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Are Brick-and-Mortar Jewelers Still Relevant?

Yes, but they’ll need to find ways to serve the needs of a new generation of shoppers.

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THE JBT recently reported that 612 jewelry retailers closed their doors last year, a 29.4 percent increase over 2013. Meanwhile, a De Beers survey presented at last year’s JCK Show in Las Vegas showed that 18 percent of diamond sales were made online, up from 14 percent the previous year. A few years ago, the number was being reported at less than 10 percent. It doesn’t seem like a reach to think that the number will soon surpass 20 percent and continue to rise from there.

While the Internet is a major threat to brick-and-mortar retailers, equally scary are the habits and preferences of today’s consumers, especially those in their 20s and 30s – in other words, the people who are making these purchases. People who are just beginning to come into their spending power.

From how they shop to how and where they get information, the upcoming generation of consumers is different in many crucial ways from any generation that’s come before. They live online and in social media. They’re always connected. They’re interested in authenticity and awareness, both social and ecological. And they expect to receive everything from information to entertainment to purchases quickly and with very little hassle. Getting them off their screens and into your stores takes something more than simply being open and offering fair prices on jewelry. After all, the Internet never closes and there’s a large variety of jewelry on sale there.

So is there a place for brick-and-mortar jewelers? Yes – but you have to find ways to meet the needs of this generation of shoppers.

One way to do this is to create an online experience that engages shoppers just as much as your showroom does, or even more so. Green Lake Jewelry Works in Seattle offers a custom design interface online that allows clients to work with a virtual jeweler over the Internet. Ylang 23 in Dallas sells designer jewelry online and offers free domestic shipping on purchases over $100. The store also ships worldwide and uses a service that converts prices into whatever currency the consumer uses in their country. Manufacturers like Gabriel & Co. and Ritani give people the opportunity to build their rings online and buy in their retail partners’ stores. How does your website measure up? Does it require customers to come into your store to do anything meaningful, or does it meet them where they are with an offer that they’ll respond to, either in your store or online?

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Another way to appeal to this generation of shoppers is to prove that you and your store are socially and ecologically aware. Many jewelry providers are now using recycled materials and gemstones/metals that can be proven to have been responsibly sourced. That’s a message you could be telling. There is also a new group of engagement and bridal shoppers: the LGBT community. With laws changing across the country to allow for LGBT marriage, these consumers want jewelry that holds special meaning for them. Designer Rony Tennenbaum is one who is not only designing jewelry specifically for LGBT couples, he’s also going into their community centers to talk about custom and ritual and how engagements and weddings can be commemorated in this era of new possibility.

Finally, this generation often prefers not to be “sold” on products. Savvy jewelers are finding ways to take the pressure off until they’ve earned permission to broach conversation. Veloce in Michigan, which sells fashion jewelry, allows shoppers to try on rings to their hearts’ content without being approached by a salesperson. When clients pick up a piece of jewelry from a display table, its details and price pop up on a computer screen at the table. Pandora has a similar system in its stores. While there may be security concerns about using such technology with fine jewelry, innovative businesses are finding ways to connect with today’s customers in ways they appreciate. Ritani unveiled a similar technology last summer that pops the jewelry’s information up onto the sales associate’s computer tablet, so the jewelry stays secure while the client gets the information they want in quick and thorough fashion.

Bottom line? A brick-and-mortar store is as relevant as its owner (and their team) makes it – which has been the case since the first baker hawked his bread from a wagon. The only thing that changes is the customer’s wants and needs. And boy, are they changing now.

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