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Holiday Season Mini Survey

In COVID’s Shadow, Jewelers Report Mostly Subdued Start to Holiday Season

‘Lower price points and silver are poor. Middle range prices are good,’ says one jeweler.

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THE 2020 HOLIDAY season got underway with jewelers reporting a slightly better-than-expected opening week although many remain anxious that the COVID-19 pandemic could yet wreak havoc on their key selling period.

More than one in three jewelers told our first 2020 Holiday Season Mini Survey that their sales since Black Friday had been either “better than expected” (27 percent) or outright “terrific” (10 percent ) compared to 17 percent who said they were “disappointing” and 3 percent who described them as “dismal”. The remaining 43 percent said their sales had been in line. Note that most jewelers went into the season with modest expectations with the INSTORE Jewelers Confidence Index falling below the key 50 threshold in November.

On the positive side, average ticket was trending up over last year (see Chart A) while many jewelers were able to report much stronger online sales (see Chart B). On the negative side, in-store traffic was way down (see Chart C).

These trends were attributed to the impact of the pandemic on consumer behavior as shoppers appear to be making fewer trips but spending more while also possibly having more cash on hand as a result of cancelled travel plans.

“People are not doing as much tire-kicking. Coming in with an idea of what they want; buying and getting out,” said Ira Kramer, owner of The Diamond Exchange of Maryland in Rockville, MD.

Ralph Vandenberg, owner of Vandenberg’s Jewellers in Alberta, Canada, said their experience had been similar. “I’m thinking/hoping that it will be a big ticket season. Eighty-five percent of the staff (in the surrounding financial center) are working from home, so not a lot of traffic or impulse purchases. All our sales have been to clients that make the trip down just to see us.”

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The pandemic’s influence is being felt in varying degrees by jewelers depending on the state of the outbreak in their part of the country and the severity of government orders.

Vickie Wilson, from The Goldsmith in Palo Alto said that in California the constant threat of lockdown/stay-at-home orders was proving very stressful. “We are currently at 10 percent occupancy in the store at any time by order of the county.”

Beth Cevasco, whose store, Scott’s Custom Jewelers, is in Dublin, OH, said that with a local positivity rate of almost 15 percent the pandemic was having a significant impact on business. “The governor has asked everyone to stay at home, but did not close businesses. So, we’re opened but no one is out. It’s weird. Thank goodness for technology.”

Meanwhile, Stacey Gelmici-Saunders of Gelmici Jewellers in Edson, AB, said she was desperately hoping her store would be able to stay open, although the local health situation had been deteriorating rapidly. “Twenty two shopping days … ugh, please don’t shut us down! Our town had very low numbers. In less than a week numbers skyrocketed numbers have multiplied five times.”

Forty percent of the jewelers in our survey said they their average price point was up over last year (see Chart D), with 34 percent reporting their typical ticket was above $750 (see Chart E). In contrast, only 10 percent said their average sale was down over last year. Diamond sales, including engagement ring sales, appeared strong, along with pearls and custom.

“Lower price points and silver are poor. Middle range prices are good,” said Donald Killelea, owner of Killelea Jewelers in Midlothian, IL.

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To be sure, these are early days for the holiday season. The jewelers in our survey group were clearly trying to be positive in the face of very challenging times. And ready to work their way through it.

Chart A

Chart B

Chart C

Chart D

Chart E

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“November was really tough,” said Lucy Conklin, the manager at Toner Jewelers, in Overland Park, KS. “Traffic was way down, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities. Luckily it picked up right before Thanksgiving, and so far the last week has been much better. We feel like this season, we have to reach out many times, look at wish lists, clientele to the nth degree, or we won’t have a good season. Our associates are using every tool in the book to drum up sales.”

The First 2020 Holiday Season Mini survey was taken on by more than 160 independent jewelers who are part of our Brain Squad readers group in the week following the Black Friday weekend. We will send out more surveys over the course of the holiday season. Look out for the results each Tuesday.

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