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The Future Is Female

Retailers adjust their mindset as women’s purchasing power explodes.

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Yes, women do buy jewelry for themselves. It seems like the most natural of assumptions, and there’s plenty of data to back it up. And yet, in some respects, the jewelry industry has been slow to recognize that behavior, even as statistics reveal just how much decision-making power (and cash) women have when it comes to discretionary spending on luxury items.

In fact, Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group says jewelry is the last luxury product still targeted to men. “The industry has built an entire paradigm around the engagement ring, 4Cs and selling by certificate,” she says. And that can be alienating to women, who are attracted to ideas and relationships, dialogue and stories.

“Let’s stop stereotyping,” Hill says. “No more breathless ‘She said YES!’ advertising, unless you are only selling engagement rings and only to men.”

The industry is taking notice. A year ago, the Diamond Producers Association announced the third wave of the Real is Rare, Real is a Diamond campaign. Titled “For Me, From Me,” the campaign is inspired by the natural diamond industry’s strongest growth engine, women self-purchase, a $43 billion market that grew by 4 percent in 2017, according to De Beers Group data.

Viviana Langhoff says the idea that jewelry needs to be tied to romance is outdated.

Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts devised the educational component of For Me, From Me. “The relevance to retailers is that more than 30 percent of diamond jewelry is being sold to women buying for themselves,” she says. “A lot of stores are not capitalizing on that. Most people have been blissfully unaware of how much business they are missing, not in percentages, but in raw dollars. And we’re not losing it to other jewelry stores. We are giving it away to other industries.”

In fact, says Stephanie Holland, founder of She-conomy, women control more than $20 trillion in worldwide spending and $7 trillion in the U.S. alone. Women will control two-thirds of consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade. A total of 81 percent of jewelry is purchased in some fashion by women, either on their own or in cooperation with a partner.

Harold Dupuy of Stuller, who spoke during an American Gem Society Conclave session in 2019 on “Jewelry Industry Insights,” said that the average sales ticket in that self-purchase diamond jewelry category is $1,300. Generally, women buy on impulse or for a personal milestone, but nearly half buy fine diamond jewelry with no specific occasion in mind.

“Women today are not shy to buy things for themselves, and many women are not with someone and they still want to buy beautiful expensive jewelry,” says Maddy Rovinsky, co-owner of Bernie Robbins Jewelers, which has five locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. “There is no limit today. We have sold women six figures worth of jewelry. No woman should be underestimated, and they have a right to see the best of what we have.”

At Adornment & Theory in Chicago, women encourage one another to mark special occasions with gifts to themselves.

In another significant development, Jewelers of America is working with the jewelry industry as a whole to grab the interest of affluent young women and focus it on fashionable, fine jewelry. The goal is to launch a generic advertising campaign called “Another Piece of Your Story” to generate consumer awareness that would be on the level of the “Got Milk” ad campaign. JA has assembled a Consumer Marketing Committee to raise funds to support a multi-year, national campaign.

Why, then, are many retailers behind the curve? “I think there are two reasons,” Hill says. “The first is that our industry ‘personality’ is not particularly self-reflective. We don’t always recognize when we need to improve and change until very late in any given cycle. The second reason is that the industry still has a gender imbalance in both leadership and store ownership/management. It’s definitely improving, but we’re not there yet.

“We (humans in general) tend to approach the world through our own lens. So the preponderance of men in leadership and ownership positions reinforced merchandising and marketing in ways that work for men.”

That balance is shifting in some corners. At Adornment & Theory in Chicago, a business focused on millennials, about 85 percent of customers are women. “Our sales staff tries to readjust their values and tell them to ‘buy your own damn ring,’” says owner Viviana Langhoff.

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 ”If you like it, buy it, rather than thinking out loud, ‘I’ll get this ring one day if someone comes along,’” Langhoff says. “Be your own hero. We have women who come in when they get job promotions. We serve them drinks, high-five them and wrap their present to themselves as a gift. You hit a goal, and you should be celebrated. The idea that jewelry needs to be tied to romance is outdated.”

