While shoulder-to-shoulder galas may not be on the table this year, there are ways to tweak traditional holiday events, be involved in the community and get the word out that can build business while speeding up the sales process. The key is to combine the top-notch customer service you’re accustomed to delivering with a heavy dose of digital, a shot of creativity and a healthy respect for social distancing.
As jewelry retailers began to assess an uncertain path through 2020 on the way to the holidays, hopeful signs began to emerge. In a De Beers Group survey of 1,000 U.S. residents ranging in age from 20 to 65 with a household income of $75,000 and above, almost 60 percent of men said they plan to buy diamond jewelry for their significant other for the holidays, and 30 percent of women planned to make such a purchase for themselves or as gifts. “Upheaval has led to a desire for signs of hope and happiness,” said Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers Group and a keynote speaker at JCK Virtual in August.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they want gifts this season to be meaningful and beautiful, rather than simply fun or practical. Most who plan to shop for diamond jewelry want timeless, classic pieces such as solitaires and stud earrings.
“At a time of economic uncertainty, people are looking for good quality products that will endure,” Cleaver said.
In addition, sentimental jewelry of all types, such as engraved lockets and charms, continue to be in demand, according to influencer Danielle Miele of Gem Gossip, so much so that she recommends that retailers have an engraver on staff to personalize jewelry.
A desire for jewelry is combined with a growing cognizance among consumers of how important it is to support local businesses. “We were all scared to death when the pandemic hit,” says sales trainer Jimmy DeGroot. “Now we’ve learned that people do want to shop with us, because we’re ‘their jeweler.’”
Gabrielle Grazi, vice-president of retail strategy for the Natural Diamond Council, says small local retailers are in a better position than most to ensure a personal experience that feels safe. “Independents are going to position themselves very well for the back half of the year, but they need to make sure they have an online presence,” Grazi says. “The industry has lagged behind in digital, but this has propelled everyone forward.”
Ben Smithee, CEO of The Smithee Group, who spoke during an Atlanta Jewelry Show webinar in August, says change comes as a direct result of discomfort. Retailers will have to keep up with consumer expectations about the speed of transactions, and that means your operation must be mobile-friendly and responsive. “If you are not in here,” Smithee said, holding up his cell phone, “you do not exist.”
It’s natural to feel uncertain about how to approach the holidays in a year like no other in our collective memory. Where to begin? Start with the familiar. Go ahead and decorate, for example, suggests branding consultant Pam Levine. “Make your windows fantastic, make them cheerful,” she says. “Use lighting and drama. We’re all hungry for festivity.”
When it comes to festivity, what about all those holiday events — men’s night, women’s night, those VIP parties? Becky Bettencourt of Blue River Diamonds in Peabody, MA, plans to focus on online business and virtual personal shopping. “It’s going to be really difficult to hold events in such an uncertain time, and our marketing is going to reflect how we will go the extra mile to make a customer feel safe.”
Troy and Joy Thollot, owners of Thollot Diamonds and Fine Jewelry in Thornton, CO, hope to retain the excitement of their biggest annual event, Diamonds for Diabetes, while dividing crowds into more manageable groups. Guests purchase $25 ornaments hanging on a Christmas tree in the store. The ornaments conceal jewelry and loose gem prizes valued at more than $25,000 total. Instead of one large event, the Thollots plan to schedule hourly reservations to divide the crowd into smaller groups and give everyone an opportunity to participate safely. In case money raised is significantly lower than in past years, they have a plan B: They could host a second event in the summer of 2021, with a seasonal theme such as digging in a sandbox for treasure.
STAY IN TOUCH.
Kathleen Cutler, mentor to fine jewelers, says that if no one new shopped with you this year, simply nurturing your previous client relationships would ensure sales success. “The quickest way to cash is always going to be people who know and trust you,” she says.
What’s a good way to connect in 2020? Think about what you might say if you saw a client at a party. You wouldn’t speak at them in a long, breathless paragraph. Instead, you’d begin a conversation. So, reach out with a simple question via email or text to engage: “I have some pieces in mind for your wish list. Anything you want me to add?” or “I have some ideas for you! Want to hop on a video call? or “Want a tour of our newest collection?”
Sales trainer Jimmy DeGroot suggests printing a report for each client based on length of relationship or dollar amount spent. Then set a goal to contact five clients per day beginning in late October by phone, email or whatever is the customer’s preferred means of communication. Don’t assume they won’t want to stop by. Invite them in to get their jewelry checked and cleaned, to try your special new organic teas or coffee, and browse. Says DeGroot: “My phone message may sound like this: ‘Hey Tina, I just wanted to invite you in to get your jewelry checked and brightened up for the holidays, and I’m gonna need some ideas for when Mark calls me on Dec. 22 looking for a Christmas gift for you.’”
