What Motivates Americans To Buy Jewelry and Watches

In any given year, 38 million Americans will buy fine jewelry or watches, and most of them will make more than one purchase. They’re most likely to shop at an independent store like yours, and nearly a third of those buying diamond jewelry are willing to spend more than $1,000. By strong margins, they prefer to see prices displayed and they want to be informed of enhancements. Most of them don’t feel confident buying expensive jewelry. Surprisingly, few of them think that shopping for jewelry is much fun.

These are among the many fascinating findings from what may be the first survey of its kind—a nationwide study of consumers who made jewelry or watch purchases of $100 or more over a year-long period. Commissioned by JCK, the study—based on in-depth telephone interviews—was designed to provide a statistical portrait of the country’s jewelry-buying population.*

Among other findings, the comprehensive survey shows why, when, and where people buy jewelry and watches, whom they shop with, what they spend, what types of jewelry they prefer, and what influences their decisions. Some of the findings will be disturbing, some encouraging, but all will be useful one way or another. You’ll find the complete results in the tables and charts starting on page 102. In the text below, jewelry industry consultants tell what changes they think jewelers should make in light of the survey results.

The matter of trust. A large proportion of customers feel vulnerable and suspicious when buying jewelry. Only 37% of respondents said they felt confident buying expensive items, less than half (47%) said they were confident that the jewelry they purchased contained the metals and gems the store said it did, and just 53% said they trusted that they paid a fair price.

“What people are saying is they’re not confident because they don’t know what they’re buying, they’re suspicious that they’re not getting what they thought they were getting, and that they think someone else is getting a better discount,” says Kate Peterson, co-owner of Performance Concepts, a jewelry consulting and sales training firm.

A whopping 81% of respondents said they wanted to be informed if a diamond or colored gem had been treated or enhanced. “You can see a direct correlation between media exposés and this response,” says Elizabeth Chatelain of MVI Marketing in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Ten years ago, consumers didn’t know these things existed. Now they aren’t getting enough positive education, and they’re getting a lot of negative information from the media. Plus, it’s the law [to disclose treatments].” The jewelry industry should take heed of this finding, she says, “because jewelers are uncomfortable bringing it up, and consumers are saying they want to know.”

Industry experts suggest a number of responses to these sobering findings. Better training for salespeople would help ensure that sales presentations include full disclosure. Public relations initiatives to explain treatment and disclosure issues would increase confidence—both nationally and in a jeweler’s market area. As for pricing and value issues, “people are giving too many discounts,” says Peterson. “That undermines confidence in pricing structures to begin with. We also need to take great pains to point out marks of quality such as trademarks and stamps.”

Not having fun. Only 13% of consumers agreed strongly with the statement, “Shopping for jewelry is more fun than shopping for other products.” Yet many jewelers assume customers feel that purchasing jewelry is part of the celebration of a happy occasion.

“This is a wake-up call for the industry,” says Chatelain. “People are so concerned about being ripped off that their guard is up. The other thing is that stores are just boring.” She visits 100 jewelry stores a year. “You can’t tell them apart. They look lackluster. Little local shoe stores were looking that way until six or seven years ago. Now those guys are extinct, and the chains took over their business.”

Chatelain’s solutions include “memorable merchandise; memorable décor; building the ambiance so when consumers come in, they’re happy they did it; and adding value, like having a play area in the store for young kids or taking a snapshot of everyone who buys a class ring and giving it to them. Have something different in the store so people remember it when they go to other stores.”

A related finding is that jewelers compete with firms that sell other luxury goods and services, such as collectibles, antiques, and luxury cars. (They also compete with investment products; see chart, p. 120.) Consumers should get the same emotional charge from making a jewelry purchase as they would from driving a sports car or vacationing in Europe, notes Peterson. A good place to start, she says, is to “treat customers like people and not like dollar bills or credit cards.”