Peterson says one quick fix to sales strategy that could make a big difference in the bottom line is to rethink the approach to the tried and true wish-list concept. If a customer comes in to pick up a repair, peeks in a case and spots a diamond bracelet that she likes, the salesperson is likely to approach her not to close the sale, but to “make sure we get that on your wish list,” assuming she does not have the discretionary funds to buy it for herself. “And in most cases, that wish list goes nowhere,” Peterson says. “Then that customer might drive down the street and spend $1,200 on a Coach handbag. Instead of trying to close that sale, we fall back on the way people have traditionally behaved.”

Jewelers have been in the gift business, says Peterson, which has always been about selling to men who are buying for women. “So what we consider to be good service ends up costing us money. If that had been a man who stopped at the case, the salesperson would have tried to close the sale. And once we, as sales trainers, point that out, the light bulbs go on.”
Use your wish list after you have done everything you know to close the deal, Peterson says. And when you follow up on that wish list, follow up with her. Don’t assume someone else is going to buy that bracelet for her.

Cathy Calhoun says women are drawn to interesting displays such as this 1920s beaded purse and a silver antique curling iron.

Another assumption to avoid is that women don’t like discussing price with their guys when it comes to engagement rings. “When I see retailers addressing the man during the price discussion, I absolutely cringe,” says Hill, “because nine times out of 10, the woman is getting offended.”

If the man isn’t planning the proposal as a secret, encourage the couple to shop together. “They will both be much happier with the result,” Hill says. “Women are much more adventurous about design. A man is going to go for the safest thing he can find. She is looking to express her style.

“Ask what matters to her. Ask enough questions and you may be able to communicate value to her.”

One way to communicate value to women is to put jewelry in context. “The past few years, everyone is talking about how important stories are in selling and marketing jewelry. And it’s true. But it’s true mostly for women,” Hill says. “Men are less interested in the stories around things — they tend to fixate on the details and specific personal benefits. But women respond to stories. They also respond to connecting the thing you want them to buy to the things that are important to their lives and happiness.”

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For example, Subaru does a great job of grabbing women with contextual advertising. “They don’t even show the inside of the car,” Hill says. “They tell stories about how your dog might finally like your boyfriend if you take them both camping in your Subaru. They tell stories around family vacations and taking children to band practice. The context around jewelry is about life, love, fashion or personal accomplishment.”

Market researcher Pamela Danziger, who specializes in affluent shoppers, says that for retailers hoping to increase their market share among women, it helps to recognize that a woman is primarily shopping for fashion, while a man shopping for a woman looks at jewelry in a different light, as an heirloom or a symbol of his love. “Jewelry stores have favored the male approach to buying jewelry,” she says. “Having more women in management positions will translate their influence into operations to recognize that women are an important market.”

Danziger points to an Ad Age study that indicates only 13 percent of young, HENRY (High Earners Not Yet Rich) women say they are influenced by their partner when purchasing jewelry, while 63 percent are influenced primarily by themselves. That’s not far off from clothing, a category in which only 9 percent of women are influenced by a significant other.

Women buying their own jewelry is not news to Cathy Calhoun, founder of Calhoun Jewelers in Royersford, PA, who opened a second location in Carmel, CA, in 2019. Selling to women is all about attitude and mindset, she says. ”My business has always been about women buying for themselves, and I think it’s because I would never think of asking someone, a man, if I could buy anything. It would never occur to me. So, when I sell to women for themselves, I just assume they wouldn’t have to ask someone. And I rarely have anyone say anymore, ‘I have to ask my husband.’”
Calhoun has established the Carat Club for women who spend a certain amount of money in a year. She invites them to join her on a trip with a surprise location — diamond mining in Arkansas, gem hunting in Tucson, or private dance lessons in New York City with a Dancing With The Stars instructor.

Entrepreneurs who approach jewelry sales from a fashion perspective and create comfortable shopping environments don’t need to reinvent the wheel to sell to women. Sisters Rachel Lane Pfeiffer and Jessica Tate, who opened Lane & Kate in Cincinnati, had focused on costume jewelry at first, but were convinced they needed to add fine jewelry when they fell in love with the delicate 18K gold and diamond creations of jewelry designer Megan Thorne. Fine or fashion, a lot of their jewelry is everyday wear, and layering is a priority as women collect more pieces and build their jewelry wardrobes.