Follow through on a disciplined plan of daily customer touches like this and you’ll:
1. Start the conversation.
2. Get them thinking.
3. Have some folks take you up on it.
4. Have a more consistent sales season.
5. Be happier on Dec. 15 instead of wondering “Where is everybody?”
6. Build your clienteling (personal trade skills) so that this type of communication can happen all year long.
Show up online! Yes, every day!
“There will always be an in-store experience, and it better be interesting and worth the effort of getting there!” says jewelry consultant Andrea Hill. “But I think it’s going to be less and less dominant. That was happening already, but the timeline for change has been accelerated by the pandemic.”
So, if your business and interaction has shifted online to a far greater degree than you have been used to, the first thing to remember is to simply show up there. If you’ve recently added online sales to your repertoire, your website should be treated like a new location, says Cutler. If you’re thinking, “I can’t believe I have to show up here” or “I can’t believe I have to answer questions here,” you are on the wrong track. “Would you say that about your physical location? The more you can think of it as another location, the more you can determine how much time and staffing you will need,” she says.
Showing up daily means checking in on Instagram and Facebook, responding to chat inquiries on your website, experimenting with live video and adding educational content. Let them know about your wish lists, opportunities for virtual appointments and what to expect if they come into the store.
If you’re interacting with clients via video, practice, but be kind to yourself as you learn. “The learning curve and new etiquette is real,” says Cutler. “You will have tech issues, you will look away from the camera. Just know that if you accidentally hang up on a person or you realize you haven’t brushed your hair for the day, it’s a learning curve. Resolve to not make the same mistake twice.”
Sell directly from social media.
“Social ads are still the No. 1 way to see ROI on ad dollars,” says Ben Smithee. “Let people shop through social for instant gratification.” Evelyn Stetzer, integrated brand strategist for The Smithee Group, suggests setting up catalog ads in your social-media newsfeed with a banner and product photos underneath it for a curated experience. Lead shoppers to a landing page on your website with 15 to 20 holiday gifts that the staff has curated that are in stock, boxed and ready to go.
Or create an Instant Experience ad on Instagram. When a shopper clicks on your ad on their mobile device, it opens up to a full-screen landing page within the application where you can add links, video and product galleries and descriptions.
It can be set up with a variety of layouts, including a large photo of your store, for example, with clickable photos of jewelry below. Or a photo of a model wearing jewelry; each jewelry item she’s wearing can be clicked to pull up description, price, and purchase.
Experiment with new social outlets.
Instagram Reels is new to the market, but it can be a great way to create engaging video content that can convert to sales this holiday season, says branding expert Jen Cullen Williams. “It has a lot of similar functionality to TikTok, so I recommend that jewelers play around with all filters and features on their personal accounts first and then try it on their business account. Jewelers should visit the Reels Explore Feed to see what other businesses and content creators are posting. The key is to use trending music, and to show before-and-afters and product styling suggestions. Jewelers can do a gift of the day/week suggestions and highlight products available to shop now.”
Encourage first purchases.
Offer a lower-priced item for sale on your website that will benefit a cause or a charity, such as a local food bank, for the holidays. These gateway purchases are appealing and may well break down barriers to the purchase of higher-priced items as people become accustomed to shopping on your website, says Smithee, while promoting your business as a “human brand,” something proving to be increasingly important this year.
The team at Cooper & Binkley Jewelers hit the streets to spread happiness and goodwill.
To celebrate 70 years of business, Cooper & Binkley Jewelers of Brighton, MI, performed 70 random acts of kindness. They went out into the community 10 times over 10 weeks and randomly presented seven people each time with a beautifully wrapped gift of jewelry from the store. They shot video, posted it to social media, and it went viral. About halfway through the 10 weeks, people started to recognize what was happening when they saw the store’s staff walk into a building. One caveat for 2020: Respect mask rules if approaching people or entering buildings bearing gifts.
John Carter, owner of Jack Lewis Jewelers in Bloomington, IL, has played “BLINGO” online with clients this year. He sent them digitized bingo cards and filled in the spaces with vendors. “We reached out to our top customers because we missed them,” Carter says. “It’s a fun way for people to interact at happy hour, have a drink and socialize.” Carter said the idea, beyond the sheer entertainment value, gave the whole staff much needed motivation and energy. “The relationship behind what we do is what feeds us,” he says. “If you’re a social creature like me, you feed on daily interaction. So, we found new ways to do that. We know we won’t be able to have 50 to 100 people in our store in the fourth quarter.”
