By Ruth Batson, AGS
Last June, the American Gem Society conducted a field research study directly with consumers. The Society sought a diverse audience in order to get the widest range of opinion, and focused on two distinct, though similar in size, cities: San Francisco and Minneapolis. Our goal was to find ways to better connect and communicate with consumers. Like any research endeavor, our findings led to conclusions that we were not expecting.
What we learned echoes a recent Gallup poll that showed jewelers have only a 20 percent rate of trust with consumers. In fact, jewelers in that poll ranked near lawyers and members of Congress.
Our study was divided into four separate, select focus groups of men ages 24-59, half were in the process of buying an engagement ring (“Bridal”) and the other half had purchased one and were considering an anniversary or other purchase (“Non-bridal”). There were also groups of women divided into the same age range and the bridal vs. non-bridal categories.
In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s worth noting that our sample size was relatively small – therefore, this information should not be construed as a statistical finding. While much of what we learned is proprietary information, we believe that it is important to work together to better the image of the industry. We all benefit from a public perception as trustworthy professionals.
One of the key components we learned flies in the face of much of the conventional wisdom in the way jewelers market themselves: focus on the man, not the woman. Women choose the shape and style of the jewelry they want, and even often the brand, but it is the man who decides which jeweler they will shop with.
The men in our study made it clear that they were out of their comfort zone when shopping for jewelry and need guidance. The typical male in the group was highly overwhelmed by the shopping process. He was intimidated by his lack of knowledge, and appreciated guidance, but resisted being talked down to.
In fact, the men said that their unfamiliarity with buying jewelry and their natural inclination to not trust jewelers meant they are very guarded with jewelers. They worry most that they will be taken advantage of. The average male in the study expressed that he does not like feeling out of control, and fears being given misinformation.
Notably, many of the men described an almost “adversarial” relationship with jewelers. Their lack of knowledge about jewelry takes them out of their comfort zones and they have to cede control to someone whose motives they often distrust. One of the men in our San Francisco bridal focus group had this to say about jewelers: “I feel like I’m going into battle with these guys when I walk in the door. Their livelihood is dependent on the markup. If they think they can fleece you and mark it up an extra $500, they’re going to do it. It’s like buying a car.”
Given their inexperience and underlying mistrust, men said they often turn to friends and family for a recommendation in finding a jeweler. This was the surefire trust credential that men desired and typically they were recommended to a specific salesperson, not just the store.
Trust was also an issue with women. All respondents were given a series of factors they consider when searching for a jeweler. “Trust” ranked third, collectively. Quality of merchandise ranked as the top consideration, followed by a “recommendation from a friend.” Price ranked fourth, followed by customer service.
“I don’t know how to judge quality of merchandise,” said one of the non-bridal women in the San Francisco focus group. “What’s really important is someone I can trust. I trust when they say this is quality.”
A gentleman from the non-bridal group in Minneapolis stressed the importance of recommendations from his social circle. “If my friends who have bought a lot of jewelry say they trust these guys, then that’s how I judge the quality of their merchandise.”
So what can you do to appeal to customers and build trust? Obviously, a high level of knowledge is important. Customer service was paramount to most respondents and listening to and understanding them were considered two key components of good service.
The passion you show in your profession is another factor that attracts them. A number of our respondents made it clear that they felt independent jewelers in particular had a more “artful” approach to jewelry and cared more for their craft. They were seen as committed to creating beautiful pieces, took pride in their work and were in the business for the long haul. As one man in the San Francisco group put it, he trusted jewelers who convey a “real intensity that they believe in what they’re doing.”
Your devotion to quality products, quality service and to creating a good experience for your customers will come through in your sales presentation. Our study shows that participants found the most ideal experiences tended to involve a professional jeweler educating them about a particular piece in an informative, honest way without talking down to them. This in turn made them feel more comfortable because the jeweler was focused on educating them versus pushing the sale.
From that good shopping experience, you create trust, and that trust, in turn, creates positive word of mouth. You then have the ideal situation: your customers referring you to their friends as their trusted jeweler of choice.