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In retail slump, HK jeweler lets clients try before they buy

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HONG KONG — Online luxury jeweler Plukka is going door-to-door to beat the worst retail downturn in more than a decade in Hong Kong, where some of the world’s most expensive commercial rents and plunging sales are corroding earnings of much larger rivals.

A shop assistant works at Plukka Store in Hong Kong, China November 30, 2015. Online luxury jeweller Plukka is going door-to-door to beat the worst retail downturn in more than a decade in Hong Kong, where some of the world's most expensive commercial rents and plunging sales are corroding earnings of much larger rivals. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The start-up, which aims to go public in Australia on Friday via a A$10-million ($7-million) back-door listing, has taken a leaf from video-on-demand service Netflix, Inc. and cosmetics company Avon Products, Inc., offering customers to try before they buy.

This service, launched in Hong Kong and New York last month, could potentially shield Plukka from the blues besetting bricks-and-mortar luxury retailers, its founder and creative director Joanne Ooi told Reuters, as their main customers — cash-rich Chinese tourists — avoid shopping in Hong Kong, put off by a weaker yuan and the Beijing government’s crackdown on corruption which has also targeted conspicuous spending.

“We saw that the reaction of consumers to jewelry in person was completely different to online,” Ms. Ooi added. “The logical evolution of that phenomenon is how you can give the consumer the opportunity to see the jewelry before they buy it.”

Earlier this year, Coach, Inc. closed its flagship store in Hong Kong while Chow Tai Fook, China’s largest jewelry retailer by sales and which competes with Cartier and Tiffany & Co., last week reported a 42% drop in first-half profit, its biggest half-yearly decline since it listed in December 2011.

Plukka’s customers choose products online and then book a 45-minute viewing at their home or office for a charge, which is waived with any purchase. The company, which launched in 2011, said the proceeds of its IPO will go towards global expansion. It currently has one physical store in Hong Kong and plans to open another in London next year.

Deborah Weinswig, head of global retail and technology at Fung Business Intelligence Centre, said Plukka’s combination of online and physical shopping could be a game-changer for the jewelry sector.

Other analysts, however, said the service was a gimmick.

“It will take time to prove the business model, and it will take time to educate customers about this new approach,” said Walter Woo, an analyst at Oriental Patron Financial. — Reuters

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