Many things have evolved since the turn of the century, and especially in the last 2 years. These changes have impacted many aspects of life, including how we interact and how we buy things.
Times Have Changed
- “Zoom” has become a verb, changing how people and even institutions meet and conduct business.
- Digital purchases have replaced many face-to-face interactions. From items at a grocery store to auction items at Sotheby’s, sellers in all sectors have developed better shopping functionality, online product representation and imaging.
- Free shipping and free return policies have become normalized.
- And even if we return to pre-pandemic conditions, ecommerce sales are expected to surpass $1 Trillion this year (!)
In-Store Jewelry Sales Today
- Signet, owner of Kay Jewelers and other popular chain stores, introduced a suite of digital solutions for shoppers called “Path to Brilliance” in 2020. Instead of going to the mall, users can set up virtual appointments and purchase on the website, with free shipping or BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store). This resulted in an unprecedented 61% growth in digital sales for Signet stores between November 2020 and November 2021.
- Tiffany & Company now offers online selection and purchase of diamond engagement rings.
- In between those bookends, many independent jewelers have started listing products online and adding shopping carts.
- Some of the most innovative bricks & mortar jewelers have become true hybrid operations, building search engines which include images and video of their in-store inventory, offering chat/text and training their workforce how to interact with shoppers digitally, as well as in-store.
Online Jewelry Sales Today
- Online jewelry sales in the USA totaled nearly $7.6 billion in 2021.
- Part of that is going to new startup companies entering the field, selling natural and lab grown diamond products.
- Leading online sellers like Blue Nile and JamesAllen.com, with strong marketing and influencer games, are benefiting from the pivot to digital buying, in some cases seeing double-digit growth since the pandemic.
- Younger generations entering the bridal market are increasingly comfortable buying things online, especially since 2020.
Sellers with a physical shop, a responsive website, a social media presence, phone, chat, email, positive reviews and influencers are taking advantage of the digital wave through multichannel marketing and selling.
The only physical component in a phygital buying experience is seeing diamonds and jewelry in live settings. That should probably be the first step in any journey toward a major purchase, especially bridal. But once the initial research is done, every other part of the consumer multichannel experience can potentially be done digitally.
Beginning with in-store experience is important, especially for new bridal shoppers. See properly graded diamonds in-person. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for natural diamonds or lab grown, the 4Cs are the 4Cs. Know what the eventual wearer likes in terms of shape. Find a carat weight target that looks right. Find a range of color you’re comfortable with. And clarity is simple. Know whether you want extremely high clarity for the prestige, clarity that is perfectly clean to human eyes, or whether you don’t mind inclusions or blemishes which are somewhat noticeable.
Cut quality is harder to nail down, since grading organizations take different approaches – and don’t confine grading to a single taste factor when grading cut. The top grades for round diamonds are “Ideal” or “Excellent” but grading standards are not uniform. When considering cut in person it’s useful to remember the three Ls – lighting, lighting, lighting – and take diamonds you’re considering on a tour. All diamonds will look great under jewelry store spotlighting. Ask to see diamonds in normal office lighting, daylight conditions and even low lighting. Sellers of well cut diamonds often have a low lit corner, away from spotlights, or simply hold them under the counter, to demonstrate how bright they remain away from spotlights. I’ve also composed a Cut Quality Cliff’s Notes for round diamonds, in case it’s useful.
The other steps in a phygital experience can all take place online. The most equipped sellers will have a website, reviews posted, products listed and various ways to transact the purchase, whether that occurs in person at the counter, or via digital shopping cart with in-store pickup or home delivery.
You will also find competing products offered online by numerous ecommerce sellers. Just be aware that the information provided on any seller’s website is promotional, by nature. Cross-referencing with reliable, neutral sources of education is always a good idea. The word neutral is key, there.
There are a number of websites offering “free diamond buying advice.” In fact, those websites have gone to great expense to be sure they rank high in searches. The information you find may be reliable, but many of those sites exist for only one reason: They were established to steer you to an affiliated seller who pays them for your click-throughs and gives them a percentage of your ultimate purchase. Their sole purpose is converting sales for sellers they’re financially affiliated with. That’s not a problem as long as you’re aware of it.
You can also fact check information on industry trade association and diamond grading laboratory websites. Their education sections and blogs are typically neutral and accurate, though not as specific as information provided by those selling diamond and jewelry products.
Choosing Your Seller
There are many trustworthy sellers. But they have radically different models, different areas of focus and different policies. The key is to find the company with that sweet spot of market sector, sales model, product/quality focus and policies that fits you best.
There’s good news on that last point. Policies have become far more consumer friendly in the past two years. These days an inspection period, money back return period and even free shipping are everywhere. The old signs at jewelry store cash registers declaring “no refunds” or “all purchases final” have largely been tossed into the basement, unless there is a unique, defensible reason for such a policy.
In the years after purchase some sellers provide upgrade policies. This is a nice value-add, since consumers typically cannot move a diamond for what it was sold to them for. It essentially allows you to return an item and use the money you paid toward a more expensive item. There are two types of upgrade policies for natural diamonds; restricted and unrestricted. In a restricted upgrade policy, you receive credit in the amount of your original purchase when upgrading to a diamond that costs 2X as much or weighs 2X the carat weight. Other sellers provide unrestricted upgrades where you receive full credit when upgrading to any more expensive combination of Cs.
There are other upgrade models, but those two are the most frequent. Check out every seller’s “why us?” proposition and compare them, head to head.
Giving Back to the Multiverse
Once you have completed your multichannel experience, you can “give back” and help future shoppers by leaving reviews of all the companies you interacted with. This shouldn’t be limited to the company you decided on – it’s nice to leave positive reviews for any organization you visited and were pleased with on your journey.