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Revamping the Retail Experience

How can modern jewelers make it worth customers’ while to shop brick-and-mortar?

Jan 2, 2020 4:16 AM   By Jennifer Heebner
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RAPAPORT... For Andrea Hansen, a Blue Nile ad that ran during the 2015 holiday season perfectly captures the problem with jewelry retail. In it, a young man is looking at engagement rings through the window of a mom-and-pop store when a cringe-worthy salesman in a cheap suit bursts forth asking if he needs help. The gent promptly flees, and the point is made. (See video at end of article.)

“The store experience is horrible!” declares Hansen, an industry consultant and founder of business development firm Luxeintelligence.

The data reinforces her opinion: US-based jewelry shops continue to close their doors — their number shrank by 4% in 2018, the Jewelers Board of Trade (JBT) has found — even though sales of watches and jewelry worldwide are growing by as much as 6% each year, according to McKinsey & Company research. Online jewelry sales account for about 5% of revenues, McKinsey estimates, and experts expect that figure to inch upward at a modest rate only because consumers still largely want to handle the merchandise before purchase.

In other words, even though physical stores still have a significant role to play, they’re losing market share — and therefore, so are traditional jewelers that rely on them.

McKinsey doesn’t sugarcoat its advice in its “The Jewelry Industry in 2020” report: “Jewelry players can’t simply do business as usual and expect to thrive; they must be alert and responsive to important trends and developments or else risk being left behind by more agile competitors.”

Insiders are vocal about what retailers need to change if they want to evolve. Their advice: Curate offerings, restock seasonally, get creative about engaging customers, and utilize technology.

Make it more fun

The physical store is not just a product showcase; it becomes a space that is equal parts education, workshop and entertainment. It can’t just be someone on one side of a counter selling to someone on the other, says Hansen. “People should come to the product in a different way.”

Retailers might consider renaming gemologists “fashion advisers,” suggests Marty Hurwitz, co-founder and CEO of MVI Marketing. That’s not to downplay the knowledge and expertise necessary to sell jewelry, but new titles like this can inject some much-needed fun into the customer experience. In-store cafes, trips, and a chance to meet designers and see their processes can also get clients more engaged with the products they’re coming in to buy.

Staffers, meanwhile, should be well-trained and personable, he says. They should articulate need over carats, addressing why consumers are shopping rather than just the parameters of the purchase. And if a retailer wants to attract a more diverse customer base, it should have a diverse staff. “We need more women and multiculturalism in stores,” asserts Hurwitz.

Turning to technology

Having a dynamic online presence rich in stories is a must for retailers, as is engagement through social media — especially since consumers often research purchases online first. “There are still some independents who don’t have a website,” Hurwitz remarks.

Overall, technology makes your product more widely accessible, as Hansen has observed in firms like travel marketplace Airbnb and ride-sharing service Uber. “They use technology to make products available in broader geographic areas,” she explains.

This is why she sees promise in Gemsone Concierge, a video-conferencing service for creating bespoke jewelry. Shoppers and jewelers have consultations with computer-aided design (CAD) artists in real time, saving store owners the expense of having an in-house bench jeweler and CAD designer. Gemsone is already in use at hundreds of independent jewelry stores.

Hansen also points to membership-based businesses like wine clubs as having “completely upended the traditional retail-store-centric process.”

‘Serve up less, not more’

Other suggestions for improving the customer experience include buying products that appeal to the clients rather than store personnel, and discounting seasonal inventory to make way for new collections like department stores do, continues Hansen.

Author and industry columnist Peter Smith urges retailers to develop a clear sense of self, citing cosmetics vendor Sephora, eyewear company Warby Parker, and men’s apparel brand Untuckit as examples.

“They are not all things to all people,” says Smith, who is also president of diamond jewelry brand Mémoire.

Another piece of advice he offers: Stop thinking that keeping clients in stores longer will lead to sales. Shoppers today want to get in and get out. Just be sure the experience is emotive, your best-sellers are always in stock, and the staff is wired to sell and legitimately excited to welcome clients.

Smith also advises against having too broad a range of offerings, instead recommending a curated selection. On the internet, algorithms “serve up less, not more, and they give me the best options for me,” he says. Brick-and-mortar businesses, he believes, should do the same.

Finally, retailers need to accept demographic changes. Young people have become a considerable consumer force, women play a role in the bridal purchase, and couples aren’t always a man and a woman.

“Jewelers are still selling to the man and [to] baby boomers — it’s pathetic,” says Hurwitz. “We’ll only see more attrition without changing the way we do things.”

A longer version of this article was first published in the December issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: The 2015 Blue Nile ad. (Blue Nile/YouTube)
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Tags: Andrea Hansen, Blue Nile, Gemsone Concierge, jbt, Jennifer Heebner, jewelers board of trade, Luxeintelligence, Marty Hurwitz, McKinsey & Company, Mémoire, MVI Marketing, peter smith, Rapaport News
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