Retail Reset: How Brick-and-Mortar Stores Went Digital During Lockdown



In the age of COVID-19, the savviest bridal retailers have gone digital. once you get a feel for the new frontier, you can fast-track your way to a season filled with unprecedented wedding jewelry sales.

Tacori three stone ring with sapphires
A Tacori RoyalT three-stone ring

Whether you’re keeping regular hours now, with masks and hand sanitizer at the ready, or open only by appointment, selling engagement rings and wedding bands couldn’t be more different than it was before COVID-19 disrupted life on and off the sales floor.

The ongoing reality—and crippling uncertainty—of the pandemic means retailers have a whole new set of requirements. And not just regarding health and safety.

Jewelers who hope to be successful in the wedding jewelry space have no choice but to modernize their approach. And many already have, shifting their focus to their digital presence, adding chat functionality to site features, conducting virtual appointments with clients, hosting livestream events, and adding augmented reality tools to their digital storefronts.

Stephanie Gottlieb fancy shape diamond rings
Stephanie Gottlieb Fine Jewelry–designed engagement rings

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the power of speed, convenience, and information visibility,” says Caryl Capeci, president of Boston-based Hearts On Fire. “The consumer is driving the speed of change, and the retail industry must adapt. Brands and retailers must come together and partner in new ways to bring creative storytelling, product showcasing, and exceptional service to a new level.”

Already some general best practices have emerged, and some jewelry pros have become experts in virtual sales ­seemingly overnight. Where should your focus be? What turns an online consultation into a fruitful transaction? We spoke with leading bridal suppliers, independent retailers, e-comm-only ­jewelry sellers, and designers who sell engagement rings directly to consumers to nail down what today’s bridal customers expect and respond to—and what it takes to convert them.

Instagram or Bust

Christopher Designs crisscut engagement set pic
An Instagram pic from Christopher Designs

If selling on Instagram hasn’t become a priority, make it one. Younger designers and brands rely almost entirely on this platform to move product, and it’s a tactic that pays off.

“We sell millions of dollars’ worth of diamonds through our social channels,” says Olivia Landau, cofounder and CEO of The Clear Cut, an online diamond retailer established in 2018. “Especially in the COVID era, it’s so important for companies to be flexible and foster a sense of community online.”

Traditional retailers may find this a tall order because of the time and manpower involved, but hiring a social media–savvy professional to enhance your Instagram presence and transact in this space is your way in. (For perspective, The Clear Cut employs six staffers exclusively dedicated to Instagram shopping.) So make sure someone on your team is guiding the Instagram portion of your business; the opportunities are too valuable for a hit-or-miss approach.

Tacori diamond necklaces
Tacori shows off its diamond necklaces.

Your bridal vendors are also there to help. For example, Tacori has done a virtual event takeover of Lighthouse Point, Fla., jeweler J.R. Dunn’s Instagram account to showcase its newest items. And New York City–based Christopher Designs creates new lifestyle images to post on Instagram every day. “We also supply our retail partners with this content to promote on their websites, social media accounts, and directly with clients,” says Christopher Designs’ director of marketing, Katie Hamian.

Get a good posting cadence going, and handle inquiries promptly. (Pro tip: Landau says Instagram shoppers expect a response to direct messages within 24 hours if not sooner.)

The ClearCut homepage
The Clear Cut’s homepage

Gorgeous Visuals, Compelling Content

Stephanie Gottlieb with 5 carat diamonds
Stephanie Gottlieb models nine 5 ct. diamonds for her followers.

The look and feel of your website have never been more critical; customers are going here before they ever set foot in your store, especially now. Same with your social channels. So investing in quality photography, whether you hire a pro or figure out how to do it yourself, is essential.

New York City–based jewelry designer Stephanie Gottlieb has found that having strong visuals accompanied by captions is effective. “Beautiful pictures may build a good following, but without the authenticity and expert insights, this may not convert to sales.” Gottlieb tries to craft captions that provide education and instill confidence in the customer. “On the flip side, this generation of online shoppers is highly visual, so they don’t want to be served information that isn’t accompanied by beautifully styled images.”

