It’s All About the Bride

Retailers who ignore women shopping for engagement rings are making a big mistake. For the groom-to-be it may represent two months’ salary, but for the bride-to-be it’s a symbol of self-expression as well as a lifelong emotional commitment.

Diamantaires sometimes joke that without romance, there’s no need for diamonds. An important corollary to consider is that without women, there’s no need for bridal jewelry.

That’s a significant message for jewelers to heed, according to newly engaged women recently interviewed by The Knot.com about their experiences shopping for diamond engagement rings. Although the products were satisfactory, the shopping experiences often were not. Many of the women were ignored even as salespersons showered attention on grooms, who are frequently perceived as the “real” customer for an engagement ring purchase. The women also complained that salespersons often were not concerned about finding the perfect ring for them and were insensitive to women’s input.

Yet The Knot’s research shows that brides have a big say in the type of engagement ring bought and where it’s purchased (see “Brides Have the Power for Engagement Ring Purchases, “ JCK, August 2005, p. 70). That finding should come as no surprise: In the United States, women influence a whopping 85 percent of all consumer purchases.

“When it comes to brides, they’re in control of the pocketbook strings in a big way,” says Jen Drechsler, co-director of brand consulting for Just Ask a Woman, a consulting firm in New York City that was responsible for the statistics published in Just Ask a Woman: Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy. “They overspend; they have a fairy tale image in their heads, whether they can afford it or not.”

One tactic that cheats women out of proper service is sending inexperienced jewelry associates to “practice” on female customers, based on the belief that women aren’t serious shoppers. Diane Warga-Arias, a former salesperson and a present-day Diamond Promotion Service consultant, recalls being encouraged to “go play” when female customers walked into the jewelry store she worked in years ago.

Part of the problem lies in a misunderstanding of how the sexes shop. Women pre-shop, investigating stores and prices and browsing at length, whereas men take action and make purchases much more quickly. “Most women who buy don’t do it then and there; they browse and shop and come back,” notes Judd Rottenberg, principal at Long’s Jewelers, Burlington, Mass. “Women are very sensitive to that.” A retailer who ignores a woman while she’s pre-shopping for an engagement ring risks losing not only the engagement ring sale but also gift purchases for the bridal party as well as future purchases she might have made after the wedding.

To women, a purchase—especially an intimate purchase like a piece of bridal jewelry—is more about a relationship than a product. If she can’t connect with anyone at your counter, she’s likely to leave and spend her money in a place that respects her. “Women have been so burned by bad service that they’ve turned into vigilante shoppers,” observes Drechsler.

Some retailers do see women as their best customers. Rottenberg patiently courted a bride-to-be during her pre-shop phase until she was ready to buy. It took two months. (Her fiancé was on his way into Long’s to purchase the exact ring she wanted the afternoon JCK spoke to the retailer.) “I never made her feel unimportant during the browsing process,” Rottenberg says.

Dallas-based wedding planner Ricardo Tomas says his female clients always go for the “cool” merchandise while their fiancés just tag along.

HELP WOMEN, HELP YOURSELF

Female shoppers need to feel that they’re being listened to and understood, and that takes patience. They want recognition, and they want their shopping practices respected. To better serve female customers shopping for bridal jewelry—and your own business—consider these tips.

  1. Listen to your female shoppers. To learn about a woman customer and her tastes, style, likes, and dislikes, ask questions and write down responses. For Tomas, this means asking brides about their favorite restaurants in order to discover what food expectations she’ll have for her wedding meal. For a jeweler, it might mean asking what her favorite precious metal is or what her most cherished piece of jewelry is. “Retailers have a huge role in making women feel special,” says Brandee Dallow, director of communications for Julius Klein in New York.
    Also remember that, when shopping, men want to be treated like VIPs, but women want to be treated like the only person in the room. Give her your undivided attention—if the phone rings, don’t answer it. “I always have an easier sell when they have my [full] attention,” notes wedding-planner-to-the-stars Preston Bailey.

  2. Recognize that weddings are loaded with stress. Brides have a multitude of tasks—flowers to order, dress fittings, family dynamics to deal with—so the last thing you want to do is add more stress to their lives. “She and her mother may be at each other’s throats,” observes Drechsler. “Treat [her ring buying] like a business and you’ll lose.” Instead, empathize with her and be prepared to go the extra mile. For example, if she asks you to keep the store open later so she can view rings, say yes.

  3. Host events brides will enjoy. Bring calligraphers, videographers, florists, and cake artists to your store so she can efficiently sample a range of wedding services while perusing jewelry. Brides are short on time but want to make smart decisions. Consider scheduling appointments just for her and her girlfriends to try on jewelry, with no pressure to buy. “Do the work so, hopefully, the customer will come back,” says Dallow.
    At a wedding-band event Rottenberg held last spring, 10 vendors set up in his 10,000-square-foot store, offering not only jewelry but also other wedding-related products and services. More than 1,000 people showed up to shop.

  4. Be patient. Even if she’s “just looking,” treat her as if she’s buying. If you alienate her by not allowing her the time she needs—even if it’s two months—she might encourage her fiancé to go elsewhere when it’s time to buy. Ask your wives and daughters how they’re treated when they’re browsing and how they feel about it. “Everyone is a potential buyer,” notes Rottenberg. “Whether it’s today, tomorrow, or a year from now.”