Retailers tackle sticky sales situations

To combat online diamond sellers, traditional retailers have to connect with their consumers in ways that a computer can’t, a panel of retailers agreed Thursday.

“The Internet is the most significant change in the jewelry industry since Rapaport,” said Jeff Corey, owner of Days Jewelers in Maine. “We will find more and more people becoming comfortable with buying on the Internet.”

Corey tries to get around this by stressing the things that make his stores unique: Customers can compare different diamonds. There’s resizing, lifetime cleaning and inspecting, and a chance to upgrade. And consumers can keep their money in the community.

“There can only be one possible advantage to buying a diamond on the Internet: price,” Corey said. “We want you as a customer for life.”

He noted his company recently hired a market research firm to do a focus group of local diamond consumers. Out of 15 participants in the group, 12 had researched their purchase on the Internet. “We must assume every customer that comes through the door has researched prices on the Internet,” he said.

Of the ones who bought from a traditional retailer, “it was the direct result of sales associates who had formed a relationship with them,” Corey said. This proved to him that “retailers need to hire and train the right workers, fun people who like people and really care about their customers. That’s what makes consumers want to buy from you rather than the Internet.”

Panelists disagreed about what to do when a customer wants a store to set a diamond they bought over the Internet. “We offer those customers everything we can get to get them to come back to us next time,” Corey said. But Celia Feder of Jay Feder Jewelers in Denver said her store “would not absorb the risk of setting a stone we didn’t sell.”

Feder was unenthusiastic about the current “branding” trend. It’s hard to see a label on the ring, she said, “unless you have a billboard on your back. What’s going to happen when all those branded diamonds come back as trade-ins?” she asked.

The panel was moderated by JCK senior editor Gary Roskin.