Business Report

Beyond the Big Three

The typical female jewelry consumer is aware of at least 10 different colored gems, but she’ll seriously consider buying only three or four. That’s the conclusion of a survey recently conducted for Jewelers of America and the American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) by Professor Sandeep Krishnamurthy of the University of Washington.

The survey was conducted among 460 women in the Puget Sound region of Washington state who’d purchased jewelry during the last two years and had household incomes of more than $50,000. They were quizzed about 18 gems and whether they’d be interested in purchasing them.

The short list of most- desired stones predictably includes ruby, emerald, and sapphire, which about half of the respondents said they’d consider buying. Another quarter to a third said they’d consider buying opal, jade, or amethyst. Fewer were inclined to buy aquamarine (21.1%), garnet (20.6%), or topaz (16.3%). But the numbers suggest that these stones have sales potential if they’re marketed correctly.

Strangely enough, though many jewelers rank tanzanite among the top four for customer preference, it was low on the list. Only 11.2% of the women said they’d consider buying it. Purchase consideration dropped off significantly for the other stones in the survey, including zircon, peridot, citrine, tourmaline, and alexandrite. Interest was especially low for tsavorite, spinel, and iolite.

The results suggest jewelers should stick to ruby, sapphire, and emerald. Still, just 12.7% of the respondents said they’d consider only gemstones they currently owned when buying in the future. That leaves a significant majority who aren’t committed to one type of stone. Of this group, 34.9% said they were interested in buying a different gem and 52.4% were undecided.

One tip for your sales approach: Don’t flood the customer with technical information. At the American Gem Society’s recent Conclave in New Orleans, AGTA executive director Douglas Hucker recommended that “When a customer wants to know more about a stone, it’s best to start with a very simple explanation such as: ‘This has a beautiful, rich, intense color and is a nicely cut gemstone.’ ” Though it helps to know more about gemstones, Hucker added, “The main reason people buy them is they like the jewelry. They don’t go to the colored stone counter to learn more about tanzanite’s refractive index. They buy on emotion.”

Another tip: Offer to customize pieces with gemstones that the customer prefers. That’s a strategy many jewelers overlook. Hucker also suggests that jewelers “watch how designers present their jewelry at trade shows. They’re so in love with this stuff. There’s no better place to get clues about how to present and display colored gemstone jewelry.”

For help in selling colored stones, try these resources:

  • Jewelers of America’s consumer information leaflets, which cover 27 different gems. Call JA at (800) 223-0673 for copies.

  • Color Everlasting, a booklet designed by AGTA to help jewelers’ customers understand how colored gemstones fit with the palette of colors in their fashion wardrobe. Copies are available at (800) 972-1162.

  • AGTA also has published several brochures on gemstone enhancements that could be shared with clients who have concerns about treatments.

Top 10 Jewelry Display Mistakes

W ith all the pressures of running a store, today’s independent jeweler has little time for “visual merchandising.” The result is a lot of display mistakes that can hurt sales, says Larry Johnson, senior vice president of Presentation Box and Display in Pawtucket, R.I. Here are the 10 most common mistakes Johnson sees being made today, along with his suggestions for correcting them.

Lack of focus in the case. Ask yourself which item in each case is the one you’d like most to sell. Make it stand out by displaying it differently. Put it on a special pedestal or in a pretty box. It’s a proven merchandising fact: The more people who can see an item, the greater the chance that someone will buy it. Successful jewelry chains feature a “special item” every 18 inches inside their cases.

Not replacing old, worn-out displays. Using faded, frayed, or makeshift displays does little to inspire customer confidence. Showcase displays are currently selling at their lowest prices in years. Even with the new leatherettes and Teflon-coated suedes, displays can be purchased for less than $65 per linear foot of showcase.

Not displaying the goods necessary to reach your sales goals. If you have only 50 ft. of showcase space in your store and you want to sell $500,000 worth of merchandise, you must sell $10,000 of goods per year out of each square foot of showcase. Determine how often your goods turn and make sure you’re displaying enough of the right kind of merchandise to meet your sales goals. Be sure you promptly reorder those items you sell.

