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Tips for Promoting Ethical Credentials

Customers are more likely to purchase products from companies that share their values. Here are five pieces of advice for gaining buyers’ confidence.

Dec 30, 2019 8:33 AM   By Leah Meirovich
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RAPAPORT... When it comes to the jewelry industry’s future, consumer trust is essential. Recent research shows that a vast majority of customers are more disposed to purchase a product from a company that advocates for an issue they care about. In contrast, they would refuse to buy from a company with a moral code that went against their beliefs, even if no alternative were available. To attract consumers and increase sales, it’s therefore imperative for retailers to highlight their ethical credentials. Doing so gives customers a reason to choose your store over your competitors’.

1. Know that they want to know

Retailers often have difficulty knowing which shoppers are genuinely interested in what the company stands for. They worry they might lose business by imparting unsolicited information to the wrong customer. However, in this age of awareness, most customers are likely to be interested in a business’s social and moral beliefs, says Iris Van der Veken, executive director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). As such, not giving them the information they seek is even more detrimental.

“Whether or not consumers actually come forward with questions at the counter, we know that the large majority pre-researches online before making a purchase,” she explains.

Independent adviser Christina Miller concurs. “If you’re making the effort to legitimately take the steps that lead to a credential, it is important to share this,” stresses Miller, founder of Christina T. Miller Sustainable Jewelry Consulting. “While customers are increasingly more informed about the challenges faced by the jewelry industry, they don’t necessarily know what to ask.”

Retailers should rely on their interpersonal skills to understand a customer’s needs, adds Tiffany Stevens, CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC). “If you’re running a successful jewelry business in 2019, you know your customer, and you know how to serve them.”

2. Communicate clearly

Not letting shoppers know the effort you’re making and the great things you’re doing obscures what makes your business special. Since studies show that consumers are more interested in this information than ever, retailers shouldn’t be afraid of overwhelming them, says Stevens.

Not only have customers become receptive to these efforts through other industries, they now expect them, so it’s even more important for the jewelry industry to keep up. “Don’t be shy,” she encourages. “Engage on this issue and you will likely make your customers even happier than they already are.”

While Van der Veken agrees, she points out that when sharing information, retailers should keep it simple and accessible.

“Consumers are far more knowledgeable now, especially the younger consumer, who is looking at not just ‘tell me,’ but ‘show me,’” she says. “[But] as today’s consumers are bombarded with more information than ever before, it’s vitally important to communicate as clearly and straightforwardly as possible.”

Van der Veken advises providing online links to additional information the customer can look up if he or she chooses.

3. Make a local difference

The question isn’t what most consumers care about when it comes to ethical credentials, it’s what your customers care about. Ethical considerations can cover a large range of topics, from environmental and social impact to human-rights issues, charitable works and employee relations. However, research shows that contributing to the economic development of the local community is one of the most important issues consumers consider when it comes to parting with their hard-earned cash.

“Consumers care that their purchases are designed, manufactured and ultimately delivered with respect for human rights, and not associated with conflict,” says Van der Veken. “More and more consumers want to know that the retailer is a good community citizen too, so they may like to know how the retailer contributes to development.”

A strong example of community awareness and giving back is De Beers. The miner not only hires a large proportion of local citizens, but also creates local scholarships, supports educational and skill-development programs, builds infrastructure, and helps the area’s wildlife.

4. Every little bit helps

Many of the practices retailers can highlight require little effort, but score big with consumers. Disclosing the origins of metals and gems or stating whether they’ve undergone treatments is a good start. Customers appreciate transparency in any form, and knowing your supply chain is ethical goes a long way.

“[Ethical credentials] are ultimately about showing commitment and progress, not about being perfect,” says Van der Veken. “It starts with the basics. Know your supply chain, know who you’re buying from, look at your product disclosure and take small steps. Small, meaningful steps.”

Even something as simple as emphasizing that your jewelry is made in the US or that you’re involved in philanthropic efforts can be a good starting point, notes Stevens. And though taking actions that align with your customers’ values is optimal, it’s most important to make the effort. In fact, 90% of Americans say it’s okay if a company is not perfect, as long as it’s honest, according to a survey by Cone Communications.

“[Being ethical] is a process, and that’s fine, because people are afraid, and they shouldn’t be afraid,” says Van der Veken. “It is a road map of continuous improvement.”

5. Optimize your channels

Understanding and embracing the advantages of touting your ethical practices is one thing, but knowing how to implement them is another.

While experts recommend posting the information on multiple channels, they agree a retailer’s social-media platforms and website are the best places: They are non-intrusive, and consumers have indicated that they research businesses online before spending their money. In-store displays are another way to provide data without being pushy.

“A legitimate credential should be shared across as many channels and methods as possible,” says Miller.

“So if there’s a brick-and-mortar space, then signage can be included. If the retailer is online, then there are opportunities to share across websites and social media.”

Retailers who are still reluctant to publicize their credentials directly can form strategic partnerships with philanthropic groups that align with their business values, such as Jewelers for Children or a wildlife association. Publicizing this type of information will indirectly inform customers of a company’s efforts.

One thing that’s crucial, though, is to educate sales staff so they can correctly and efficiently pass on information to consumers.

“Spending the time and effort to properly train your frontline sales staff is a really effective way to get your messaging and values across,” says Stevens.

Van der Veken agrees. “A consumer deserves reliable data, and trust is at the heart of buying a piece of jewelry. Every retailer is as unique as the customers they serve. However, the one common thread is that every retailer must be prepared to address well-researched, well-educated, knowledgeable and caring customers.”

This article was first published in the December issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: A woman shopping for rings at a jewelry store. (Shutterstock)
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Tags: Christina Miller, Christina T. Miller Sustainable Jewelry Consulting, ethical credentials, Iris Van der Veken, Jewelers Vigilance Committee, JVC, Leah Meirovich, Responsible Jewellery Council, RJC, Tiffany Stevens
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