In October/November 2020, BriteCo conducted a survey among retail and wholesale jewelers to identify their digital practices and transformation in the wake of COVID-19. These are the results.
By BriteCo 13 minute read

Why the Survey? A Message from the Sponsors

To say that our world changed in 2020 is an understatement.

Like so many other businesses, the retail jewelry industry experienced dramatic changes from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: store closures, stepped up sanitation measures, customer Zoom calls, and more. The abrupt interruption of our face-to-face contact with customers was perhaps the most jarring and unsettling.

At the same time, there is growing recognition that the pandemic has accelerated a trend toward digital communications that has been building for many years. In 2020, we as independent retail jewelers had to reckon with managing a digital presence we may or may not have been prepared for.

To help share how our individual wholesalers and retail stores are responding, a group of leaders representing digital technology enablers — including BriteCo, GemFind, Polygon, and IGS, along with the Facebook group Jewelers Helping Jewelers and our media sponsor, Instore magazine — came together to offer participation in a survey aimed specifically at the digital transformation happening among jewelers today.

This report is based on the results of our survey. We intend that it represent a first step in an effort to provide jewelers with the resources they need to manage the changes we face, and help them succeed in finding a path that combines the best of both worlds — digital and face-to-face engagement.

We invite you learn more at www.JewelersGoingDigital.org.

Introduction

JBT President Erich Jacobs explains that, among jewelry retail stores having a rough year in 2020, “Those who were struggling had zero online presence.” They lacked both e-commerce capability and a sizable social media following.

“Everyone who was struggling had neither of those. That was the common factor.”

A coalition of leading retail jewelry providers and professional organizations has surveyed the industry landscape to get a clearer picture of how jewelers are managing the digital transformation of their sales and marketing operations, which has been accelerated by the demands of a global pandemic.

Among 450 responses, more than 200 retail jewelers from throughout the United States completed the survey. Of those respondents, 50% had a single store with an online presence (website and social media). 10% had multiple stores with online presence.

The impact of COVID-19 has made the digital transformation of retail jewelers more imperative than ever before.

By limiting face-to-face in-store visits, either through mandated closures or consumer fears, jewelers have been forced to consider their marketing spending and, in many cases, they have focused on a bigger and hopefully more effective online presence. Still other jewelers appear to be cautiously marking time, even reducing their promotional spend during the pandemic.

The stakes are high, especially as another wave of the virus appears to be impacting the industry once again.

Even as the pandemic has curtailed in-store visits, two out of three retail jewelers still rely on in-store visits as their primary sales channel. While there is surely no replacement for face-to-face contact in making a fine jewelry or watch purchase (Blue Nile, for example, is now opening its own retail locations), COVID-19 has inevitably accelerated what can only be called the digital transformation of the jewelry industry.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - sales channels

Executive Summary

This report is divided into the following two sections:

  • The Impact of Covid on Retail Jeweler Operations
  • Marketing Digital Tools Jewelers Use to Connect with Vendors and Customers

Each section contains major takeaways based on our survey results, along with recommendations and resources for jewelers to take action in managing their digital transformation.

Part 1: The Impact of Covid on Retail Jeweler Operations and Marketing

With nearly half of stores being closed for two months or more, significant numbers of retail jewelers cut staff and hours. Sales bounced back for about half of respondents upon reopening. Engagement rings and self-purchases lead the demand.

More than half of respondents reported an increase in online store traffic this year, yet 30% of stores in the survey indicated they made no changes in their marketing mix. Those who did make changes posted more on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. (58%), followed by showing inventory on websites (30%) and offering e-commerce purchasing of jewelry online (25%).

Most respondents (41%) kept their advertising budgets the same, but another 26% cut their promotion budget, while a small minority (11%) increased their budgets. Perhaps most disturbing is that 27% of retail jeweler respondents either stopped advertising or don’t advertise at all. Those who stopped advertising or don’t advertise at all saw the biggest downturn in sales.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - Takeaway 1

Part 2: Digital Tools Jewelers Use to Connect with Vendors and Customers

Most jewelers who have a website to build awareness of their retail location (41%) drive customers to their store (28%), while another 23% sell directly to customers from their website. Another shocking statistic: 9% of respondents said they don’t currently have a website.

Nearly half of jeweler respondents with a website (49%) are not offering e-commerce transactions. Among those that do provide online purchasing with e-commerce, the Shopify platform is the clear favorite.

What advertising channel did our jeweler respondents feel had the best return on their marketing dollar investment? Social media was the strong preference by more than a third of jeweler respondents (34%), followed by paid search (14%) and email (12%). One out of six (16%) indicated they still don’t advertise.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an obvious and dramatic impact on independent retail jewelers — and even more so on established jewelry chains. Many have announced permanent store closings, in what some have dubbed a “retail apocalypse.”

Yet, there are retail jewelers who are adapting to the new demands of an always-on, digital marketplace. There appears to be a wide disparity between jewelers who have already invested in an online presence and those who are just beginning to get involved with customers online — a digital transformation gap. But as technology for the jewelry industry becomes more affordable and easier to use, no retail jeweler need be left behind. This survey report attempts to give retail jewelers a baseline and, if appropriate, a starting point for beginning and/or expanding their own digital transformation journey.