Not looking at the showcase from the customer’s side. Step out from behind the counter each day when you set up the store and look at what your customer sees. Make sure any wires, tags, or other distractions are removed. Make sure there are no hidden pieces, dead flies, empty displays, or dark spots created by a shadow. It’s not what you see from your side that counts, it’s what customers see from their side.

Using the incorrect element or the element incorrectly. Never fill a neck form with multiple pieces. They distract from each other and create difficulties when you want to remove one to show it. Use the right type of display for the piece. New displays are now available for special merchandise such as big hoop earrings, bracelet slides, and even Huggy earrings that will solve your display problems.

Neglecting to rotate merchandise. Consider how often your average customer visits your store. Most mall visitors are in the mall every three weeks. Change your window displays or those cases that attract attention frequently to create a sense of newness.

Lack of price guidelines. Many customers are inhibited about asking about prices. Placing at least some price guidelines on various pieces inside each case helps the customer gain a sense of the price “neighborhood” of that part of the case. But be selective; overdoing it or using distracting price tags will detract from the look of the case.

Insufficient signage. Use signs inside the case that reinforce the selling points you will make in your sales presentation. Often, if the customer is “just looking,” your signs will start the selling job for you. Use signs to identify types of stones, chain lengths, price ranges, and specials. An electronic label-maker such as a Brother P-touch, which is available at most major office-supply stores, is an ideal way to make attractive, professional-looking signs in your store quickly and easily. Some display vendors make displays designed to accept these labels.

Too many colors in the case. Multiple colors can impart a patchwork-quilt look. Use displays that feature a single color throughout or contain two colors that accent each other. Displays from merchandise vendors are frequently offered in white leatherette; if you use a lot of vendor displays, consider white as one of your colors.

Lack of romance in the case. Remember that jewelry is a romance purchase. Don’t place your goods in straight lines like soldiers. Create interest by clustering items in different small areas of the showcase. Study the photos in display catalogs for ideas if you need help. Remember to include a little trim or décor items to create a softer look.

There’s no one right way to display jewelry, but there are definitely wrong ways, Johnson says. He recommends experimenting with different ideas. Any bad ideas are easily corrected, so take a chance. Remember to take photos of the case layouts that seem to work best. Ask your display vendor for ideas. If you want to go further, consider the Gemological Institute of America’s jewelry display course or do research in the library. Whatever time you can devote to improving your displays will almost certainly pay off in increased sales.

Larry Johnson, who’s writing a book on jewelry display, can be reached at (800) 556-7390 or

Who’s Buying Jewelry

It comes as no surprise that affluent consumers spend more on jewelry. But there are few good surveys of actual dollars spent on jewelry. That’s why the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey for the years 1995, 1996, and 1997 can provide useful insights. It’s based on data gathered from in-person interviews with a rotating sample of 5,000 households throughout the country. Of those households, approximately 11% said they purchased jewelry. (The survey does not differentiate between costume and fine jewelry.)

The data show that the only group whose spending on jewelry jumped substantially was the highest income quintile. This may reflect the impact of the bull market on Wall Street, which was in effect all three years.

Another Reason to Love Those Affluent Customers

You already know that high-income shoppers have a greater appetite for luxury goods than the masses do. But did you realize that they’re also less likely to comparison shop? That tendency was made clear in research recently conducted exclusively for JCK by Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch, a Horsham, Pa., consumer research firm.

The survey found that 52.5% of people with incomes over $100,000 purchased jewelry at the first jewelry store they visited. By comparison, only 15% of respondents with incomes between $50,000 and $99,000 made a jewelry purchase at the first store, and among consumers earning $35,000 to $49,900, 26% purchased jewelry at their first stop.

Among those earning more than $100,000, only 8.5% visited two stores before buying, 22.4% visited three stores, and 8.6% visited four stores. Among consumers with incomes between $50,000 and $99,000, there was a significantly higher tendency to comparison shop. Twenty-nine percent of these consumers visited two stores and 31% visited three. This income group contains the most inveterate shoppers: another 6% visited four stores, 9% visited five, 2% visited six, and 5% visited seven.

Among all 1,000 respondents, 26% went to one store, 18% went to two stores, 26% three stores, 7% four stores, 5% five stores, 4% six stores, 2% seven stores, and 1% eight stores. As might be expected, comparison shopping was highest among the lowest income group surveyed.