A Brick-and-Mortar Jewelry Store Reboots to Online-Only

Alyce Conti, owner of Seattle-based antique jewelry boutique Design Theory, is saying goodbye to her brick-and-mortar store—but not her business. 

An antique ring from Design Theory (photo courtesy of Design Theory)

This month the retailer will transition the store to a strictly e-commerce operation that features the same breadth of stunning merchandise, just without the substantial overhead.

As the economy chugs along at a snail’s clip, the choice to move operations exclusively online is becoming more attractive for many independent jewelers, who feel they’ve been weathering the same gale-force financial winds for nearly half a decade.

According to Conti, the decision was easy once she discovered that her online sales were, in effect, subsidizing her retail store. “It seemed at a certain point that it didn’t make good fiscal sense to keep the store open,” she says.

The shop will close Aug. 25, right around the time the company’s e-commerce site—which is already up-and-running—blossoms with dozens of new, professionally photographed offerings. Conti and a downsized staff will move into a small office soon after.

So far the transition has been “very smooth,” she says, though she admits to succumbing to feelings of wistfulness in these final days. Conti opened Design Theory in homage to her late father, a jewelry dealer who always dreamt of having a shop with his daughter. “But he loved the Internet, so really this lives on for him,” she says.

And though she will miss the one-on-one interactions with customers, “I think this is going to allow us to serve our clients much more cleanly,” she says. “I feel like right now we’re splitting our focus.” Because the store’s inventory is wholly comprised of one-off pieces, “we’re always running back and forth with product. Right now we’ll sell something in the store and run to the computer to take it off the site.”

Conti laid tracks for the changeover years ago by amping up the store’s profile online via social media posts (the company has close to 25,000 likes on Facebook) and by cultivating strong sales on Design Theory’s website. 

And while the store’s website is a decidedly pared-down destination at present, it was virtually free to create, thanks to Goodsie, an online store builder meant to cut the Web designer out of the e-commerce equation. Before choosing Goodsie, Conti had previously dabbled in other e-commerce platforms, including Homestead, which she found “too clunky.”

Her new biggie expense: custom photography. Because product photos are the most important element of online selling, “We spend a ton of time and money on photography,” says the retailer.

But without sky-high rent and payroll draining her budget, Conti hopes to see a 50 percent boost in revenue next year, noting, “It’s staggering to think how much [more] could be coming through the door.” Even when the door has, literally, vanished.

JCK Magazine Editor