The Internet, and how it affects traditional distribution channels, will have a growing impact in each coming year. Some high-end jewelry brands are partnering with larger, more visible retailers to make the buying experience as easy as possible for the consumer. That is what it’s all about, instead of frustrating consumers, who are quickly getting used to buying all sorts of products online and are enjoying wonderful delivery systems with premium packaging, generous return privileges, and high-end customer service.
Like global warming, the buying-pattern changes in our industry started slowly, but the cumulative effect can be devastating to the independent retailer. A small retailer can look big with a fully developed site and the right bells and whistles. Most, however, can’t afford to stock a wide assortment of a brand. Most can’t afford partnership positions on AOL, Google, and many of the significant online portals that field traffic and ultimately attract consumer sales. Most don’t have world-class distribution systems at their disposal.
As a brand, how we handle our presence on the Web is one of our most important decisions. We need to be sure online discounting doesn’t “un-level” the playing field. We suppliers need to protect and embrace brick-and-mortar jewelers who year-round display, stock, and promote our lines. But we need to simultaneously cater to the consumer who demands a convenient online buying experience. In 1999, Honora, along with 20 or so retail and wholesale leaders, tried to create a joint distribution system to solve the problem. That entity, Enjewel, was ahead of its time and didn’t survive. But the industry needs an answer. Now that the realities and potential of the Web are better understood, a new group can create a system that will marry the local benefits of better independent jewelers with the technologies that make shopping more convenient. The next generation will demand it.