Tacori engagement set on beach
Tacori markets its made-in-California background.

As for investing in a glossy campaign for your digital platforms, Severine Ferrari, founder and editor of Engagement 101, thinks effective content is less about the images and more about the message. “Videos and shots showing the ring different ways and on different hands are very important,” she says. “Even more so this year, I think people are used to less artifice, more authenticity, and a more inclusive idea of what and who is beautiful. Polished still photography is not really resonating.”

Gottlieb agrees: “I think the Instagram generation prefers the more ‘real’ frame that an iPhone can achieve.”

Get Used to Being on Camera

Virtual appointments are the new normal, and sales associates must become fluent in their nuances. Seattle-based jewelry designer Valerie Madison says her virtual consultations are similar to her in-person appointments, despite the presence of a screen.

Valerie Madison
Valerie Madison

“We use the same client questionnaire that covers important details like ring setting, stone details, budget, and timeline,” Madison says. “We’re lucky that our clientele feels very comfortable on Zoom and that they trust Google Reviews, where we are very highly rated. And when clients come prepared and have done their research on what they are looking for, it’s overall a much more successful experience.”

Tiffany Bayley, owner of Avalon Park Jewelers in Orlando, Fla., says one major difference between virtual and in-person bridal appointments is that “customers that book one-on-one private consultations are not shopping—they’re buying!” Bayley has offered videoconferencing for her clients for years and has sold hundreds of custom pieces via FaceTime.

Christopher Designs crisscut bracelet rings
A few of Christopher Designs’ Crisscut diamond styles

“But if you are fighting for every penny, and you have five competitor stores within 5 miles of you, you better bring your A game,” she cautions. “Keep it lively, generate enthusiasm about the project at hand, but don’t forget to stop talking. If you just give the customer a chance, they will tell you how they can be sold.”

More tips: Keep a nice, neat professional appearance (no Starbucks cups on your desk!). Focus on the jewelry, not yourself. And a small diamond light is an essential tool ­because, says Bayley, “sparkle always sells.”

Tacori RoyalT eternity bands
A collection of Tacori RoyalT eternity bands

Again, lean on your brand partners, who have the budgets for research and development and test-and-learn projects. For example, Tacori has furnished its retailers with a simple tech package to help them finesse their virtual appointments. It includes a variety of virtual backgrounds and a set of best practices based on Tacori’s own direct-to-consumer initiative (developed in May for customers who couldn’t be physically present at a brick-and-mortar store to pick their Tacori ring).

Implement these strategies at a pace you can manage. Start with whatever you think is most manageable, get ­comfortable, and push yourself ­toward bigger and better improvements from there. Just don’t hesitate or dither—your customers won’t wait.

 

Buyers Intelligence Group and Boss Logic Together software
Buyers Intelligence Group and Boss Logic’s Together software

Screen Time

In addition to tools offered by your suppliers, a host of new technology is available to help bridal retailers innovate and augment the shopping experience.

Buyers Intelligence Group and Boss Logic’s new Together platform (pictured above) creates a virtual in-store experience that connects suppliers with retailers or retailers with customers via built-in videoconferencing and clienteling tools. (bigjewelers.com)

Flourish & Thrive Academy custom-builds virtual trunk shows within your own content management system so customers can see designers’ new lines in full. (flourishthriveacademy.com)

Mirelz, an augmented reality provider, offers try-before-you-buy technology; Kendra Scott recently used it to introduce a mobile-based virtual try-on service. (mirelz.com)

Virtual Diamond Boutique, a loose-diamond marketplace accessible on mobile devices, is “extremely visual and easy to use for a screen share,” says consultant Andrea Hill of Hill Management Group. (vdbapp.com)

Top: Single Stone discussing a 2.53 ct. Christina ring on a virtual appointment (photo: courtesy of Single Stone)