Try to create “wow” experiences that solidify customer relationships and create referrals, Peterson urges. For instance, whenever a customer mentions that it’s her birthday or anniversary to Casey Stephenson of Warner Company, a Fresno, Calif., jeweler, he sprints out of the store, purchases a dozen roses, and gives them to her. The reaction: “People are shocked,” he says. “They’re not used to being treated that way. Part of our mission here is to help them have a fabulous time when they’re with us.”

“There’s a great competitive advantage for someone who figures out how to make shopping for jewelry fun,” notes John Michaels of Michaels Jewelry, a Waterbury, Conn., jewelry chain. But, says Chatelain, “these things take ingenuity, imagination and thinking outside the box.”

Impulse buying and repeat purchases. Survey findings point to another issue facing independents: Jewelry stores attract more jewelry shoppers than any other site for buying jewelry (53% of jewelry consumers), yet customers at independent jewelers make the fewest number of repeat purchases (2.4 per consumer). (See charts, “Who Buys Jewelry Where,” p. 106, and “Repeat Purchases by Type of Store,” p. 108.) Doing more to capitalize on impulse purchases—which represent 33% of total purchases—could improve that statistic.

“The store should be a silent salesperson,” says Joe Romano of Scull and Co. a North Bergen, N.J., management consulting firm. Romano recommends placing impulse items such as fashion jewelry near cash registers and gift-wrapping counters. “After all, someone doesn’t buy an anniversary band on impulse, but they would buy high-fashion jewelry if it goes with an outfit they’re going to wear that evening.”

Other areas to place impulse items: close to the pickup area for repairs, at the lease line, in front window displays, and close to high-traffic areas. Attractive displays are a factor as well, says Peterson. “Impulse is triggered tremendously by appearance of displays, and that’s what a lot of people let fall by the wayside.”

Remember, it costs far less to boost add-on and repeat sales than it does to attract new customers. To encourage such sales, make sure your price points and merchandise selection and presentation are in sync with local consumer tastes. And consider using store credit cards and favorable credit terms, which tend to bolster repeat sales. Discounters and department stores, which have much higher repeat purchase rates, use both.

Why are prices hidden? The survey also touched on the matter of price tags. Sixty-eight percent of consumers said they felt strongly that prices should be displayed. “If someone is making a planned purchase, they go out and scout this stuff out, do price comparisons. If you have prices hidden, you have lost the opportunity to be in competition with other people,” says Mark Hogeboom, chief financial officer of James Avery Craftsman, a Kerrville, Texas, jewelry chain. “Most jewelers hide prices underneath because they’re afraid they’ll scare someone away. The fact is, customers feel we aren’t quite honest if we don’t display the price like every other retailer in the universe—even the car dealers. The way jewelers have prices hidden makes asking the price an almost confrontational event for customers. It isn’t a lot of fun for them.”

Romano also recommends putting prices on jewelry. “The greatest fear salespeople typically encounter is during the probe when the salesperson is trying to determine how much the customer wants to spend. Customers often overstate how much they want to spend, just because they’re intimidated.”

No need to advertise? Only 16% of consumers said advertising was a very important factor influencing their selection of jewelry and watches. (See “Factors Afffecting Selection of Jewelry and Watches,” p. 116.) Factors deemed very important by greater numbers of consumers were product quality (97% of respondents), salesperson honesty (83%), service (71%), store reputation (61%), and the salesperson’s knowledge and advice (58%). Advertising may attract store traffic, but it’s the credibility, trust, value, and pleasure associated with the shopping experience that keeps customers coming back.

“If you have high-quality goods and honest salespeople, you don’t have to advertise nearly as much as if you don’t,” says Hogeboom. “Your staff should build relationships with customers. Running an ad doesn’t do that. That’s where independent jewelers have the edge.”

“There’s a great competitive advantage for someone who figures out how to make shopping for jewelry fun.” —John Michaels, Michaels Jewelers

JCK ’s Jewelry Consumer Study

Data are based on results of a telephone survey among 200 statistically representative consumers who made jewelry or watch purchases of $100 or more in the 12 months ending last August. The survey was commissioned exclusively by JCK and is available as a reprint.

