Are We Having Fun Yet? Overcoming the Intimidation Factor

Fear of the unknown is a universal emotion, and for most consumers fine jewelry represents the unknown. That’s one reason 87% of consumers surveyed last year by JCK said shopping for jewelry wasn’t “fun.” Compounding the fear factor, television exposés about untrustworthy jewelers and “bloody” diamonds continue to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of shoppers.

But savvy jewelers-and their peers in other industries with high-priced or intimidating products-work hard to put people at ease. The following are some of the ways you can win smiles and earn the confidence of customers who are in the market for your product.

Make people comfortable. Offer shoppers refreshments and a place to sit. Chris DeCapri, Capri Jewelers, Short Pump, Va., has a store that features a champagne-stocked bar and a children’s play area. DeCapri caters to affluent 30- to 40-something moms with time-and kids-on their hands. The play area-complete with toys and a TV showing The Disney Channel-occupies kids in one corner of the store, giving parents time to shop.

“These women can buy a $2,000 ring without having to ask their husbands for permission, but they can’t shop with bored toddlers tugging at their coats to leave,” says DeCapri.

Many an engagement toast has been made at the champagne bar with Dom Perignon, wine, soda, coffee, or whatever the customer prefers, says DeCapri. The “bar” is a great icebreaker and helps differentiate DeCapri’s store from “stuffier” establishments. Once drinks are in hand, he says, you’re no longer customer and salesperson-you’re hanging out together like friends.

Quote one price and stick to it. Haggling makes many people anxious. Few jewelers give discounts but, “Can you do any better?” still makes retailers cringe.

In the late 1980s, the Saturn car company, Spring Hill, Tenn., instituted a novel no-haggle pricing policy. Market research had revealed that consumers didn’t like dickering over price, women dreaded talking to salespeople, consumers in general hated pushy salespeople, and most people thought buying a car was intimidating.

To help combat these problems, Saturn doesn’t allow dealers to operate too closely to one other, removing one element of competition. That reduces stress on staff and salespeople, which encourages a relaxed atmosphere for the customer.

According to the automaker, the following scenario typifies the Saturn experience:

A customer walks into a Saturn retailer. A receptionist asks if he needs anything-a beverage, some literature, or a sales consultant. If the person declines assistance, he’s left on his own to walk around and check out cars and prices-which are typically very close to the manufacturer’s standard retail price. When the customer has a question, he seeks out the receptionist or a sales consultant. A consultant ultimately asks about the customer’s needs and budget, then offers advice on which vehicle would be most suitable.

Today, 62% of the company’s customers are female, says Saturn. The one-price policy has worked so well that a number of other carmakers have begun to use the strategy. And according to a company spokesman, customers frequently seek out sales consultants even before a consultant approaches the customer.

Bring your pet to work. Kissing shoppers may be off limits in most jewelry stores, but customers who visit Avant Gold Jewelers, Tampa, Fla., can expect affectionate greetings. Three hundred and fifteen pounds of Irish wolfhound-2-year-old Ivy and 5-year-old Sophie-greet guests with tails wagging and ears in the “please-scratch-me” position.

“We don’t believe in leaving our dogs at home,” says co-owner Jeff Abeles of his and wife Cindy’s decision to bring their dogs to the store every day. And customers-especially kids-look forward to seeing the shaggy pair of canines. “We didn’t want an intimidating store, and the dogs definitely make the environment more warm and inviting,” Abeles says.

Listen to people. The key to salesmanship is listening to people, so “Shut up!” advises Mike Buley, president of Jewelry Ads That Work, Seattle, Wash. “Where do you go where you can just talk about yourself?” he asks. Hang on every word out of customers’ mouths, and demand more. “People love to talk about themselves,” Buley says.

