Great Retail Expectations: What Does the Future Hold for Jewelers?



Want to know what your customers are thinking? There’s software—and, soon, probably an app!—for that. Facial recognition technology is just one of the innovations of the store of the future.

The jewelry business is often maligned for lagging a few steps behind the larger retail industry when it comes to incorporating new technologies, customer experiences, and best practices. But among the global companies flirting most heavily with cutting-edge advances in retail are, in fact, some of the most established jewelry and watch brands. For our annual Future of Retail issue, we cast our net wide—poring over innovations that not only are on the cusp but also seem poised to become ubiquitous in the industry in the near future. What follows is a clutch of educated predictions on how the future will influence and alter the fine jewelry store.

Software will help you profile customers.

Collin Hughes
Warby Parker cofounders and co-CEOs Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa inside their new showroom-style NYC store

The best employees are skilled at gauging the emotions of their customers and tailoring their sales banter to their shoppers’ moods. But associates soon may get some assistance on this front from technology that reads customers’ facial cues, gender, and age—then whips up personalized promotions.

Ulybka Radugi, one of Russia’s largest retail chains, currently is experimenting with emotion-detecting software from startup company Synqera in its 280 store locations. Consumers with store loyalty cards are “read” by the software at checkout, which syncs their profile with data from the loyalty card, along with the content of their shopping basket, and creates real-time imagery on an interactive customer display screen that’s personalized to each customer’s order, shopping habits, and response rate. The content then can be delivered through mobile apps, text messages, and email.

The back room will disappear.

Retail pundits have been forecasting the evolution of the traditional store into a showroom for a few years. But hipster optical company Warby Parker made that concept a reality in April 2013 when it opened its flagship New York City boutique. The walls are riddled with racks of spectacles for customers to try on. But when shoppers are ready to check out, they pay with a credit card and receive their specs in the mail about a week later—prescription lenses and all. Associates process orders on tablets, routing them through the same online fulfillment system as Web orders.

Fashion brand Kate Spade all but eliminated delivery time this past summer when customers shopping her pop-up store in New York City were treated to free courier delivery of items—within an hour of purchase. Talk about instant gratification.

3-D printing will become ubiquitous.

After customizing a ring at ritani.com, shoppers can then visit a local store.

Few things are as buzz-y as 3-D printing, which has the potential to upend the manufacturing practices for various products. Fine jewelry’s emphasis on handcraftmanship makes it an unlikely fit for the technology. But ultimately, jewelers will rely on some iteration of the 3-D printer to fabricate metal ­jewelry. EBay already offers a few printer-made ­jewelry styles through its eBay EXACT app, which allows users to buy custom jewelry and other items from three top 3-D printing companies (MakerBot, Sculpteo, and Hot Pop Factory).

In the short term, jewelry molds, at the very least, soon will be fabricated on 3-D printers. This year’s JCK show featured a desktop 3-D printer from B9Creator that spit out ultra-detailed jewelry designs in minutes.

Display cases will toughen up.

“Glass is glass,” says Leo Faubion, president of Faubion ­Associates, the architectural millwork and custom fixture manufacturing company favored by Rolex, maker of the most stolen watches in the history of timepieces. That may be true, but like paper towels, display case glass can be Teflon-tough or pathetically delicate, allowing smash-and-grab thieves to penetrate with a single slam of a hammer.

Faubion glass, as it’s known, features two pieces of glass laminated around an insulator. Its stoutness means it can take smash-and-grabbers minutes to break. And if those minutes don’t amount to enough time to foil the criminal, they at least give store owners and police more to work with on security camera footage in the aftermath of a robbery. As stores begin to function dually as retail outposts and showrooms for online sales, jewelry will need to be under glass—as opposed to lock and key—more often than not. And weakling glass surely will become a relic.

Pickup stations will appear.

As big-box stores such as Nordstrom and Target push toward greater synergy between their online and brick-and-mortar businesses, we get closer to the next-generation concept of the omnichannel retailer: physical stores operating in perfect synergy with their online counterparts and distribution channels. No one can predict exactly what this model will look like, but it likely will include a designated station inside stores where customers pick up items they’ve ordered online.

Online-only jeweler Ritani—which we crowned “Most Intriguing Makeover” in our July–August “Best in Show” issue—already is putting part of this concept into play. Late last year, the company integrated a program where ­consumers could customize their ring designs online, then try them on at a participating retailer nearby—all free of charge with no obligation to buy. Shoppers are able to have up to two custom designs and two loose diamonds shipped. Returned merchandise, says a company rep, typically is melted down and reused. The program, advantageous for both Ritani and the community jewelry store, bridges the digital/brick-and-mortar divide in a way that gives customers more options.

The cash register will disappear.

BaubleBar’s SoHo summer pop-up shop was a hands-on experience, from the jewelry-topped tables to the in-store tablets to the interactive touch screens (below).

The traditional cash wrap is already going the way of the T. rex. Retailers are quickly adopting tablet-based point-of-sale systems operated through apps and linked to cash registers and receipt printers (e.g., the Square Stand). And plenty of stores, starting with Apple, have implemented the roving checkout system, defined by iPad-wielding sales associates.

But the convergence of QR code–style scanners on smartphones and the increasing sophistication of mobile app interfaces that allow for tap-and-buy shopping mean the experience of shopping for jewelry eventually may morph into a self-service model where customers make in-store purchases on their own devices.

A recent pop-up shop from New York City–based ­fashion jewelry retailer BaubleBar featured tablets that allowed shoppers to customize jewelry and purchase looks showcased in the store in just a few clicks.

Online and brick-and-mortar destinations will do a mind-meld.

Retail apps that allow shoppers to connect to specific store locations have been around for a while. Department stores including Bloomingdale’s have even built apps specifically to navigate their gargantuan flagships. But brands of the future will facilitate even more seamless transitions between their virtual and physical businesses. 

Watch brand Tourneau recently took the classic display tray digital by adding a feature on its website that allows users to put favorite styles in a virtual jewelry tray, then book an appointment to view the items live at a local store. The setup gives associates time to prepare for a customer’s visit (always helpful), plus add a few styles to the tray that complement other products the customer cherry-picked online.

Every wall will feature interactive displays.

Integrating interactive screens into store designs has become de rigueur for retail designers. But only recently has the idea of Minority Report–style interactivity—where users don’t even touch a screen to make magical things happen—come to life.

Danish jewelry brand Georg Jensen recently installed 3-D interactive screens into its retail spaces to promote its Fusion Ring Builder—an application controlled by simple hand gestures that allows users to build their own rings.

For example, Tissot, TAG Heuer, De Beers, and Boucheron all have ­incorporated similar gestural technology into their window displays and in-store experiences. As the technology becomes more mass (and, therefore, more affordable), it’s bound to present opportunities that extend beyond marketing—i.e., capturing consumer information. 

Storytelling will be a major (digital) sales tool.

Customization and personalization rank among the millennial generation’s most sought-after attributes when shopping for fashion and jewelry. As a result, storytelling has become a potent selling tool in fine jewelry. And soon, digital chips may do most of the tale telling for you.

You may remember hearing about British fashion brand Burberry embedding proprietary digital chips into its handbags and coats that, when accessed, unlock short films that tell the bespoke tale of how each item was conceived and crafted. (See “Story Sellers,” JCK, July–August 2013.)

Radio-frequency identification, the scannable technology that many jewelers use to quickly inventory merchandise, is a likely front-runner for programs such as Burberry’s. And consumers won’t necessarily be watching the content they scan for on their smartphones. Videos kick-started by the chips at Burberry’s London flagship store play on large-screen mirrors that morph into screens. Space-age enough for you?