Rachel Lane Pfeiffer and Jessica Tate own Lane & Kate in Cincinnati, a store with a feminine presence.

“We have an all-female staff, which was not intentional, but women know what women want,” Pfeiffer says. “Our space is open with a very small footprint and we have lots of products — sterling silver and gold-filled — for people to try on. We have full-length mirrors throughout the whole store. Usually girls come in to try on the pieces together; they shop with friends. We have a strong sisterhood vibe. The majority of our designers are independent women designers, and I think our customer base takes notice.”

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The store itself exudes femininity. “Every part of it is light and delicate, but also minimalist. It’s easy to scan the store to see what’s there.” Adding to the experience is that they share space with a florist who has a DIY flower bar. Shoppers can stop in and create their own bouquets; it’s an inexpensive way to become introduced to the store. They’ve even offered hair-braiding in the store. “The reason we get guys in here at all is their girls tell them to come here,” Pfeiffer says.

When they sell engagement rings, women are always involved to one degree or another. “Sometimes women come in first; sometimes couples design the rings from start to finish; other times, she comes in first and then steps back to retain an element of surprise. Or sometimes she just tells him she likes the store.” In that situation, Lane & Kate personnel use all of their social-media resources and detective skills to determine what she would like.

Jennifer Farnes of Revolution Jewelry Works in Colorado Springs, CO, says women are a mainstay of her custom business.

“We’re finding out that a lot of women, once they figure out who they are, don’t want to leave it to their husbands to pick out their jewelry anymore,” she says. “A lot of women in their 40s and 50s are coming in with gifts they’ve received over the years, saying ‘He bought me all of this jewelry and I don’t like any of it.’ But it’s sentimental to them; they don’t want to get rid of it. They just want to remake it into their style.”

In Farnes’ market, when women come in with a budget in mind, they don’t want to be upsold. “They want a plan, they want to know what it’s going to cost, and the upsell will make you lose the sale,” Farnes says. “The most important part is just to listen. I really think when they are coming in to spend the money, it’s important to just slow down and listen to them.” It’s working for Farnes, who closed 2019 with 27 percent growth, a completely renovated and expanded location and plans to launch her own bridal line.

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Karen Hollis, who owns K. Hollis Jewelers in Batavia, IL, a suburb of Chicago, has a personal selling style best described as catalyst. She creates communities among her customers. “I like to fix people up to hang out together,” she says.

“My goal when we opened was to make three new friends a day, and I do. And I network like a crazy person, so I have all these women coming to me for their custom work. I have a notebook that says ‘fun people,’ and it’s full of people to invite to events. A lot of clients are divorced women trading in their wedding rings, so I have a whole single ladies page and a whole widowed ladies page.”

Jennifer Farnes, third from left, celebrates the opening of her expanded store in Colorado Springs, CO.

Establishing authentic relationships with her clients is key. ”The self-purchasing woman isn’t going to come into a place she doesn’t feel comfortable and buy a $2,000 necklace,” Hollis says. “Our bar is a comfortable place to hang out. One lady comes here five days a week. She has more jewelry than our entire staff put together. She’ll come in, have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, and look around.”

Hollis is adept at building excitement over new inventory. She’ll ask a customer to close her eyes and, when she opens them, she’ll be wearing a necklace she may not have chosen herself, but which she invariably loves. “It’s sometimes about getting women out of their comfort zone. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘If you’re not sure, maybe you should go home and think about it overnight because if you go home and can’t stop thinking about it, you’ll know it’s right.’ Usually they come back. I’m giving them permission to buy it. I’ll say, ‘Just try this on for giggles,’ even if they’re waiting for a watch battery.

Julie Romanenko, center, makes friends at a trunk show at The Jewel.

Hill suggests retailers watch and emulate their favorite jewelry designers interacting with customers at trunk shows. For example, designer Julie Romanenko of Just Jules does whatever she can to get the jewelry on the shopper. “Observe the pieces she reaches for,” Romanenko says. “I find that we sell really well what we love. So selling women’s jewelry to other women should be easier than trying to explain to a man why a certain piece just works. A woman will get it. If she tries it on, she has already connected with it. It is then a much easier sale. ”

Maddy Rovinsky says sales associates spend time with women who pre-shop engagement rings at Bernie Robbins stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. “They may very timidly say they are just looking to tell their boyfriend, but we treat that as a purchasing event. We answer their questions, make a list of potential styles they like and show them what kind of wedding band they can wear with that, things they wouldn’t have considered if they had sent in their significant other with a picture, like how the ring sits on their finger. By the end, there is a relationship that has developed.”

