Columnists Bob Epstein Competing against Internet sales

Competing against Internet sales

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Once upon a time, not so very long ago, young love-struck couples would visit their trusted jeweler looking for an engagement ring.  “Look how it sparkles. It’s beautiful,” she’d say with a giggle. “Yes, it certainly is,” he’d reply, thinking quietly about the balance in his checking account and if he had enough to make a down payment and what the monthly bill might be.

These days the conversation is often much different. “I’ve been on-line and I’ve been looking at 1 carat, Princess Cut, VS1, near colorless diamonds. In fact I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet with bids. Can you match these prices?”

Welcome to the world of bridal sales in 2013.

After 98 years and 3 generations in business, Floyd Silver recently closed his family owned store: Berger and Silver in Northeast Ohio. “The romance and excitement is gone from the business,” reflected Mr. Silver in a recent phone interview. “Diamonds have become a commodity. And how do I explain to a customer that there are phony certs out there? A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

We hear comments like these from store owners around the country as they try to re-invent themselves and adapt to the changing consumer landscape - especially with regard to bridal sales.  As the old saying goes - you can curse the dark or light a candle. Here are a few strategies to combat shrinking margins and on-line competition.

Probably the most important thing to do when the young man hands you his Excel spread sheet and asks you if you can match the  prices he’s found on-line is to SMILE and say, “YES WE CAN.” You’ve got to realize that if he were intent on finding the cheapest diamond, he’d still be sitting in front of his computer screen. But he’s not - he’s standing in front of you in your store.

Take advantage of the situation to make the point that while price is certainly important, comparing grading certificates on a computer screen is no substitute for seeing and comparing actual diamonds in person. Remind your customer that in spite of the “4-Cs” grading system, ultimately each diamond is unique. Diamonds of the same carat weight, quality and cut when viewed side by side have their own character and only one will capture her heart (this is your cue to turn your head in her direction, make eye contact, and smile). With this conversation you’ve set the stage to show a variety of loose diamonds from your inventory. You do have an inventory of loose diamonds don’t you?

These days store owners must become astute diamond buyers - not only from wholesale sources but from the general public as well. Many owners buy gold - some advertise their gold buying services more aggressively than others. If you buy gold, consider buying diamonds off the street. You’ll need cash to build your inventory, but ultimately you’ll be able to make much better margins on the re-sale of those diamonds. Plus, there’s nothing like showing off a table top full of diamonds to get a customer’s attention.

Having chosen just the right diamond you can then talk about settings. Maintaining a good inventory of different designs and metals from which to choose will help close the sale. There are consumers who are bargain shoppers, but you can offset the allure of deep discounts offered online with quality and again by making sure you have a wide selection of merchandise that covers all price points. Even better, have the capacity to design and custom manufacture a setting just for her. 

“Before the designer brand names came on the market everyone was a custom jeweler,” commented Floyd Silver. “A young woman wanted something unique - not what her girlfriend might be wearing.”

Like clothes and all other fashion items, jewelry items go in cycles. Lately we’ve noticed a resurgence in demand for one-of-a-kind piece heirloom-quality engagement rings over designer name brands. Take advantage of this market trend and consider repositioning yourself - especially with regard to bridal sales. Jewelry is a creative personal expression and a personal adornment. Art is not a commodity, there is intrinsic value in the design - beauty goes beyond the published price of gold and diamonds.  Jewelers are still artisans and craftsmen.

Finally, while online diamond dealers may be hard to compete with on price, they generally get low marks on service. Making a point to educate, pamper and pay attention to the wants and needs of each customer will help make the sale. Price matters, but so does service - before and after the sale. Things such as in-store financing, no-hassle returns and free ring cleaning, gift wrapping, repairs and shipping all make a difference. 

Create a warm and friendly atmosphere. Strive to create a different store look.  Be different. Be quirky. Have some personality. Ultimately, a store’s atmosphere is not determined by the choice of music or the attractiveness of your decor or displays. It is your attitude and that of your staff that establishes atmosphere.

Above all, make the buying experience a fun one. You can put the romance and excitement back into the buying experience.  In spite of - or in many cases these days because of - the Internet, people still do fall in love and get married. There’s really nothing romantic about sitting at home in front of a computer screen. When it comes to bridal sales, store owners really do have the sales advantage.

Bob Epstein is CEO of Silverman Consultants, LLC.  Offering a legacy in sales strategies for jewelers since 1945, Silverman Consultants provides guidance to store owners seeking to turn around a business, sell off unwanted inventory, or liquidate an entire store. With offices located in Charleston, SC; New York City; and Saskatoon, Canada; the company helps jewelry store owners and chains formulate strategies designed to maximize revenue in times of transition, whether due to retirement, store closing, or simply when needing a boost in sales. For more information, visit www.silvermanconsultants.com or call Bob direct at 800-347-1500.

 
 
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