Part I Who Is the Jewelry Shopper?

Gifts Vs. Self-Purchase

Men Women
Gift Self-Purchase Gift Self-Purchase
Pearl jewelry 82% 18% 50% 50%
Platinum jewelry 80% 20% 33% 67%
Colored stone jewelry 79% 21% 34% 66%
Diamond jewelry 74% 26% 42% 58%
Gold jewelry 64% 34% 44% 56%
Silver jewelry 55% 45% 36% 64%
Watches 43% 57% 41% 59%

Part II Where Jewelry Shoppers Make Their Purchases

Who Buys Jewelry Where

The table’s first line shows that among all jewelry consumers, 53% shop at an independent jewelry store. Of these, 46% are men and 54% are women; 34% are between the ages of 18 to 34, 50% are between 35 and 54, and 16% are 55 and older. The second line shows that 43% of jewelry consumers shop at department stores, and so on.
First column figures total more than 100% because consumers purchase jewelry from several types of stores in the course of a year.
Total Gender Age
% Who Shop at Type of Store % Men % Women 18-34 35-54 55+
Independent jewelry store 53% 46% 54% 34% 50% 16%
Department store (such as Saks, JC Penney, or Sears) 43% 36% 64% 35% 42% 22%
Chain jewelry store (such as Zales or Kay’s) 31% 55% 45% 53% 40% 7%
Discount store (such as Wal-Mart or Kmart) 16% 33% 67% 34% 50% 16%
Catalog 11% 33% 67% 30% 45% 25%
Craft jewelry gallery or show 11% 31% 69% 8% 78% 14%
Miscellaneous 11% 40% 60% 53% 28% 19%
Mall kiosk 9% 24% 76% 65% 35%
TV home shopping (such as QVC or Home Shopping Network) 10% 19% 81% 6% 60% 34%
Pawn shop 6% 53% 47% 32% 68%
*Wholesale Clubs (such as Sam’s Club or Costco) 5% 49% 51% 27% 63% 10%
*Auction 2% 76% 24% 57% 24% 19%
*Internet retail site (not auction) 2% 29% 71% 45% 55%
*Online auction (such as eBay) 1% 45% 55% 100%
*Because of the relatively small sample size, gender and age numbers may not be statistically representative (shown for consistency only).

Repeat Purchases by Type of Store

Among the places consumers buy jewelry, TV home shopping programs attract the highest number of consumers who make repeat purchases. While 35% of TV consumers made only one purchase, 24% made two, 12% made three to five, 17% made six to nine, and 12% made 10 or more.
Categories excluded from ranking because of the small sample size include pawnshops (average of 2.8 repeat purchases), wholesale clubs (2.1), auctions (5.5), Internet retail sites (2.1), and online auctions (1).
Average number of purchases per consumer Percentage of shoppers making single or multiple purchases (number of purchases)
1 2 3–5 6–9 10+
TV home shopping (such as QVC or Home Shopping Network) 3.8 35% 24% 12% 17% 12%
Craft jewelry gallery or show 3.5 30% 26% 25% 10% 9%
Miscellaneous 3.5 35% 24% 18% 14% 9%
Discount store (such as Wal-Mart or Kmart) 3.0 50% 15% 20% 5% 10%
Department store (such as Saks, JC Penney, or Sears) 2.9 41% 19% 30% 3% 7%
Mall kiosk 2.7 34% 33% 27% 6%
Catalog 2.6 41% 25% 25% 9%
Chain jewelry store (such as Zales or Kay’s) 2.5 42% 30% 19% 5% 4%
Independent jewelry store 2.4 40% 35% 18% 4% 3%

Part III What Jewelry Shoppers Buy

Number of Purchases by Product Category

1 2 3 4 5 6+
Silver jewelry 35% 17% 15% 7% 8% 18%
Gold jewelry 40% 32% 10% 3% 7% 8%
Colored stone jewelry 51% 28% 6% 3% 5% 7%
Watches 66% 29% 3% 1% 1%
Diamond jewelry 66% 24% 9% 1%
Platinum jewelry 74% 12% 14%
Pearl jewelry 83% 17%
i.e., 35% of consumers buying silver jewelry bought only one piece; 17% bought two, and so on.

