Marks & Spencer & Fine Jewelry

By George, I think they’ve got it!

Marks & Spencer, a classic English purveyor of everything from cashmere to carrots, now sells karats too. M&S, in keeping with a general shift to a more upscale image, recently launched a fine jewelry department.

The quintessential English emporium populi recognized a basic concept of selling gold jewelry sooner than its U.S. counterparts. The gold jewelry counters aren’t on the main floor next to the bags, belts, scarves and cosmetics. Instead, they’re right in the middle of women’s apparel, next to the suits and dresses.

“We thought we might benefit from selling fine jewelry as a fashion accessory or an impulse purchase rather than as a destination stop, as most jewelry stores in the U.K. do,” says M&S buyer Joan Hackett. The concept is working. The company’s jewelry sales are way above projections, and that’s before undertaking any major nationwide ad campaigns. Advertising is limited to brochures mailed to M&S cardholders who live near one of the eight M&S stores that have the new jewelry counters. Hackett says that by not alerting customers without access to one of these branches, M&S can avoid a backlash by customers who might feel slighted.

The jewelry departments encompass just under 200 square feet. Showcases are arranged to form a square with tall corner highlight cases. Specially trained salespeople, called jewelry consultants, work in the middle of the square and wear a special uniform to designate their position. Hackett says this is a departure for M&S, where other salespeople wear a different uniform and are trained to be able to sell celery one week and shoes the next.

M&S offers more than 100 styles of gold jewelry, mostly earrings, in “modern classic” designs, she says. Bracelets and necklaces are offered too, but at press time the mix didn’t include rings. Earrings are far and away the best-selling category, echoing women’s self-purchase trends in the U.S. Hackett says the designs are selected to appeal to the classic M&S customer, who wants interesting and current designs, but also something that will endure. All designs are either made or finished in England.

Jewelry is arranged to offer a choice, but it’s not crammed into the cases in the manner of low-end discounters. Prices for 9k gold (the minimum gold karatage legal in the U.K.) range from US$30 to $300.

The core merchandise is hoop and knot earrings, says Hackett, but a visit to the M&S Marble Arch store in London revealed a fresher, more modern mix than many similar stores offer in the U.S. The jewelry is not branded or sold by designer name. Soon the company will add a small group of 18k pieces and a collection of sterling silver. One other note: M&S uses packaging that is intended to be saved and used to store the jewelry.

ENGLISH LESSONS

WHAT M&S CAN TEACH YOU

Even though most fine jewelers don’t sell apparel, there’s something to be learned from merchants who do, such as Marks & Spencer.

As more women buy their own jewelry, they’re doing so with an eye toward its lasting appeal as a fine fashion accessory. So why not host a fashion show or copurchase program together with a fine apparel store in your town?

Add some other fine accessories to your product mix to capitalize on the current passion for all accessories. If your upscale customers desire items such as fine pens, hair goods, small leather goods and such, why not encourage them to buy them from you?

In terms of merchandising, the eternal debate is whether to do it by collection or category. If you have the room and the inventory, why not try both?

The woman who says she wants earrings, “but I’m not sure what kind,” may spot a pair of designer earrings in the case and then become interested in the rest of the designer’s work. On the other hand, a woman who wants “something distinctive, not just run-of-the-mill” is an ideal candidate to view your merchandised-by-collection showcases of fine designer jewelry.