Rapaport Magazine

U.S. Retail

By Lara Ewen
What Will the Holidays Bring?

After months of enthusiastic shopping despite a typically slow summer, stores are seeing a bit of a consumer retreat. Early fall brought with it fears about everything from the Ebola virus to midterm election changes, and those concerns were reflected in a shaky stock market and, in turn, fewer shoppers in jewelry stores. However, the holidays are coming, and there’s hope that the past few weeks of caution will give way to an enhanced desire to bring a bit of joy home for the holidays. Expectations are high that this year’s holiday season will be robust, and that 2015 will see more stability.

Holiday Hopes
   Moving into the fourth quarter, results have been mixed. For some, the past year has brought good news, even if it was unexpected. “I think December is going to be good,” said Tim Harold, vice president of William Harold Jewelers in Newport Beach, California. “We’ve been really busy through the whole summer, which is fairly unusual for us, and with Christmas coming up, if it stays busy, I think the good news will just get amplified because of the holidays. Christmas 2013 was our best Christmas ever. So I anticipate this Christmas being really good.”
   The summer was also good for Amanda Coleman, general manager at Nelson Coleman Jewelers, located in Towson, Maryland, and serving the Greater Baltimore metropolitan area. But even good news during a traditionally slow season does not create confidence moving forward. “We always plan for the worst and hope for the best,” she said. “We had an amazing summer, and it feels as though our clients are back in the buying and giving spirit. However, with Washington, D.C. being unstable, and consumer confidence still down, we buy and stock cautiously.”

Cloudy Forecasts
   Others who had a strong summer are also taking a long view, in part because of weak early fall sales. “Sometimes we don’t know what’s going to happen for us,” said Penn Fix, president, Dodson’s Jewelers in Spokane, Washington. “We’ve had a year and a half of really strong business. So far, it’s been very good, and the summer was very strong. But September and October have been slow, and that clouds what the next two months will be like. We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll do better than 2013 for Christmas. But why does someone decide we have to do better? Who decided every year has to be better as a form of determining how well you do? The best thing is to just manage your bottom line.”
   For a few, it’s become difficult to make predictions about future trends at all. “It’s been off and on, so if that’s any indication, it’s probably going to be slow,” said Don Hamann, president of Sartor Hamann Jewelers, with three stores in Nebraska. “Right now, it’s really spooky with Ebola, and the stock exchange, which has been bad. The price of oil has come down, and that should do good things, but not necessarily. It’s a screwy time. So we have to wait and see if this gets worse or better. It’s weird. I don’t understand this year at all.”
   Naturally, there are those who are confident that the year will end on a strong note. “If the holiday trends like it has been this year, it’s going to be a strong holiday season,” said H. Bredemeier, owner of H & H Jewels in Coconut Grove, Florida. “Down here, the economy has picked back up, and it’s past 2007 numbers. But men are procrastinators. We have a line on December 24 in the morning. It’s the same every year — the usual suspects. I wish I could stay open until 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.”

Christmas Trends
   Beyond questioning whether there will be crowds, and how late the shopping will begin, retailers are also discussing what the big trends will be this holiday. Many have seen a trend to larger gems. “I think for jewelry buying, at least for us, I see a shift to larger stones and larger pieces,” said Harold. “That dropped off for a while, but I see it coming back. Maybe the people who weathered the storm are coming back out, or the economy is getting better. I don’t know what to attribute it to.”
   Technology is also having an impact during the holidays. “Well, the more tech savvy our clients get, especially with their smartphone technology, the more it boosts the convenience of online sales,” said Coleman. “We are trying to fight fire with fire, and really ramp up our online selection.”
   As far as new technology gifts, such as iPhones, competing with jewelry for holiday giving, retailers are not worried. “People in the older range are still going to be buying jewelry,” said Harold. “There is something so utilitarian about an iPad. It’s the modern equivalent of buying your spouse a vacuum cleaner.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - November 2014. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Lara Ewen