Karen Hollis, center, brings clients together at K. Hollis Jewelers.

Ellen Hertz, who created Max’s Jewelry in Minneapolis and also sells tempting, high-quality chocolate, says 95 percent of her customers from day one have been women buying for themselves.
“A lot of it has to do with the product mix in the store,” she says. “In terms of style, the jewelry industry has been lagging in recognizing how women want to dress and accessorize and instead, keep filling up the store with diamonds. I like diamonds, but that doesn’t mean you can just sell diamonds. In the world of the jewelry that we sell, which is made by artisans, people have a story to tell, and we can relay that story because we’ve met the designers.”

Hertz says those stories resonate with women now more than ever.

“We’re at a point in time where women are being extremely vocal about who they are, what they want, how they want to be represented, how they talk about and think about themselves. People want to scream out and say, ‘This is what I’m feeling!’ Jewelry helps you tell your story to the world.”

10 Tips to More Self-Purchase Sales

Mirrors work magic. “Sales associates are used to looking at a piece of jewelry on a woman and saying how beautiful it looks on her,” says Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts. “But if you’re selling to a woman by herself, ask her how she thinks it looks. It’s a validation of her opinion. Also, most women, when we put a ring on our finger, the first thing we’ll say is, ‘Oh, my nails look terrible’ or ‘What a wrinkly hand!’ But when we look at it in a mirror, we’re likely to see what other people see and are less likely to be critical of ourselves.”

Target your events toward women. Bernie Robbins Jewelers hosted an engagement party in November for bridal gown designer and pop-culture celeb Hayley Paige, who also debuted a collection of designer jewelry for Hearts on Fire. Paige was on site to talk about her jewelry and forge a connection with shoppers. “We sold several of her rings that day to self-purchasers,” says owner Maddie Rovinsky.

Let them buy online. “Show every product and its price and enable them to put it in a shopping cart and buy it,” Hill says. “Over 90 percent will come to your store anyway, but they are turned off by websites that don’t allow immediate gratification.”

Let them play. Find a safe way to let customers interact with merchandise, such as rings on display attached to cables. “Remember that part of what you’re doing is getting the customer engaged,” Hill says. “They need to be able to touch some of the jewelry as they move through the store. Weigh the cost benefit of losing a couple pieces of lower cost jewelry against the benefit of keeping women in the store and making them more likely to buy something.”

Step out from behind the counter. “Make sure you’re not just the expert standing behind the scenes, doling out the pieces and information,” says Kathleen Cutler of Kathleen Cutler Strategy. “Women want to touch the jewelry, look in the mirror, think about where they would wear it. Ask them about their current collection. If they’ve bought from you before, what did they buy?”

Go to them. “Find out where millennial women are spending their time and show up there,” Cutler says. How? Collaborate with a high-end clothing boutique in town to offer jewelry makeover events. Or schedule such events in your store.

Wear the jewelry. Says Art Russakoff of Russakoff Jewelers, Skowhegan, ME: “In our store, our female staff members offer a more relaxed and less technical, but still knowledgeable sales approach. Self-purchasers love it when they see us wearing our own merchandise and can see that it will look great on them, too.”

Focus marketing on life stages. Stephanie Holland, founder of She-conomy, says it’s important that women see themselves in ads. “Don’t think about ages, think about life stages. A 40-year-old woman could have a toddler or a college kid, or could be single or not have children. Understand her needs.”

Use video on Instagram. ”It’s much more exciting to have somebody in the store pick up a piece of jewelry and talk about what they love about it,” says Hill. “Stories sell, they always have, they always will.”

Demonstrate versatility. Every woman needs wearable pieces that will take her from morning yoga to a client dinner, says the Platinum Guild. Showcase the versatility of pieces, how they can be worn in various ways for transcending looks. Easy examples? Stacking bracelets and lengthening necklaces will allow her to adapt to the many roles and occasions she will encounter on an average day.

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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