[Editor's note: This is one of four honorable mention winners in INSTORE’s essay contest. Nearly two dozen jewelry professionals submitted essays in response to the prompt, “What do you see as the strongest competitive threat to your business in 2018, and what specific actions are you taking to address it?”]

Online competition is the biggest obstacle that our store — and the industry at large — faces now and in the future. Vendors and manufacturers with whom we have had strong relationships for decades are our direct competition now, offering free shipping, returns and gifts with purchase on their websites while requiring that we replenish on a regular basis and carry a certain amount of merchandise, and allowing no memo or returns. The disparity between what the client can obtain online versus what she can purchase in-house is staggering.

Take, for instance, a client who found a ring on one of our cornerstone designer’s websites. She was unsure she’d like the size of the piece on her finger and was hesitant to special order as it was not in our stock. She was able to order it online, decide against it, and return it without any consequence. She didn’t even pay shipping. Competing with our own suppliers is a problem that only seems to be growing.

Another instance of this happening is the couple shopping online for engagement rings. The education online is informative, but there is nothing that compares to the hands-on experience. Even online shoppers agree. Of course, this leads clients into our store for an in-person showing and education. Our prices, though, cannot always compete with those online, so potential clients take their new knowledge and purchase online more often than we’d like.

Online shopping is not going anywhere. Wishing it away or ignoring it won’t help. With that in mind, the ways to combat it are two-fold. First, a strong online presence of our own is a must. If we are the brick-and-mortar store as well as the online storefront, there is a much better chance of both capturing new clients and retaining existing ones.

Online shopping is not going anywhere. Wishing it away or ignoring it won’t help.

Second, we have to be better about stressing the benefits of shopping with actual humans who know you and your jewelry. Customer service is the name of the game here. When you need your ring cleaned, you can’t send it back to the internet, right? When you need a stone in micro-pave replaced, or need the ring sized up, what then? You come to us. Why not come to us from the beginning where all those things and myriad others are included with your purchase? Why not come where there are smiling faces who know you by name and will hand you a cold bottle of water (or beer), give you a brownie, and ask you about your kids — and actually want to know the answer? Why not enjoy the experience with your jeweler rather than making it another errand?

Jewelry is about feelings. We give the gift of jewelry to show love or gratitude and to commemorate anniversaries. The internet has at once made the world smaller and created a generation of isolationists. Perhaps it’s time to remind consumers that there is no emotion behind the blue light of a screen.


Heather Burleson is a Graduate Gemologist and a Graduate Jeweler (GIA), having studied on-campus in Carlsbad, CA, from 1999-2000. From the age of 10 and a unit covering rocks and minerals in fourth grade, she knew she wanted to be a gemologist, even going so far as to think she'd made up the word. Originally studying geology, it took only a short time (and a sedimentology class) for her to decide that wasn't her path. She ended up at GIA thanks to a generous and forgiving dad. Since graduating, she has been a gemologist and appraiser, working first at an online jeweler before finding her way to Central Kentucky and Shelia Bayes Fine Jewelers in 2004. Currently, she is not only the gemologist and appraiser on staff, but also the diamond and gemstone buyer. Since SBFJ is a small, independent jeweler, she is also a large contributor to the marketing team, along with spending her share of time on the sales floor, not to mention in front of a computer screen working with reporting and spreadsheets. On the home front, she is married to a wonderful man and mother to two children. Follow her @nerdygemologist on Twitter and Instagram or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/heather.burleson.

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