Retail, Disrupted: Part 2

Our two-part series explores ever-changing consumer habits—and how jewelers must react in order to thrive in the next decade…and beyond

“There is nothing that you carry in your store that I can’t buy online.”

It’s the first thing Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a retail consultancy based in New York City, tells the brands that hire him.

The statement has a simple mission: to wake up ­retailers trying to do good business by using bad, outdated methodologies.

Because there’s no denying it—digital retailing, in all its iterations, is disrupting the industry on a seismic scale.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” says Phibbs, who’s worked with jewelry and watch brands including Omega and Hearts On Fire. “Victoria’s Secret lost 20 percent of its foot traffic last month. The shake-up in retail isn’t happening a few years from now—it’s happening now.”

And now, more than ever, jewelry retailers need to be nimble in their responses to market conditions, which are increasingly tipping the balance of power away from retailers and toward consumers.

Brick-and-Mortar Matters

“The only way to survive as a retailer is to constantly create an exceptional experience for your customers,” Phibbs says. “All you have is your people—and the experiences you create within your four walls. If I drive to your store and I don’t get an exceptional experience, I will not be back.”

The basics of creating an exceptional in-store experience include keeping your space meticulously clean, making sure it smells and looks good and, above all, avoiding the cultivation of an us-versus-them environment.

“In most small stores, the owners are hanging out in the back, getting their usual coffee, and everyone who works there knows each other and is having a great time,” he ­explains. “And then it’s ‘Oh! Here come those damn customers!’ Retailers need to get away from this idea that customers need us more than we need them. That’s how it used to be, but not anymore.”

Jewelry retail expert and sales trainer Shane Decker agrees. “Everyone says the number one reason people shop on the internet is price,” he says. “But it’s not. They go to the internet because they’re tired of crappy in-store experiences.”

Along with instituting continuous, high-quality sales training, Decker recommends upping efforts in so-called clienteling—following up with clients with a thank-you card or inviting them in to get their jewelry cleaned. Overhauling run-down stores and keeping a closer watch on trends are also areas stores need to work on, he says. “Too many jewelry retailers are not keeping up with trends, and it’s hurting them.”

Jewelers also should be mindful of the burgeoning secondhand luxury market, which is connecting with millions of consumers shopping for jewelry and watches on websites like and

Does it make sense to start stocking previously owned luxury watches or estate engagement rings in your city or town? Millennials, in particular, appreciate the eco-friendliness and cost savings attached to secondhand luxury.

Even with that and other competition for retailers, “I still routinely walk into a small store and do not get greeted,” says Phibbs with a sigh. “I mean, how cavalier are you?”

The Digital Revolution Is Real

Of course, when it comes to thriving in this new retail ­environment, upgrading the in-store experience is only half the battle.

Striving to be competitive online—particularly on ­mobile—should be a top priority, says Ben Smithee, CEO of marketing consultancy The Smithee Group. “And ­retailers need to change their focus to mobile. It’s the small screen now that’s important.”

For online success, Smithee suggests building on four pillars: creating and maintaining a great e-commerce website that is mobile-optimized (designed to work effectively with smartphones and tablets); having some kind of content hub (a blog or some other medium to communicate with clients); utilizing email for client communications, which could include things like newsletters and sale notices; and cultivating an attractive, highly engaged presence on social media.

Also important, Smithee says, is “having the ability to create landing pages online.” What’s a landing page, ­exactly? It’s a web page with its own URL that shares info on an event, a sale, or another fleeting happening. Companies embed the links to event-specific landing pages in emailed graphics and social media posts, to name two vehicles.

These landing pages work well for brands because “they move people through the funnel effectively and efficiently online,” Smithee says. “If I’m inviting them to an event, why would I send them back to a home page when I could send them to a customized landing page that is only about that event and has an email capture? Now I have their email so I can follow up on the event, send them ads…and then I can use all the information they give me to create customized content for them.”

Smithee warns that brands not putting budget behind social media “are not going to survive in the game.”

But luckily, posting ad content on networks including Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest is not only user-friendly but also relatively cheap, while offering terrific consumer targeting capabilities. “If you can get impressions [sets of eyeballs online] for pennies? Come on now,” Smithee says. “Show me what other medium works better.”

Rethink to Reinvigorate

By all accounts, brick-and-mortar retailing isn’t dying, but it is contracting. And retailers willing to study and respond to new consumer behaviors, invest in online, and elevate their in-store experience will thrive.

No one’s saying it’s going to be easy.

“The easy answer for a retailer would be ‘I need to write a check and try to fix things,’ ” Phibbs says. “The hard answer is ‘I need to fire half my crew and get new blood in here.’ ”

But for small retailers, big changes can often be implemented very quickly.

“You can close a store for a single day and remerchandise it,” says Phibbs, by way of example. “Then maybe you take a few more days to train people how to really sell. And suddenly, you’re seeing your business grow. In the end, you may not be bulletproof. But if you’re hungry for it, you can have it.”

(Woman in window: Simone Becchetti/Stocksy; woman at computer: Jelena Jojic Tomic/Stocksy)


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