Online-only fine jewelry retailers have a leg up on brick-and-mortar retailers on a number of fronts—low overhead and greater flexibility to experiment with untested merchandise, among them.
But while brick-and-mortar stores are forever chasing online dollars, e-comm jewelers are simulateously searching for ways to cater to consumers who still want jewelry shopping to be a tactile, firsthand experience.
It’s a robust demographic. IDEX Online reported in October 2013 that around 10 percent of fine jewelry purchases happen online, with 43 percent of fine jewelry sales occurring in independently owned chains and boutiques, and the remainder occurring in big chains such as Wal-Mart.
The hesitancy of consumers to order diamonds online has recently prompted a handful of (very profitable) online jewelry retailers to debut in-store shops in major chain stores (see Blue Nile’s collaboration with Nordstrom, for one) and pop-up shops (see Gemvara’s pop-up on Boston’s Newbury Street), giving rise to the so-called bricks-and-clicks retail model.
A 3-D-printed ring from Brilliance (courtesy of Brilliance).
Brilliance is using a next-generation tool—the 3-D printer—to get rings into shoppers’ hands. The e-commerce fine jeweler now lets consumers test-drive its many ring styles through 3-D models inset with plastic diamonds, so wearers can gauge what size stone they like.
Shoppers can order the white plastic rings in two ways. Those with a 3-D printer can download files and print themselves; those without a 3-D printer (um, pretty much everyone in the world) can request free delievery of various ring models—along with a ring sizer. All rings come with identifying labels attached to the shank.
Shai Barel, director of strategic partnerships for Brilliance, said in a press release, “The point of the program is to let customers actually see the difference in shape, size, or carat, instead of buying it online—only to be unsatisfied when it arrives, or having to go to a brick-and-mortar store. [It] gives buyers the benefits of an in-store experience, without the hassle.”
Barel told CNET that giving consumers the ability to slot in various sizes of faux stones often steers them to smaller diamonds ultimately: “Although everyone thinks they would want a two-carat diamond ring, sometimes it would look funny if the person’s fingers are too thin,” he explained.
The applications for 3-D printing in fine jewelry manufacturing and retailing are more varied than anyone initially guessed—and consumer-facing applications for the technology feel particularly forward-thinking.