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Eileen McClelland

What Independent Jewelers Can Learn from James Allen in 2020

Embrace technology, integrate all channels of commerce and be nimble with your message.



WHEN COVID-19 SHOOK the retail world in March,, founded in 2006 and acquired by Signet Jewelers in 2017, was well-established in ecommerce.

But the online retailer needed to tweak its marketing message in a hurry without the option of simply starting over.

Early on, they realized that social distancing was not slowing down engagements or ring shopping. They turned to the message that staying home can be harmonious and positive, particularly for couples.

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With a small budget and no new footage, the company worked with Google to refresh existing video ads with a humorous, “You’re not going anywhere” message. “Going out to buy an engagement ring?” followed by laughter, and “No, you’re not!” (Links to the original video here and the updated version here.)

Unable to shoot new ads for its website, JamesAllen photoshopped a “stay home with me” engraving on a ring and made it into a banner ad. The ad was so popular that multiple couples requested the engraving for their own rings.

“We always talk about authenticity and getting into the mental space of consumers,” says Johanna Tzur, chief marketing officer for “That’s needed more than ever when people are under stress.”

The message was: “Stuck at home? Make it official.” It was a way to shift the tone to adapt to the mind-set that people were in while adding some levity without making light of the situation.”


Even at the height of stay-at-home orders, online searches for engagement rings were up 30 percent and online shopping overall is up 30.8 percent compared to a year ago, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

“We did hear comments from people who have said, you know this is something I never would have thought to do online but now that I don’t have a choice, I realize this is so much easier,” Tzur says.

During the second quarter, customer service chats were up 14 percent and virtual diamond inspection services and consultations were up 33 percent compared to last year. This rise in customer service engagement corresponded with sales increasing by double digit percentages during the second quarter. June was a particularly strong month even as brick and mortar retailers reopened across the country.

“What is interesting is that even after stay at home restrictions were lifted, our online sales have been higher than expected for this time of year,” Tzur says. “Couples may no longer be ‘stuck’ at home, but they are absolutely spending more time together and online. We are hearing from our customers that they do not want to put their plans on hold and they are having candid conversations with their partner about the engagement planning process. Our messaging continues to focus on a theme of togetherness, encouraging couples to browse and design a ring together.”

James Allen’s brick and mortar showroom in Washington, DC, had reopened, as well. Here, too, the presentation is modern. Customers learn about diamonds in a 3D, virtual reality experience, reach into an open display to try on engagement rings, and view their rings at a photo booth equipped with lighting and effects that makes sharing photos both simple and entertaining.

Q&A with Johanna Tzur, Chief Marketing Officer,

Q. How have improved technology features increased your customers confidence when it comes to online purchases?
Johanna Tzur

Johanna Tzur

A. Because every diamond on the site is photographed with 15X or greater magnification in 360 degrees, technology allows customers to spin actual diamonds in 360 degree HD and zoom in up to 40X. We’re magnifying more than one would see with the naked eye or even through a jeweler’s loupe. We hear from consumers a lot that they can see even more than they need to! We’ve had this technology; but we’ve perfected it year upon year. As we refine and magnify more greatly and have videos that load faster, the experience becomes better and better for customers. There’s also a reality Ring Try-On app.

Q. What else have you done to simplify the online experience?

A. During personalized video consultations, which require no advance bookings, shoppers can speak one-on-one with a non-commissioned diamond and jewelry expert, browse loose diamonds, ask questions, mark points of interest on the diamond and review everything from the specs of a ring to the diamond grading certificate. Customers can also customize their dream engagement ring online following an intuitive step-by-step process.

Q. How does your bricks and mortar location in Washington, D.C., complement your online operation?

A. Our retail location brings our brand to life and is dedicated to providing interactive educational experiences and the same one-on-one customer service available to our customers online — in-person. With the assistance of a diamond expert, customers can browse’s selection of more than 200,000 diamonds online. The customer service team that works in our showrooms is the same team that is available through our 24-7 chat online. Customers can also learn about the 4Cs and how to make the best decision when buying diamonds in an immersive way, using a VR headset, or try on our most popular ring styles.

Q. What types of marketing are a priority for you?

A. Right now, our overall budget is online. We think that’s the right strategy. It’s significantly easier to track and have direct action to consume where people click through. Our target audience is spending significantly more time in those places.

Q. Is the pandemic changing what style of rings and cuts of diamonds people are shopping for?

A. Classic round diamonds still dominate and account for 60 percent of all rings sold. Round diamonds have been the best-selling style for decades, but oval rings are becoming increasingly popular and are now the second most in-demand shape. The next best-selling styles include princess cuts and cushion-cut diamonds. While not an overall top-seller, continues to see a niche for halo rings. The bestselling halo style features pave-set diamonds on the halo and along each side of the shank, highlighting the oval cut center diamond. And we also have seen a trend with mixing of metals, particularly rose gold.

Q. What percentage of your customers go for lab grown?

A. We have found that most customers are excited to know that they can get a larger stone for the same budget. We’re not finding that people are spending less, but if their money can go further with a stone that is bigger and of the same quality, they are interested. A large growth in our business has been fueled by that in the past 12 months.

Q. What’s the average carat weight purchased?

A. Just over 1 carat. The size of rings has gone up slightly over the years. In 2015, the average carat weight purchased was 0.9 carats.

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