Dollar Amount Spent by Product Category

Data show percentage of consumers reporting purchases for each price category; i.e., 19% of diamond jewelry consumers spent $100 to $299 on their purchase.
$100-$299 $300-$499 $500-$999 $1,000+
Diamond jewelry 19% 24% 26% 31%
Platinum jewelry 30% 13% 30% 27%
Gold jewelry 31% 30% 22% 17%
Watches 45% 22% 18% 15%
Colored stone jewelry 48% 28% 16% 8%
Silver jewelry 48% 35% 13% 4%
Pearl jewelry 50% 29% 6% 15%

Number of Stores* Visited Before Last Purchase

1 2 3-5 6-9 10+
Pearl jewelry 77% 10% 13%
Platinum jewelry 63% 14% 12% 11%
Silver jewelry 58% 17% 22% 2% 1%
Gold jewelry 48% 16% 27% 4% 5%
Colored stone jewelry 42% 20% 27% 11%
Diamond jewelry 39% 13% 35% 7% 6%
Watches 39% 20% 28% 9% 4%
* Including Web sites
Data are ranked by percent of purchases made after visiting one store.

Jewelry Preferences by Age

All Consumers 18 to 34 35-54 55+
Gold jewelry 61% 64% 58% 58%
Watches 42% 49% 36% 39%
Diamond jewelry 40% 43% 46% 18%
Colored stone jewelry 36% 24% 42% 41%
Silver jewelry 34% 29% 34% 41%
Pearl jewelry 12% 9% 9% 19%
Platinum jewelry 4% 2% 3% 6%

Part IV What Influences Jewelry Purchases

Familiarity with Jewelry Brands

Not familiar with any brands named 48.7%
Familiar with the following brands:*
Tiffany 41.5%
Cartier 35.5%
De Beers 20.6%
Van Cleef & Arpels 16.4%
Henry Dunay 4.8%
David Yurman 4.3%
Lagos 4.1%
Roberto Coin 4.1%
Le Vian 1.6%
Seidengang 1.4%
John Hardy 1%
*Percent of respondents who are very familiar with brand name (when told name of brand and asked for level of familiarity)

Most Recognized Watch Brands*

1. Rolex 53%
2. Seiko 20%
3. Bulova 11%
4. Citizen 5%
*Percent of respondents volunteering name of brand

Consumer Insights

If a diamond or colored gem has been treated or enhanced, I want to be informed. 81%*
When I’m buying jewelry, I appreciate informed advice from knowledgeable salespeople. 59%
I would like to see prices displayed. 68%
I trust that I have paid a fair price. 53%
Having in-house repair and service is important to me. 50%
I am confident the jewelry I buy contains the metals and gems the store says it does. 47%
I want the largest selection to choose from. 46%
I often browse in jewelry stores without buying anything. 42%
I’d rather be left alone as I browse the cases than be assisted by a salesperson. 38%
I prefer shopping in smaller jewelry stores because I like dealing with knowledgeable people. 37%
I feel confident about buying expensive jewelry. 37%
I try to shop for the lowest prices. 35%
Jewelry stores should be open in the evening. 35%
I do not mind having something sized and waiting for its delivery. 35%
I do not mind having to special order. 32%
I am more likely to purchase jewelry for myself than for others. 31%
Shopping for jewelry is more fun than shopping for other products. 13%
When I shop for jewelry, I am very likely to buy products I had not planned on buying. 10%
*Percent of consumers who agreed strongly with statement