About two weeks ago, at Blue Nile CEO Harvey Kanter’s urging, I visited the company’s first webroom.
The new retail store—located at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y.—is meant to give shoppers a way to “see, touch, and feel” the product. As Kanter mentioned in his interview with JCK earlier this month, it has a small footprint—about 500 square feet total—in part to avoid high retail rents. (I now better understand why they call it a webroom; it’s really little more than a room.) Of course, if Blue Nile wants to scale the concept, costs may scale up as well.
The store looks great—it has bright blue accents, which give it a peppy, fun, and welcoming feel. (By contrast, I felt uncomfortable setting foot in the new Le Vian by Jared store in the same mall.) It didn’t lack for traffic on the Friday afternoon I visited: There was a couple in the store when I first came in, and I saw two other customers when I passed by later.
I didn’t see or experience any of the novel features that Kanter ticked off in our interview: the “social wall,” the video on the history of Blue Nile, or the box of tethered “brass and glass” rings that you can “play” with. The latter idea seems fun, but here, the store’s narrow layout works against it: The box greets you only when you walk in at a certain angle, and no signage points out what it is.
Commenting on my interview with Kanter last week, Ben Janowski fretted too many jewelers see their website as an adjunct to their store, rather than a separate sales channel. The webroom goes to the opposite extreme—it exists only to boost online sales.
Still, even knowing that it didn’t sell product, experiencing that firsthand felt a bit—oh—odd. I’m used to stores being stores. Granted, as my wife helpfully (?) reminded me later, I am a little past the target millennial demo.
I told the two sales associates I was getting engaged and acted like a confused guy not sure of what his fiancée would want in a ring. (Not far from the truth.) They quickly led me to an iPad sitting on the sales counter, which—surprisingly—seemed no snazzier than my home tablet. Perhaps that’s deliberate, to underscore the store’s message: You don’t need to be here. This can all be done from your own device.
The saleswomen were both helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly, giving me a quick education in the Four C’s. They steered me away from a super-ideal cut (it makes little difference visually but it’s for those who only want the very best, I was told), and toward a halo setting (it will “make the stone look bigger”). One thing I wish came up: What my fiancée wanted. Blue Nile can paralyze you with what TED talker Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice.” The site contains tons of options, and most male shoppers have no idea what to buy. Many jewelers ask questions about the bride-to-be’s personality and taste and display options to narrow down the selection. That didn’t happen here. I basically just shopped the Blue Nile website with help and commentary from two assistants and their occasional visual aids.
So, while it was a perfectly nice and professional experience, it also felt a bit mechanistic. (When mystery shopping at Tiffany, my wife and I told the salesman we were getting engaged, and he let out a “congratulations” so hearty you’d think we were related.) Of course, that lack of personal touch has always been a Blue Nile weak point. And to be fair, I wasn’t a real customer, and perhaps the saleswomen sensed that.
I left with a $100 coupon for visiting the webroom, which no doubt helps conversions. In the end, jewelers could probably learn a trick or two from the Blue Nile webroom. And vice versa.