Columnists Chuck Koehler The Retailer’s Perspective: Brick and Mortar still rules (kinda)

The Retailer’s Perspective: Brick and Mortar still rules (kinda)

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All you old timers out there like me remember the old days of doing business in this industry before the Internet.  Even though I have a really hard time remembering what I had for dinner last Friday night, I can remember when I actually sold diamonds to people who got their education from me.

Customers now sit at their desk at work, or on their phone at lunch, or on their laptop at home and try to find out how bad you’re ripping them off.  It still surprises the hell out of me that they would question the business practices of a company that’s been around for 65 years, but wouldn’t think twice about buying something really expensive, like a diamond, from an online company that’s been in business less than 2 years.

Of course these people always seem to eventually make it into our brick & mortar stores... after they’ve bought something really expensive off the Internet.  They come in and want us to validate their purchase and tap into our knowledge to let them know if they did a good thing.  No way, no how.  There is no way I’m going to get in the middle of that situation.  Even though I carry appraisal liability insurance in the event I make a mistake, it’s just not worth it to me.

We all know there are con artists in the world, and I know who they are in my town.  I don’t know who’s who on the Internet so I’m not going to play.  If these people have gotten ripped off by a really slick con artist, they probably won’t know for years... usually during a divorce.  By the time they figure out they’ve been had, the company they gave all of their money to will be long gone (or at least they’ll have a different Internet address).

But, guess who’ll still be around. Me.

Guess who they are going to say ripped them off for not catching a clever scam?  Me.

Guess who they are going to try and sue?  Me.

But none of that can happen if I never jump in in the first place.

I had some good customers recently about to get married and they came in to special order their wedding bands from me.  After the bands came in, I called them to come look at them and try them on with no obligation to buy.  After seeing and holding them, they did what everyone does... they went home and started searching for them cheaper on the Internet.  And guess what?  They found them cheaper on the Internet.  Or did they?

They came back in to tell me what they had found.  I told them to buy them online, it’s no big deal.  They asked me if they were the same rings.  I said I didn’t know.  They asked me if I could hold the special order bands a few days so they could buy the rings online and bring them in and compare them.  I told them I’d try.  They looked at all the info they had printed and compared weights and proportions.  They asked some more questions.  I answered some more questions.

After 30 to 45 minutes, I’m over it.  I already know they’re going to order them online and I’m not willing to lower my price and make $35 on a $600 wedding band.  Look around people.  The air conditioning you’re enjoying costs money.

In the end, they bought them online.  They came in 3 weeks later and were surprised that I didn’t still have the special order bands for them to compare.  Silly me, I returned them and paid the 15% restocking fee within the 10 day grace period.  But I know I’ll see them again.  Probably right around their first anniversary when the husband brings in some bauble he bought online at work to see if he got what he paid for.  No way, no how.  I do not have a dog in that hunt.

Now, do I treat everyone like this that comes in with jewelry they didn’t buy from me?  Of course not.  The Internet is just something we have to protect ourselves and our businesses from.

If a customer just inherited some jewelry and wants to know what they inherited, I’ll be more than happy to spend time with them and tell them what they have.  In that situation, the customer is not making an important, long term buying decision.  As jewelers we’ve been doing that for centuries.  Situations like this are relatively safe (business wise) because before the Internet people had to buy their jewelry from jewelers.  With the advent of the Internet, people now buy their jewelry from an IP or e-mail address.  It’s just too risky as a brick & mortar store to get involved in those types of transactions between two unknown parties.

Any time a customer comes in and asks me if I do appraisals, my first question is, ‘Where did you get it?’.  If they say they bought it off the Internet, or eBay, or craigslist, or Blue Nile, or Amazon.com, or any number of places like that, I politely hand it back to them and tell them my insurance company will not allow me to do an appraisal on pieces purchased online.  Yeah, I know it’s not true, it’s my boss (me) that won’t let me do it.

Do some people get upset?  Absolutely.  But we all know that no matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone and you have to pick your battles.  I’ve never been sued and I’m trying to keep that streak alive.  If anyone out there has a policy about this (or a horror story... we all love a good horror story), please write us and tell us how you handle this.

The one thing I know to be true is this;  Millions of people (mostly men) have lost countless hours of sleep after they bought that so called ‘perfect diamond’ on the Internet, wondering if they got taken.  The only sleep a customer has ever lost from buying a diamond from me was before they spent the money.  That’s understandable.  I do the same thing right before I’m about to part with a bunch of money on a big purchase.  But no one has ever lost sleep afterwards wondering if they got taken.

I know these people will continue to show up in my store and want me to ease their minds and I just won’t do it because secretly, I like to watch ‘em sweat.

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide.

If you would like to contact Chuck or need a speaker or instructor for your next conference/event he can be reached at 615-354-6361, www.CMKcompany.com or send e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
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