Online retailer Gemvara has ventured out of the virtual world to debut its first-ever physical store—a pop-up shop on Boston’s tony Newbury Street.
The Gemvara Experience, which debuted Nov. 3 and will be open through Feb. 15, 2014, reinterprets the brand’s user experience of semi-customizing jewelry for a brick-and-mortar environment.
Both online and in-store, Gemvara consumers choose from hundreds of premade jewelry styles, customizing them by cherry-picking from nine different metals (sterling silver, palladium, and 14–18k rose, white and yellow gold) and 29 different gemstones (from diamonds and rubies to quartz and topaz).
The store was designed to have “a very different feel from the typical local jewelry store,” says Gemvara CEO Janet Holian. “We wanted it to be a very open and friendly environment. Jewelry can feel intimidating—we wanted to be the opposite of that.”
The new Gemvara Experience store on Newbury Street in Boston (photo: courtesy of Gemvara)
The model is largely self-serve: Samples of the brand’s styles in sterling silver are in drawers that shoppers can access for easy try-ons. There are no imposing jewelry counters, and sales associates (all employees of the Gemvara website, including Holian) roam freely with iPads to walk customers through the design process—to and expedite payment.
In the style of optical company Warby Parker’s first-ever store, shoppers don’t leave the shop with product in hand. Instead, they order it online—Holian says people typically prefer store employees to do the actual ordering for them—then wait for the custom-created piece to be made and shipped to their homes. Delivery time is around 10 days. To quench consumer desire for immediate gratification, customers who order in the store leave with a free pair of stud earrings, which are available in 10 different gemstones.
“The store is the convergence of online and [physical] retail,” says Holian. “We’re trying to understand whether a physical presence with the online is better than just having the [website]. We felt that trying out a pop-up store through the holidays, we would be able to tell if people enjoy touching jewelry and seeing it in-person instead of just experiencing it online.”
Forays by online-only jewelry retailers into brick-and-mortar retailing seem to be getting more common. New York’s BaubleBar, which is a similarly forward-thinking, next-generation jewelry company, debuted a store last year after enjoying huge success online.
The trend underscores at least one time-tested fact: People love to look at dazzling jewelry, but the desire to get touchy-feely with it also looms large.