Holiday 2010: Mood Up, but Not Prices

The 2010 holiday season saw high spirits but low price points, jewelers and analysts tell JCK.

Even so, after three downbeat selling periods in a row, many hailed it as the industry’s best holiday in years. MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, which tracks sales nationally, estimated jewelry sales rose an impressive 8.4 percent. Quite a few retailers told JCK they experienced double-digit increases, though they noted that those jumps were often from a low base.

“This was so much better than two years ago, it’s unbelievable,” says Patti Thompson, owner of Way-Fil Jewelry in Tupelo, Miss. “And it’s so much better than last year.”

Most found the consumer mood had also improved considerably. “People are more confident in the economy,” observes William Bevill, owner of Smith & Bevill Jewelers in Beaverton, Ore. “I went home singing ‘Jingle Bells.’ ”

Customers mostly favored “affordable” items—particularly beads and silver. “The average ticket was up modestly, but jewelers aren’t selling that ‘one big piece’ like they did pre-recession,” notes industry analyst Ken Gassman, founder of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute in Richmond, Va. “An AGS jeweler might have had 15 sales over $10,000 at Christmas in the prerecession period. Today, they are lucky to get one or two of that size.”

Thompson found the midrange price points were the weakest. “The $200 to $900 items did well, as did $4,000 and up,” she says. “But the $1,000 to $4,000 is still kind of weak.” Michael Mazzoni, owner of M. Mazzoni Jewelers in Farmington, Mich., says his holiday sales rose 35 percent; most of those sales, however, were less than $1,000. “The economy still isn’t strong here, but people were spending more money,” he explains. “It seems like people’s attitude was, ‘Hey, I haven’t bought her anything in the past few years, I need to get her some jewelry.’ ”

Adds Stevan Buxbaum, president of Agoura Hills, Calif.–based Buxbaum Jewelry Advisors: “The consumer remains cautious. The people who are employed are happy to be employed, but nobody feels incredibly secure.”

The best results JCK found came from David Fairclough Fine Jewelers in Toledo, Ohio, where sales jumped 55 percent in December. Store owner David Fairclough reports the store had its “second-largest year in its history”—and it’s been open for 36 years.

Dione Kenyon, president of the ­Jewelers Board of Trade, thinks Christmas was “better”…but not for everyone. “There is a feeling that we are starting to come up the curve,” she says. “But I would say business is being done by fewer people. It’s not a case of a rising tide lifting all boats.”

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Heebner, Paul Holewa, and Lindsey Wojcik)

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