Recommendations

  • Acknowledge that an online presence through a website and social media has become a necessity to survive and thrive as an independent retail jeweler.
  • Recognize that stopping advertising and promotion (or not advertising at all) puts your store at a huge disadvantage, as the pandemic has severely reduced in-store visits while making online and smartphone connections the primary forms of communications. Even when the pandemic eventually subsides, your customers (especially the younger ones) will expect you to speak to them via the Internet, text, video, and more.
  • You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to setting up or improving your website and social media posts (paid and otherwise).
  • There are experienced providers in the jewelry industry who can help you and your staff build an online presence without breaking the bank.
  • Consider offering e-commerce transactions on your website. Applications such as Shopify make setting up and managing online sales easier and faster than ever before.
  • Educate yourself and your staff with free resources. Commit to a technology discussion with your people to get input and share ideas. Most of the major platforms, like Facebook, have free online tutorials and educational videos to help you learn more.

The Impact of Covid — Survey Results, Part 1

Covid Impact on Store Operations

Nearly half (49%) of retail respondents said their stores were closed for two months or more, while another 27% were closed for about one month. More than 14% said they did not close.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - closures

Since March of 2020, it appears a little more than half the jeweler respondents indicated their staffing and scheduled hours have not drastically changed. However, nearly one out of three stores (33%) say they have fewer employees now, and 38% have cut employee hours. A much smaller number of stores (10%) actually expanded their staffs, with a few (4%) extending employee hours.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - staffing

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - staff scheduling

Covid Impact on Sales and Marketing

With the reopening of retail jewelry stores, 27% of respondents said sales were down compared to last year. At the opposite end, 33% reported a slight increase in sales, and another 22% showed a significant increase in sales. While this may reflect “pent up” demand when stores reopened, it is a good sign that some stores are actually able to increase sales in a highly volatile and uncertain environment.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - reopening sales

Customer Purchasing Habits

In the wake of the pandemic, more than half of jewelers said changes in customer purchasing habits showed increases in engagement ring purchases (56%), while 25% indicated no change. Self-purchases also showed an increase in 47% of stores, with 33% about the same. The other categories of anniversary bands, gift-giving, and milestones purchases were all dominated by “about the same” buying habits. 

These results also seem to reinforce BriteCo’s research into how the 2008 recession affected jewelry sales, which showed engagement rings as the category least affected by the downturn.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - consumer habits

Online Traffic and Presence

Those retail jewelry store respondents with an online presence saw a big jump in online traffic so far this year, with more than half (54%) indicating an increase.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - online traffic

In reaction to the temporary closing of stores and an increase in online traffic, one would expect that stores would likely want to change how they market themselves to customers, yet 30% of stores in the survey indicated they made no changes.

Those who did make changes mostly increased posting on social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., (58%), followed by showing inventory on websites (30%) and offering e-commerce purchasing of jewelry online (25%).

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - online presence transformation

Likely taking a cautious approach in the midst of the pandemic, more than half (55%) of jeweler respondents maintained their current advertising and promotion media mix. At the same time, a minority of stores (15.5%) shifted from print and TV to online media, reflecting a turn towards digital media to reach customers.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - advertising media mix

Perhaps most disturbing is that 27% of retail jeweler respondents either stopped advertising or don’t advertise at all. Those jewelers who stopped advertising or don’t advertise at all saw the biggest downturn in sales.

While retailers might recognize the need for a greater online presence, they also seem reluctant to commit more marketing dollars to promotion. Although understandable in a time of uncertainty, this decision limits their potential to exploit and leverage digital engagement with customers.

Covid Changing Retail Jewelry - advertising budget

Most respondents (41%) kept their advertising budget the same, but another 26% cut their promotion budget, while a small minority (11%) increased their budgets.

The Jeweler Digital Marketing Mix — Survey Results, Part 2

Tools to Communicate Directly with Customers

Survey respondents relied most on email (88%), text messaging (72%), and Facebook Messenger (57%) as the best digital tools for keeping in touch with customers. Zoom, FaceTime, and WhatsApp were also favored, though by much smaller percentages, ranging from 15% to 17%. 

Tools to Promote and Market to Customers

Most jewelers who have a website to build awareness of their retail location (41%) drive customers to their store (28%), while another 23% sell directly to customers from their website. Another shocking statistic: 9% of respondents said they don’t currently have a website.

Nearly half of jeweler respondents with a website (49%) are not offering e-commerce transactions. Among those that do provide online purchasing with e-commerce, the Shopify platform is the clear favorite.

When it comes to managing and developing their websites, more than one-third (38%) of survey jeweler respondents hire outside help, while the majority (54%) appear to rely on in-house talent.

The vast majority of jewelers (61%) do not regularly post blogs on their websites to attract customers.

However, customer reviews appear to be much more important. Half of survey respondents post them on their websites, and nearly two out of three post reviews on Facebook/social media pages, as well as on Google.

