Some shops just get taken for granted – passed in the high street without a second thought. But if that is the case, then that retailer has lost the plot. This seems to be happening to the jewellery sector. The industry behaves as if nothing has changed during the recent consumer boom and in the past ten years jewellery has lost 10% of its share of retail sales.
The problem, which the jewellers appear to have overlooked, is that consumers have changed, profoundly. They have many more products competing for their spending power – from mobile phones to low-cost airlines and short breaks. Looking good is at the top of their spending priorities (after holidays) and they have become much more demanding. They are increasingly seeking for ways to express themselves and assert their individuality and turn to brands to provide experiences. There is also a growing quest for the genuine product.
One of the clearest messages from fashion these days is that the all-things-to-all women type of retailer cannot prosper; yet that is still the attitude of the jewellers.
The watch market is booming, not that one could tell by looking at jewellers’ windows. This is the one area of men’s jewellery that really has taken off in the mass market (ie leaving aside “bling”). It is not that men need something to tell the time – their primary function is largely redundant. They succeed because of their design, innovation and technology. But how many watch brands have really woken up to this? Some certainly have – look at the Patek Philippe campaign about just being the custodian of a watch for the next generation.
But Patek Philippe is the exception. Watch displays are dictated by manufacturers; they are uniform and boring. Tag looks like Omega looks like Raymond Weil. There is no attempt to give the brands an identity – no one has thought about what the brand’s image should be.
There is an obsession with having all the range in the window so that the display ends up looking like an undifferentiated mess. So it would be wrong to place all the blame on the retailers themselves, though it may be a symptom of lazy retailing that these practices have been allowed to continue.
But the jewellery displays are no better. Jewellery displays are apt to look even more boring than in-store watch displays. Again there is the obsession with having all the stock in the window; display is on a take it or leave it basis. Only 20% of demand is for bridal jewellery, so there is a huge proportion of discretionary spending that the jewellers should be fighting for. In fact there seems to be a determination to treat the product as a commodity. For example, windows at H Samuel recently had signs saying “buy one get one half price on silver jewellery”.
The fashion retailers are becoming increasingly jewellery aware. Many retailers – from Marks & Spencer to River Island – are putting costume jewellery on their mannequins and they would be a powerful force if they ventured further into precious metal jewellery.
It is significant that on average customers visit 1.2 shops when looking for jewellery. The message is that they expect to get the same merchandise wherever they go and either that they are not price conscious or that they expect price levels to be the same as well. So one jeweller is like any other – the retailers are also commodities.
Jewellery should be aspirational but the branded jewellers seem remarkably reluctant to go out and sell it. There are some honourable exceptions. Links, for example, has minimal window displays, highlighting a few products in a setting that complements them, is eyecatching and shouts out “Buy me – I’ll make you feel special”.
H Samuel is surely doing the right thing to link up with fashion designer Alexander McQueen, but it’s not clear how the present bland store design is going to tie in with the Mr Sparkle Christmas campaign.
There are others, and a large number of independents that have learned the lesson that each piece needs to be given space to make an impact. The future doesn’t need to be bleak. The challenge for the jewellers is to put their product at the top of every fashion-conscious woman’s shopping list. It should be an integral part of any outfit.
The opportunity is there. This is an industry with great potential.
Richard Perks, director of retail research, Mintel