Sell some fun. Lighten up the seriousness of the jewelry store environment with some humorous products. “People get so serious with the products and names,” says Elyse Fradkin, Elyse Fradkin Designs, New York City. In fact, many jewelers and manufacturers consciously try to associate a “jet-set-type lifestyle” with their product. “People think that they’ll be playing polo or drinking champagne after buying a piece of jewelry, when in reality they’ll be doing none of that,” says Fradkin, whose “Swiss Cheese” jewelry line is available in sterling silver as well as 14k and 18k gold. Fradkin’s creations began as an easy-to-size line of rings, but because she couldn’t resist punching holes on the underside of the original ring, all the pieces ended up being “holey.” She now plugs some of the holes with colored stones.

Jewelers want pieces that are easy to sell, says Fradkin, ones that require little explanation. “But if you want designers to keep creating interesting pieces, retailers have to speak up for the products.”

Show pieces to customers without being asked. Most clothing shoppers think nothing of grabbing a $200 pair of pants and taking it to a dressing room without a salesperson’s assistance. But try to imagine a jewelry customer doing that with a $100 pair of earrings locked inside a display case. It takes just the right approach to get customers to try jewelry on. “If you’re not aggressive in a warm, professional way, money walks out the door,” says Buley.

Host a special event. To raise his customers’ comfort level, DeCapri hosts an annual “Ladies’ Night Out” at his store. Six years ago, he gave full run of the store and all the jewelry in it to 17 women, who played a grown-up version of “dress-up” for a night. The idea was such a success that 300 women now look forward to being chauffeured to and from the store, enjoying catered hors d’oeuvres served by tuxedo-clad waiters, and filling out a wish list for husbands to inspect during “Men’s Night Out” a few weeks later. “We now have to stagger times that women arrive because we can’t fit them all in the store at the same time,” says DeCapri.

Entertain people. Do something “fun” to drive traffic into your store. Guy and Glen Ballard, co-owners of Ballard and Ballard Jewelers, Fountain Valley, Calif., hosted their first summer beach bash in August 2000. Nearly 500 people showed up, and while guests waited in line, the Ballards fired up a barbecue in the parking lot and served refreshments. Inside, visitors sat three to a table, each with a mound of sand concealing a gem. One guest uncovered a .75-ct. diamond worth $900.

Glen Ballard calls this “shoppertainment.” A jewelry store experience is usually so hands-off and proper, he says. “We wanted people to come in and have some fun.”

Educate customers about your product. Empower your customers with knowledge. For example, Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi Company, Oakville, Calif., encourages consumers to embrace wine-responsibly-every day, with the slogan: “Woodbridge. All you need to know about great wine.” More than 10 years ago, Mondavi laid the groundwork for that saying through dozens of consumer education programs-public seminars, winery tours, and involvement in areas complementary to wine including cuisine, art, and music. Now, according to wine experts, Mondavi is one of the most prominent names in its industry.

Jewelry designer Scott Kay, Hackensack, N.J., is all for consumer education. He jumped on his platinum platform more than 10 years ago and now can be seen everywhere-from jewelry stores to bridal shows to nationally televised prime time shows such as Entertainment Tonight -educating consumers about the other white metal. “Consumers worry about getting ripped off,” he says, because jewelry is more than just a commodity-it can be romantic, special, unique, and part of a ceremony.

Tie in humor to the benefits of the product. Some of the highest-paid people in the world are entertainers. Do a little entertaining yourself by using humor-sparingly and tied into the benefits of the product-to get your point across.

A clever ad from Mike Buley’s Seattle agency, Jewelry Ads That Work, shows a beautiful piece of jewelry with the caption, “So you’re in the doghouse with her again, huh?” People like to be entertained, Buley explains.

With 500 clients worldwide, Buley produces 12 new ads a month based on variations of themes including forgiveness and male-female relationships. “You won’t see any of my ads talking about the jeweler,” he says. “My ads focus on the customer.”

Buley created ads based on what he wanted to read in newspapers, and that included humor. He also talked to women about why they wore jewelry, and how men don’t understand the product. “We’re out of our element in a jewelry store,” says Buley. “Jewelry shopping is intimidating for us because we can’t touch the product.” In his ads, he has managed to incorporate male and female jewelry perspectives, jewelry’s place in relationships, and human frailties. Results include humorous portrayals of why people need jewelry, and his clients say consumers keep looking for more.