These five topics may not be brand-new to consumers and merchants, but don’t let a lack of overpowering buzz distract you from their staying power.
Remember when it seemed far-fetched that your entire music collection would live inside a plastic box the size of your palm? Now that we know how quickly new technology can be integrated into our daily lives, it’s safe to assume that at least one form of mobile payment system eventually will become as ubiquitous as Visa is in retail stores. A report published in October by Juniper Research, which tracks mobile technology, states that the number of consumers making purchases with mobile devices is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent during the next two years. The technological aspects of mobile payments still vary, but near-field communication—a contactless method that enables users to simply point their smartphones to make a payment—is a definite forerunner. —EV
Pin It to Win Sales
At the first Fashion Digital New York conference in October in New York City, panelists like Daniella Yacobovsky, cofounder of jewelry retailer BaubleBar, praised the benefits of Pinterest, the addictive online virtual bulletin board. “Pinterest is a visual Google,” she told attendees. “It’s the most powerful tool in commerce.” Seventy percent of Pinterest users say they “get inspiration on what to buy” from pins—images of beautiful products and DIY projects uploaded to various themed online boards—according to BizrateInsights.com, whose survey revealed that Pinterest is better than Facebook for inspiring purchases. “Pinterest serves as an effective tool for research, marketing, and relationship building,” says Calvin Smith, owner of Calvin’s Fine Jewelry in Austin, Texas. —JH
A Tax Upon You
Of all retail sectors, jewelry sellers may be most affected by a mandatory collection of online sales tax, because the items they sell tend to be high-value. Even Blue Nile says having to collect sales tax—as it currently does only in Washington and New York states—could lead to a “significant” decrease in the Seattle-based e-tailer’s sales. Still, momentum for what advocates call “sales tax fairness” keeps growing—with big states like California mandating sales tax collection, and Amazon striking deals with a variety of local jurisdictions. Some predict it’s just a matter of time before the phenomenon goes national. “There appears to be a paradigm shift in terms of support,” says Chris Fetzer, vice president and general counsel of Haake & Associates, Jewelers of America’s Washington, D.C.–based legislative counsel, which advocates an e-fairness law. “It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.” —RB
Fair trade diamonds have long been considered the Holy Grail for the ethical jewelry movement. In September, the first diamonds that could legitimately carry that label were produced in Sierra Leone. Netherlands-based Open Source Minerals plans to auction them as polished. (Due to a quirk in labeling procedures, they will be called “development diamonds,” rather than “fair trade diamonds.”) Advocates hope their unusual provenance will fetch higher prices, but the business model remains untested. “We have people who swear that the customer wants this, that they have built a market for ethical diamonds,” says Ngomesia Mayer-Kechom, manager of international projects for the stones’ certifier, the Diamond Development Initiative. “But we frankly have to wait and see.” —RB
When the State and Treasury departments lifted sanctions on a variety of Burmese products in November, jewelers experienced a flicker of hope that the Burmese ruby ban would be lifted. Alas, ruby and jade were conspicuously absent from the list. One consequence of the politicking is that glass-filled rubies will remain an issue to compensate for the shortage of natural stones in the market. Even the Federal Trade Commission has gotten involved: The organization is considering revisions to its Guides for Jewelry, Precious Metal and Pewter Industries to better protect the interests of the jewelry-buying public. “Of particular interest to the FTC are problems related to purchases of lead-glass/ruby imitations sold to consumers as genuine ruby by jewelry stores across the country,” writes gemologist and author Antoinette Matlins on her blog. In other words, as you hit the show circuit in search of gems in the year ahead, be sure to heed this age-old advice: Caveat emptor. —JH