Natasha Henderson of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers reports success with Facebook and Instagram Live.
Natasha Henderson of Saxon’s Fine Jewelers in Bend, OR, is doing more online gatherings as well as mini pop-up style events. “We have seen success from Facebook and Instagram Live,” she says. “It is a lot of work, but once you get the hang of it and taste sweet success, you know it is a strategy that you must continue to use.”
If you are going live, Jen Cullen Williams offered some advice during a Jewelers of America webinar:
1. Lighting and sound are very important.
2. Test it on different types of platforms.
3. Hold your hand out slowly so people can see the jewelry.
4. Don’t use a teleprompter when you’re live.
5. People come in midway, so it’s good to introduce yourself or the person you’re talking with periodically if you see a lot of people logging on at once.
Other advice from the webinar? Duvall O’Steen, marketing and communications consultant, suggests practicing using a mirror to create a 3D appearance to the jewelry you are showing. Lilian Raji of the Lilian Raji Agency says if you’re truly not comfortable live and you can’t hire someone to do it for you, go with recorded content to begin with and work your way up to Instagram Live. You can also hire a media trainer to help you learn how to do it.
Hold a high-profile contest.
J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point, FL, launched a giveaway leading up to Valentine’s Day. The prize? A highly visible wedding-proposal billboard along I-95. The winner turned out to be Patrick Callahan of Delray Beach, FL, who had grown up in Lighthouse Point and had purchased a round solitaire diamond set in platinum from J.R. Dunn Jewelers. Callahan learned he won in March, but he had to reschedule his proposal to his girlfriend of six years, Taylor, several times. F
inally, in August, he surprised her with the ring in a romantic outdoor setting. Then, on the way to a surprise dinner with family and friends, they drove past J.R. Dunn’s billboard reading “Taylor, will you marry me? – Patrick,” displaying a larger than life picture of the couple. Callahan also arranged a lift to take them up to the billboard for a one-of-a-kind photo shoot.
Create a virtual showroom.
If you’re finding that showing clients jewelry via Google and Zoom meetings can be a little, uh, clunky, and not on a par with your luxury in-store experience, a more seamless platform has been developed that’s expected to smooth out those rough edges. A tech company called BOSS Logics, which has partnered with Buyers International Group (BIG), is creating a stir in the jewelry industry by streamlining the entire mobile virtual store experience, from scheduling and shopping to payment and delivery. A monthly subscription is available to retail jewelers, who will be able to sort, organize and present jewelry images and videos to customers on their mobile devices during appointments without having to share their own screens. They can choose items to present to their client and put them together on a virtual counter pad. Together, due to the integration of BIG’s daily data cultivation from each participant’s point-of-sale system, also provides tools for the salesperson to customize the experience, such as knowing the customer’s likes and dislikes based on their past purchase history as well as understanding what is in stock and where. It’s also seamless for clients to schedule an appointment or see who is available to assist them in real time.
The platform does not require downloading an app and is designed both for B-to-C and B-to-B sales. Together will be integrated with Magenta and Shopify, as well, and clients will have access to American Gem Society diamonds. “We expect the level of engagement we get will make it universal in the jewelry industry,” says Zach Lipsky, president of BOSS Logics. Abe Sherman, CEO of BIG, says he’s incredibly excited about “the cost-savings and efficiency that Together is going to bring to our industry and how it will help reinvigorate the independent jeweler’s market position.”
Host a Zoom event for your top clients.
For example, says Cutler, host a virtual wine-tasting for top clients. Send 10 clients two bottles of wine each, along with an invitation, and invite a wine expert to talk about the wine. Play music as guests enter the Zoom space. Or host a cooking class. Or invite them to meet a jewelry designer and encourage everyone to wear the designer’s pieces to the Zoom event if they are already collectors. Meet with new clients on Zoom, too, and send them a gift or a bottle of wine in advance.
“Think about how you can make the experience in the virtual world as intimate as possible,” Cutler says. “You could use a second monitor with a magnifying glass to show some of the pieces.”
Jewelry designer Penny Preville hosted an event called “Penny & Pinot,” her first Zoom trunk show, from her home with 15 clients of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, based in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Prior to the event, Bernie Robbins owner Maddy Rovinsky hand-delivered invitations accompanied by a “few of Penny’s favorite things,” including an insulated wine tote, a bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, a homemade chocolate chip cookie and a custom designed mask embellished with a sequin butterfly.
Jamie Hollier of Balefire Goods in Arvada, CO, is planning a virtual store anniversary party with a red carpet theme. She’ll also be celebrating several “Best in Denver” awards the gallery received this year. She’ll offer giveaways and is considering a themed refreshment in collaboration with a liquor store. Virtual attendees will be invited to show off their formal wear.
