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Jewelers looking to digital tools

Some retailers have seen a rush on stock, while others are picking up clients from companies that have closed.
Aug 5, 2020 5:28 AM   By Lara Ewen
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The industry is slowly coming back to life. As retailers emerged from the Covid-19 shutdown, they met customers eager to get back to normal, or some semblance thereof. Engagements and weddings that couples had put on hold in the spring were back on, and as a result, stores reported a healthy influx of patrons. Jewelers that survived the closures also picked up some new clients, in part because an unfortunate number of businesses were forced to shutter due to the shutdown. Although the full extent of the fallout from the pandemic may not be felt for a long time, many store owners seemed to believe the industry would emerge from these troubled times leaner but stronger.

Rolling with the changes

Some store owners used the spring lockdown to take stock of inventory needs and update their digital storefronts.

“We shut down for the whole month of April, because we were mandated,” said Joseph R. Villarreal, president of Villarreal Fine Jewelers in Austin, Texas. “We did cleaning, arranging, organizing, and things like that that needed to be done. Some back-end stuff on the website, which only went live this year. There’s still some things we want to tweak.”

Villarreal, who reopened in early May, said those initial weeks had been tense. “It didn’t pick up until the second week [after we opened], and I was worried,” he related. “Then we started getting business again, getting calls from other people who couldn’t go to other stores. So we picked up new clients that way, which I hate to do. I hate to say I’m getting business because other people are closed.”

Catherine Angiel, who owns the New York fine-jewelry retailer of the same name, said the past few months had ushered in changes, mainly regarding her interactions with customers. “We gratefully had some online sales while the showroom was closed,” she reported. “With protests and general unrest, we’re currently doing private appointments.”

Retailers that stocked up early in the year were particularly well-positioned to reopen. “I’m thankful I went to [the January 2020] Centurion [show in Phoenix, Arizona], and that we stocked the store,” commented Russ Varon, co-owner of Morgan’s Jewelers in Torrance, California.

His business was locked down from March to late June. “When we opened again, we shortened the hours, because I didn’t think we’d be this busy,” he added. “Then we were so busy, we went back to regular hours. And if we continue to be busy, I may open on Mondays again in the fall.”

Varon said engagement sales were strong, as were diamond studs and watches. “We’re a Rolex store, and that and Breitling sales are off the hook,” he said. “And Jared across the street closed up, and I think there’s going to be a lot more fallout. I think stores will have a hard time surviving.”

Safety first

Varon requires all his customers to wear masks, and everyone in the store has been wearing plastic shields as well, but other than that, his business has emerged relatively unscathed.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand right now,” he said. “I’m probably off from last year, but I haven’t even looked. And the stock market is high, and I can’t figure the whole world out.”

Villarreal said he was also taking every precaution to keep customers safe. “We told everyone they had to wear a mask,” he elaborated. “We’re by appointment, so we only ever have two or three people in the store at a time. And we clean before they come and after they come.”

In New York, Angiel has been relying on digital tools. “We have kept our clients informed through [email], and we’re doing more virtual consultations,” she said. “Clients seem to be happy with that.” Her virtual appointments have had a “surprisingly positive” response, she continued, although in-store sales have been sluggish. “I think it’s going to take some time for the customers to feel comfortable shopping in stores.”

’Life finds a way‘

Overall, Angiel was upbeat. “I feel once we acclimate, things will pick up,” she said. “And hopefully, if everyone is doing their part in socially distancing, things will improve.”

Villarreal was also optimistic. “If there’s one thing we know, it’s that the American economy is resilient,” he said. “And life finds a way, and we find a way to cope with problems.”

By the numbers
  • In the third week of June, traffic to jewelry stores was down 62% compared to last year.
  • Some 65% of Americans think brands should take a stand against racism, with 46% believing this will lead to a credible change.
  • Overall retail sales for June were up 7.5% from May’s figures, and 1.1% year on year.
  • In the three months that ended June 30, sales fell 41% to EUR 1.08 billion ($1.24 billion) at Richemont’s jewelry brands, which include Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels and Buccellati. Sales at the group’s watch brands, including Piaget and Vacheron Constantin, slid 56% to EUR 359 million ($409.6 million).
Sources: RetailNext, Piplsay, US Census Bureau, Richemont
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Tags: Lara Ewen
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