Besides using their websites to make sales, jeweler respondents chose several other social media platforms. Facebook (87%) and Instagram (70%) proved the most popular, followed by Pinterest (33%) and YouTube (20%).

Beyond their websites, survey respondents looked to Facebook Marketplace, Instagram shop, and eBay as their preferred platforms to sell jewelry.

What Advertising Channel Did Our Jeweler Respondents Feel Had the Best Return on Their Marketing Dollar Investment?

Social media was the strong preference, by more than a third of jeweler respondents (34%), followed by paid search (14%) and email (12%). 16% indicated they still don’t advertise.

Jeweler respondents designated social media as the best return on advertising investment. Of those media channels, Facebook (54%) was by far considered the best return on investment. Instagram placed a distant second (16%), and 22% of respondents do not pay for social media advertising.

About the Survey

This report was written and produced by BriteCo. The survey was conducted in October/November 2020 among retail jewelers to identify their digital practices and transformation in the wake of COVID-19. Among the 460 responses, we analyzed more than 200 completed surveys. The majority of retailers who responded represented independent jeweler retailers within the continental United States.

About the Sponsors

BriteCo

Dustin Lemick, Founder & CEO

www.brite.co

The brainchild of a third-generation family jeweler, BriteCo is an innovative insurance technology company that empowers jewelers by providing them a free, fast, efficient, cloud-based appraisal system. They offer their customers jewelry and watch coverage they can trust, with policies rated A+ by Standard and Poor’s and A by AM Best. Licensed in all 50 states, BriteCo provides unrivaled protection against damage, theft, loss, or mysterious disappearance.

GemFind

Alex Fetanant, Founder & CEO

www.gemfind.com

Since 1999, the GemFind Network has become the leading destination for the jewelry industry. GemFind.com and jewelcloud.com: the jewelry industry’s one-stop destination for all B2B online marketing solutions, such as website development, digital advertising and marketing, virtual jewelry and diamond inventory from hundreds of designers/ manufacturers and diamond suppliers, with many online interactive tools and apps like The Diamond Link®, Ring Builder®, Stud Builder®, Pendant Builder®, Watch Builder®, and more.

International Gem Society (IGS)

Seth Rosen, Owner

www.gemsociety.org

IGS was initially founded to make gemology information accessible and affordable to everyone. Members can enroll in our gemology course and take the complete course through to certification. Now, the mission also includes bringing together people who want to learn, discuss, and trade gemstones.

Instore Magazine

Trace Shelton, Editor

www.instoremag.com

Leading retail jeweler online and monthly print publication featuring retail trends and store examples. Once a year, jewelers can review the state of the jewelry industry with highlights from Instore Magazine’s annual Big Survey. The Big Survey gives a rundown of the past year that includes best performing jewelry brands, lots of statistics, and interesting anecdotes from the sales floor. It’s a once-a-year read not to be missed.

Jewelers Helping Jewelers (JHJ) Facebook Group

Aleah Arundale, Founder

https://www.facebook.com/groups/JewelersHelpingJewelers/

Jewelers Helping Jewelers is the fastest growing and most popular Facebook group for jewelry retailers and traders. Networking, tips, events, advice, a bit of socializing and also lots of fun, with over 21,000 members and counting — it’s the place for jewelers to share their everyday concerns, successes, crazy customer stories, and much more.

Polygon

Sean Lemire, General Director

www.polygon.net

www.mdfcommerce.com

Since 1984, Polygon has worked with thousands of retail jewelry professionals to help them grow their businesses. The membership-based network provides a secure online platform for vetted members to exchange ideas and access business intelligence, reports, and pricing information. Members can also trade online in loose diamonds and colored stones, jewelry, fine watches, estate/vintage, coins, metals, and more. In addition to their online services, Polygon also hosts several in-person trade events.

Resources

Blogs

BriteCo Jeweler Resource Hub

brite.co/hub

Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Reinvent Your Jewelry Business

Read Now

GemFind Blog

blog.gemfind.com/blog

The New Key to Digital Marketing Success in 2021 for Jewelers

Read Now

Instore Magazine

A Foolproof Plan to Crush It on Social Media

Read Now

Now is the Time to Build the Website You Wish You’d Had

Read Now

Making Your Website the Cornerstone of Your Business

Read Now

Not Embracing Tech? Time to Change That

Read Now

Virtual Events

GemFind Webinars

See Webinars

Instore Webinars

https://blog.gemfind.com/blog

How to Produce Marketing Content that Works

View Now

Getting Back to Work — How to Reconnect with Your Clients

View Now

More Online

BriteCo Resources

Free Cloud-Based Appraisal System from BriteCo

Download Now

Jewelers Going Digital BriteCo Supplement featuring appraisals and insurance survey results

Download Now

Jewelers Helping Jewelers

Facebook Group

Join Now

Polygon

Polygon helps retail jewelers and vendors to connect, stay informed, and buy and sell diamonds, jewelry, colored stones, watches, and more.

Visit Now

Sell OTC diamonds back to the trade with bi-weekly online auctions. Polygon members are pre-approved.

Visit Now