Meeting this year to virtual. Every year we celebrate the World Meeting in some country, this year when we realized that things would not return to normal anytime soon we decided to perform virtually. It will take place on October 02nd , 03rd, 04th with webinars with the best professionals in the sector from the most diverse countries, and in parallel to this there will be a virtual exhibition with 75 brands of the Association from countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Despite the challenges, with this decision we noticed an increase of the registration of jewelers in the Association, which before in the Annual Meetings we took 40 jewelers to the Meeting, now we will be with the majority of our members participating. So I see the balance with this more positive than negative.

Alex Shishlo for Rough&Polished