Goin’ Shopping!

Two things that relatively few people in the jewelry industry know about me, and my picture at left belies, are that I have curly hair and I am terribly nearsighted. Contact lenses and a flatiron normally address both, but eyeglasses and big hair proved a handy disguise for a recent mystery-shopping expedition.

After all my research about the female self-purchase market as well as stories I’ve heard about women being ignored or treated condescendingly in jewelry stores (JCK senior editor Carrie Soucy has been first ignored, then told to come back with her boyfriend), I wanted to find out firsthand what the shopping experience was like.

Monica McLaughlin, JCK’s contributing Heritage editor, joined me for the adventure. Posing as two girlfriends out for an afternoon of shopping, we worked our way through Pennsylvania’s King of Prussia Mall.

Of all the stores we visited, the only place we saw any other females shopping for jewelry was at a department-store jewelry counter. None of the jewelry stores had any females shopping in them; although to be fair, most of them didn’t have anyone else shopping in them either on a Friday afternoon.

We went to nine stores. We decided that I would look for a pair of diamond hoops a bit bigger and more significant than the ones I was wearing, but still appropriate for every day.

Good news! The experience proved to be much better than my research predicted. Although we were ignored completely in two stores and slightly frustrated in one, in the stores where we did have service, there was no question that we would buy jewelry ourselves.

In the department store, we were never acknowledged or greeted. One sales associate was busy with a group of women shopping together, and another sales associate was behind a different counter in the department and never came over to us even though we were obviously interested in the merchandise.

The other store where we were ignored was a jewelry store. There, a man had walked in about the same time we did. A male sales associate greeted the man first, although he did acknowledge our presence and called to another associate (also male) to show us anything we wanted to see.

The second associate didn’t greet us or leave his post. He and a third sales associate, female, were busy with paperwork. We browsed, finally hunkering down to get a closer look at a pair of hoop earrings. No response. We lingered a few minutes, discussing the earrings in voices loud enough to be heard. There was still no response. Disgusted, we left.

Those were the only two outright snubs we got. Every other experience was at least respectable, and most were very pleasant. One salesman was determined to sell me a pair of dressy, dangly earrings despite the fact that I’d specifically said—several times—that I wanted everyday classic hoops I could wear to the office. He insisted the dangles were suitable for the office (they weren’t) and looked wonderful on me (they were OK) and that I was too individualistic and not the “classics” type (I usually mix classic and trendy). But he didn’t question for a moment that I could buy the earrings for myself, and he made every effort to be as charming as possible.

Several of the sales associates we met were especially helpful, professional, and delightful to deal with: Seth Hoffman at Bailey Banks & Biddle; Maria Pilli at J.E. Caldwell; Carmine Grimaldi at Damiani; Thomas Barrett at Na Hoku; and Francesca Alquiros and Arlene Cameron at Iridesse, who successfully wove pearl education seamlessly into their presentations as they walked us around the store.

Though this was one mall and one day, I was gratified to see how many salespeople were genuinely warm and helpful. Still frustrating was the lack of visible pricing, and bending over or crouching down to see merchandise all afternoon became very uncomfortable. (Hint: taller cases!) Two stores, Damiani and Iridesse, get extra credit for having full-length mirrors as well as countertop mirrors. Yes, women really do want to see how the piece looks with their whole outfit, not just their face.

From the JCK family to you and yours, best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2006!