Focus on Fashion

Merchandising management includes not only inventory selection and pricing but also marketing and sales. This column will discuss how to integrate all the elements of merchandising to improve business performance. This month we address a key element that many jewelers ignore—fashion.

Jewelry stores are in the fashion business. Fashion is based on popular styles and designs—the collective attitudes and opinions of customers and potential customers. (Younger and single consumers show more interest in fashion innovations.) Even emotional purchases such as bridal jewelry are subject to fashion trends.

The tough part is learning how to prepare for the inevitable changes in fashion, style, and design; how to anticipate the rise, peak, and decline of a trend; and how changing preferences will affect demand for current inventory (and current pricing). You must understand the fashion features of your inventory and know how to communicate them to shoppers.

Think of changes in fashion as planned obsolescence aimed at motivating consumers to buy new clothes and accessories. Each fashion market segment has its own trends, and jewelry fashion trends are predominately affected by quality, design, style, and materials. These four elements make up a category’s product range. To effectively manage and control the product range of each category, first address changing preferences in fashion, accessories, and jewelry.

Audit your inventory for trends by focusing on the level of quality your customers require. In today’s economy, customers want value. That does not necessarily mean they want less-expensive merchandise, but they do want more value for their money. So a diamond that’s slightly less than a full carat might make sense for some customers.

Quality also means meeting requirements, and perception of value is equally important. Be on the lookout for jewelry that offers more “eye value”—that looks like it should cost more.

Design refers to function. Rings, earrings, bracelets, and pendants are designed to be worn in a particular manner. The eternity ring is an example of design innovation. De Beers’ right-hand ring, which puts a new face on women’s cocktail rings, represents a merchandising approach to design. The design wasn’t new, but merchandising and advertising created new marketing opportunities. Style is an aesthetic approach to expressing a design. Colors and materials can be substituted to create unlimited jewelry styles. A motif is a recognized style.

Keep a close eye on trends in your customers’ fashion apparel. Smart sales associates can recognize the brands customers wear, and merchandising managers should review catalogs and product introductions of those brands. Store managers should encourage employees to record key customers’ preferences into a contact management system and use it to generate relevant marketing communications. You can tailor product offerings to individual customers. For example, you can use a customer wish list (and sales associate knowledge) to send suggestions for birthday gifts a month before each customer’s birthday. This is a good example of customer relationship management, and today’s technology makes it possible.

Fashion trends are important because jewelry is worn as an accessory to clothing, complementing or contrasting with outfits. A season’s popular fashion colors will influence jewelry purchases, especially in terms of gemstones and metal colors. Even fabric textures influence the selection of accessories.

What Hollywood stars wear on the red carpet also influences jewelry trends. In the fashion version of the trickle-down theory, as wealthy celebrities become fashion trend leaders, more-affordable designs become available to larger markets.

Sometimes trends trickle up. The fads for ostentatious “bling-bling” jewelry and big watches were spawned by the hip-hop subculture.

To understand which fashion trends will affect your customers’ jewelry preferences you need to know who their fashion influencers are. But simply reconnoitering a popular mall and noting the colors and styles of apparel on display won’t work if that isn’t what your customer wears.

Social trends also can influence fashion trends. After 9/11, some jewelry retailers noted that consumers moved from showy jewelry to simpler jewelry. The degree of change was highly influenced by the combination of social trends, individual needs to conform, and individual pressures from others.

Here’s a caveat: Historically, fashionable apparel and accessories have not offered universal wearability. The more stylish an item is, the more likely it will succumb to fashion fickleness. Since the most fashionably styled jewelry offers the least wearability, don’t overdo fashion-forward selections. Existing customers won’t buy jewelry they don’t consider wearable.

Understanding which apparel brands and designers individual customers prefer is the basis for good customer relationship management. Track the median age of your customer base, because the collective age of customers will determine the upward or downward direction of their fashion decision-making process. Changes in disposable income can speed up or slow down the fashion process, so watch individual financial success and track local economic trends to gauge trending jewelry assortment demand. Then adjust prices up or down. As Zale Corp. chief executive officer Neal Goldberg recently stated, “Fashion is important, but important in the right amount.”

netvalue@cox.net