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Commentary: The Business

While E-Commerce Is Crucial, There’s No Substitute for the In-Store Experience

But retail jewelers can’t be complacent.

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BY NOW, WE’RE all aware of the growing trend among consumers to shop for jewelry online, a trend that’s accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. While online jewelry sale numbers during the 2021 holidays were up significantly, research indicates that people still prefer to purchase high-ticket items in person at retail stores.

Fewer than one in five survey respondents say they would buy an engagement ring online without first seeing it in person. In fact, according to BriteCo’s study, 81 percent of people purchased their ring in person at a retail store, 10 percent bought from a jewelry store’s website and only 9 percent purchased through an online-only jewelry website. The proportion of people buying an engagement ring online was about the same regardless of how much they spent on their purchase.

However, local jewelry retailers need to step up their online presence to remain competitive in today’s marketplace. Younger consumers, in general, begin their jewelry shopping experience online, even for major items. With two-thirds of all diamond purchases made by millennials and Gen Z consumers, most are likely to start researching their options online.

What does this mean for independent retail jewelers?

Good news! Online jewelry websites will not be replacing the in-person buying experience anytime soon. People are still strongly drawn to the human interaction when purchasing high-ticket items such as engagement rings. We asked customers in a recent BriteCo survey why they bought their engagement ring in person at a retail store, and in-person purchase responders listed trustworthiness (42 percent) as their top reason. In contrast, online purchasers cited ease of purchase (41 percent), price comparison (35 percent) and reviews from friends/family on the product they purchased (27 percent) as some of the top reasons for purchasing engagement rings online.

Bottom line: Retail jewelers must negotiate a hybrid in-store and digital presence to reach their customers and get them to buy. You can’t delay in exploring technology such as Zoom meetings, texting, and other similar technology to create an interactive experience for customers that enhances your sales process. That’s because your online jewelry sales competitors are not just staying online; they are coming to your city to show off their wares in person.

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The continued preference for in-person purchasing is likely a driving force behind online jewelers expanding their presence into brick-and-mortar showrooms. Online jewelry websites like Blue Nile and Brilliant Earth have been quickly adapting to the needs of their customers, including the opening of on-site retail showrooms so that their customers can see, touch, and try on jewelry before making a purchase. They are doing so because they recognize that there are no substitutes for the in-store visual and tactile experience.

Retail jewelers have a firm foundation that they can’t afford to take for granted. They must embrace and leverage new trends like social media and digital marketing to help make their business grow and keep pace with customer demands.

Dustin Lemick is founder and CEO of BriteCo jewelry and watch insurance.

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