Market Place


Jewelry chains and independents enjoyed a sharp increase in share of market in the final quarter of 1997 – which may help explain why so many jewelers reported a good to excellent sales year.

In the 1997 October-December quarter, these jewelers accounted for nearly half of all fine jewelry and watch purchases, compared to about 35% the year before, according to a national consumer survey by Chilton Research Services.

Department and discount stores both lost share of market in the period. Department stores’ share dropped from almost 25% of jewelry and watch sales in the final quarter of 1996 to just over 17% in ’97, while discount stores’ share dropped from about 18% to 14%.

Jewelry chains dominated the market, accounting for more than a third (37.1%) of all purchases in the 1997 quarter. Independent jewelers accounted for only 12% – a figure that was up sharply from a year earlier.

Consumers were asked where they are most likely to buy if their primary concern is a store’s honesty and integrity. Nearly half (44.6%) said they’d pick a local independent jewelry store, yet only 12% actually bought there! The discrepancy suggests that “threshold resistance” still hurts many jewelers – or that they need to work on their marketing programs.

Jewelry chains had just the opposite experience. Only 17% of consumers called chains their first choice if honesty and integrity are the number one concerns – but 37% shopped there anyway.

Rings were the most popular purchase in last year’s holiday season with watches second. Chain jewelers were the leading outlet for rings of all kinds. Discount stores’ best performance came in watches, where they just trailed chain jewelers; each accounted for roughly a third of the total.

About one third of all jewelry and watch purchases in the 1997 quarter were for $100 or less; fewer than one in twenty (4.6%) was for $2,000 or more. Watches dominated at the lower end; about 60% of all watches retailed for $100 or less. At the higher end, diamond rings topped the list; about a tenth of those bought retailed for $2,000 or more.

Quality and price – attributes that often are at odds – are the top two issues for jewelry shoppers. They also like warranties (nearly four in ten call these very important) and repair is their favorite service. Design, cleaning and appraisals all tied as other desirable jewelry-store services, each being named by about 17% of those who made a jewelry or watch purchase in last year’s final quarter.


A t a recent meeting of the Women’s Jewelry Association, Edith Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, a New York-based trend forecasting firm, outlined trends which will affect women, jewelry and retailing in the coming decades. Among them:

1. Continuing high divorce rates. Half of all marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, a figure that tops 60% in some other parts of the world. Women initiate half of all divorces.

Despite political and religious rhetoric about the effects of rock ’n roll music or declining “family” values, Weiner calls divorce an economic issue, period. Divorce rates rise as a society becomes more industrial. Capital is portable in an industrial society and women can get jobs, however menial. In an agrarian society, women can’t just take half the land, half the chickens and hit the road.

2. Empowerment of women affects social development in many ways. In Brazil, for example, the birth rate dropped with the rise of television shows depicting women with their own careers and money and without half a dozen children.

3. Women outnumber men and, in a majority of U.S. households, are the primary breadwinner. Once cars, jewelry, financial services, insurance, etc. were marketed only to men, who made the buying decisions. Now marketers realize that women participate in these buying decisions, but don’t yet accept that women often make the buying decisions on their own.

4. As science learns more about how the brain works, it realizes how and why men and women function differently. Men tend to organize things based on space and time, women based on relationships. Thus, women generally don’t like to make cold call sales, but excel at maintaining the relationship once a customer buys. Men are good at signing up customers, but often don’t follow up to maintain relationships as well as women do.

5. The leading edge of the Baby Boom is hitting menopause and, says Weiner, “You know the Baby Boom has never taken anything quietly!” This will mean more studies of hormones and how they affect thinking and behavior of both men and women.

6. Retirement patterns are changing. Many women will keep working for 10 or 15 years after their husbands retire. Unmarried career women whose work has been the mainstay of their lives and identities may choose to stay at or return to work.

7. The senior market is important and often misunderstood. Its members may be working or retired, affluent or not. This market actually is more diverse and more in need of segmentation than consumers under age 45, who tend to behave much more alike.

8. Lines between home and office are blurring. Casual dress has won acceptance; next, people will look for times to dress up. Consumers want jewelry that works for both.

9. Technology allows us to mass-customize and re-think the traditional idea of “economies of scale.” For example, notes Weiner, vinyl flooring is wasted when consumers must buy a large piece and cut it to fit their own kitchens. How much better to feed the floor’s exact dimensions into a computer and take home a piece ready to fit!

10. The global middle class will reach two to three billion people, with tremendous purchasing power.

11. We’re becoming a rental society. We lease cars, employees, furniture and soon, perhaps, even jewelry.

12. We may redefine what jewelry is used for. This already is happening with body piercing and with jeweled scarves and garments that seem almost more jewelry than clothes. How about jewelry on furniture, shoes, etc.?

13. The middleman is disappearing as manufacturers go directly to retailers and even, increasingly, to consumers via the Internet or their own branded stores. However, some time-starved consumers facing this glut of information and choices will pay to have someone winnow the choices and present the best options.

14. We’re compressing things that once took decades into a few minutes. Everything is immediate; we went from mail to telephone to faxes to e-mail. Now, virtual reality allows consumers to “buy an experience.” This makes boredom a critical issue. Consumers want constant change and as more people live to 100, they have a lot of time to fill.

15. There are more gray areas in retailing, from non-profit organizations such as museums with full-fledged retail catalogs to various affinity groups with purchasing clout. This leads to the “airline ticket” method of retailing where no two people necessarily pay the same price for the same item. – Hedda Schupak

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