Bernie Robbins Jewelers sent 15 clients elegant invitations to a Zoom trunk show.
Fine tune custom design presentations.
Jewelry designer Kristin Baird, who specializes in custom design and repurposing heirlooms in her appointment-only studio in Savannah, GA, uses a free platform called Loom to record videos for her clients, who can replay them at their convenience. The process not only improves communication with custom-design clients but also provides documentation about what they agreed on. She hand-sketches a variety of designs, loads the sketches onto her computer screen and screen-records them as she discusses the options. “I’ll ask, ‘Do you like A, B, or C?’ and they can call or email me. If they say, ‘So let’s go with B,’ I’ve got it right there and I know exactly what I said. I’ve had multiple customers say this made the process so much fun. They also send the link to family members for input. It creates a positive experience.” Clients fill out a detailed custom-design inquiry form on her website, so Baird has a head start when she starts talking with clients about their lifestyle, likes and expectations. “Prior to this, I would stack up in-person appointments. Now we’re doing it pretty much all digitally with Zoom calls, FaceTime, lots of phone calls and even text messages,” she says.
Jewelry designer Kristin Baird
ENGAGE THEM WITH EDUCATION.
Larry Birnbaum, CEO of Shopworn, connects with customers through a livestream show called INSIDE THE VAULT, showcasing products from Shopworn’s inventory, along with Gary Girdvainis of IW Magazine. “Gary has an encyclopedic knowledge of watches, and he shares it on the show,” Birnbaum says. “My niece, Elana, has her own segment where she talks jewelry and handbags. Once the presentations are done, we open our discussion up to our viewers, who’ve been submitting questions through chat. This has really helped us engage our customers, bringing a virtual trunk show into their living rooms the second Thursday of every month and inviting our customers to request in advance when they register for the show what products they’d like to see us discuss.”
PARTNER WITH INNOVATIVE SUPPLIERS.
Simon G. Jewelry has made a big push, for example, to send retailers pictures, prices and videos of new products and fast-selling products that should be replaced in customers’ inventory quickly. Retailers can review the information at their convenience without the pressure of time during in-person meetings and then decide whether to bring it in on memo, says Brooke Brinkman, vice president of marketing and communications for Simon G. ”With limited in-store staff and reduced hours, it is important for retailers to spend their time servicing their customers as opposed to meeting with vendor representatives.”
SEND A GIFT.
“In this era of social distancing, people are craving hugs or any form of social warmth,” says Shahraz Kassam, Shamin Jewellers, Surrey, British Columbia. “Try to give them a bit of that. We send chocolates with every online order, and you have no idea how many customers love it. Now we send out customized masks, and we had a 5-star Google review thanking us for the mask.”
STOCK UP FOR SELF PURCHASE.
In addition to sentimental jewelry, other trends to be aware of: #neckmess is extremely popular with collectors of chains and necklaces, who mix and match high-end yellow gold pieces and a variety of gemstone jewelry with less expensive baubles and even plastic beads to express themselves as individuals. Make sure you have plenty of chains in stock, especially in yellow, as well as hoop earrings in all price points, ear cuffs and a variety of earrings so collectors can create their own #earstack to go along with their #neckmess. “Necklace layering is so huge, and people want to try on chains to see where they hit to coordinate with what they already have going,” says influencer Danielle Miele of Gem Gossip.
“As we have for the time being changed our business to ‘appointment only’ it is interesting to see how our clients have easily adapted and actually enjoy the private meet,” says Alex Weil of Martin’s Jewelry in Torrance, CA. “And even though it causes less foot traffic it seems to be offset by our closing ratio. Meaning that everyone who takes the time and makes an appointment does some kind of business with us as opposed to ‘just looking.’ Add to that better security and easier to practice health guidelines, and it has been a pleasant surprise.” Or create the ultimate appointment. If it’s a proposal, shut the whole store down. Create the kind of unexpected romantic experience couples might see in a movie. “What PR, what virality, what a way for that person to spread the word through their own social media pages and friend circle,” says Jeremy Auslander of Roxbury Jewelers in Los Angeles.
BE THE GUIDING LIGHT.
“It can be hard to figure out what to gift that special someone,” says Shayne McCoy, founder of Straight Up Social, (straightupsocial.com) Create a holiday gift guide to help your customers decide. Select pieces that range from affordable to over-the-top. You can create a separate landing page to promote your gift guide or publish it to a blog post. Make sure to share with customers in an email newsletter as well. Or create custom holiday gift box sets featuring anywhere from two to four products. You can create a few options at low, medium and high price points.