We just finished up our yearly Engagement Ring Shopper Survey. Participation was excellent, and we’ve found some interesting shifts in engagement ring shopping psychology. We do have a significant market share (especially in Pretoria) so to keep things objective I eliminated all submissions from email addresses we currently have on record. This includes leads and previous customers.

To ensure our service is top notch I spend about an hour per month on HelloPeter reading what customers of other jewellers are complaining about.

The biggest shocker this year was that only 4% of participants held a positive attitude towards the traditional mall based jeweller. Retail jewellery stores are starting a death spiral I’ve been predicting for years.

A few traditional South African jewellers have fallen on hard times. Hard times as in; business rescue remedies and auctioning off assets to settle debts. We’ve seen a surge of applications from sales consultants, goldsmiths and jewellery designers who want to jump ship before their employers send them the dreaded retrenchment notice. 

I’m not cooking up this storm and throwing around words without merit;

1177 Jewellery businesses/brands (not branches, the whole show) closed in 2016 in the USA. Preston of Bolted recently finished their final clearance sale after 150 years in the trade. Charles Bright Jewelers called it quits after 90 years. No one is too big to fall.

Paying a large premium for an old, well-established jewellery brand is getting riskier by the day. They might be out of business in a couple of years.

Back home in South Africa 43% of the survey respondents held a negative view towards the traditional jewellery stores and see them as impersonal and overpriced for no apparent reason. There has been a tectonic shift in consumer psychology. If I was a jeweller stuck in a long term mall rental agreement, I would be sweating right now.

Walking into a jewellery store and picking a ring is officially outdated.

When we started this business many years ago, we could see the dominoes were months away from starting to fall in the USA jewellery market. From day 1 we started building a business that is extremely personal, flexible and tailored. Both our studios (Pretoria and Rosebank) have full-time designers at your disposal to help you design the perfect custom ring. If you take a look at our stock designs, I think it’s apparent that my team is unrivalled. Now you have access to these designers to create your jewellery piece of choice.

Online jewellers are also having a hard time in the USA. It turns out people want to see and feel your products. Who could have guessed? That’s why we have physical locations where you can view diamonds options and inspect the quality of our work.

We educate buyers (through vehicles like this blog) and thereby empower them to make a decision about their diamond choice based on personal preference and facts. We don’t tailor chats to sell slow moving stock. There’s no one-size fits all.

Back to the complaints.

We reached out to a few of the respondents to ask what exactly bugs them at or about traditional jewellery stores. What experience did they have that chucked these brands into the “NO” bucket?

  • Excessive sales pressure – “Sir, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy something like this”. A tactic called “Scarcity; The Rule Of The Few”. Excellent reading on the basics of consumer psychology: “Influence” by Dr Robert Cialdini
  • Awkward selling tactics – pouring champagne and celebrating your engagement when you’re only browsing. This is an age old tactic called the “Reciprocation; The Old Give and Take… and Take”- rule where a seller has given you something of value, and you feel the basic need to compensate them for it.
  • Tacky answers to valid questions – “Why should I buy this diamond when another diamond seems to look pretty much… the same at half the price?” “This depends on how much you love her”. This answer was given to a now customer of ours when he visited a jeweller in Sandton. This is a weird spin of the “Social Proof”-concept where you would be “educated” on how peers (and your future bride) view this decision. Somehow your love is quantified by your budget.
  • Way over-friendly staff who play the role of your best friend who knows exactly what you’re thinking and looking for. Dr Cialdini calls this “Liking; The Friendly Thief.” You’re tugged around the store by an over eager-beaver guiding you to your perfect ring. As if they just know. They don’t know. What they do know is that they earn higher commissions on old and slow moving stock.

Apart from sales tactics we also heard about a few other issues;

  • Service refusal since you don’t look like you can afford their products. We had a gentleman who wasn’t allowed entry at a Menlyn Mall jeweller who then walked over to our studio and bought a R170 000 ring in gym clothes.
  • Intimidating lavish stores where you feel more uncomfortable than the unarmed guard at the door. As you enter the store three middle aged woman dressed in black stare at you and size you up. Not fun.
  • Inexplicably high pricing. People are getting a firm grasp of the concept that if a diamond is GIA certified, the metal is a standard 950 platinum or 18k gold and the craftsmanship of your chosen design is on par all round – how can one jeweller justify charging you twice the price of another jeweller? Here’s how; you’re paying for the champagne of the previous 28 couples that didn’t buy, the store needs to be revamped every 3 – 5 years at the cost of millions, the store needs two sets of staff to keep the store open during mall hours without the Labour Department shutting them down, insurance is insanely expensive for a mall-based jeweller in South Africa, 80% of their stock is outdated and on display to make the store look well stocked… it’s not just greed.
  • Deceptive discounting / Fictitious Pricing. If you’ve done some price research on diamonds, you’ve seen the “Retail Price: R100 000, Our Price: R45 000” approach. You’ll hear the same spiel at any Persian carpet shop. Another tactic is overpricing their own items and always giving 25% – 50% discounts. Other jewellers are conveniently always on sale. I’m not sure what local laws are (we don’t market and sell solely on price) when it comes to deceptive sales and pricing but they have passed laws against this in the USA. You can actually sue a retailer in the USA for misleading you into thinking a price has been discounted when they’re discounting a fictitious previous price. Regardless of laws and countries – lying about the “normal” or “previous” higher price is dishonest and misleading. I’m not calling for a revolt but next time a salesperson just knocks down the price of a jewellery item before even talking to a manager, ask them why they’re lying about pricing when their real price is always 30% lower than that shown in the window display. It’s a dirty offensive sales trick. Sadly, most jewellers are permanently ON (fake) SALE. If your interactions with a business start with a lie, how do you think the story ends?
  • Lack of proper diamond knowledge and education/explanation. You’re spending hard earned money and a consultant can’t explain details some to you. Mmm? For example, diamond lustre isn’t specified on grading reports – but on the wholesale side of things lustre is a big deal. The certificate might look wonderful but the stone can be milky and cloudy inside if you know what to look for. Many internet bargain stones don’t have top lustre. Lustre is indicated as L1 (perfectly crisp and clear), L2 is usually OK, M1 is slightly milky and when you get to M4 the diamond is obviously cloudy and milky. Please ask a mall-based jeweller to explain the difference between L1 and M1 diamonds to you. Quick plug; we only sell L1 diamonds.
  • Lack of unset diamonds. It’s way easier to understand the differences in colour, size and clarity when diamonds can be viewed unset and in their loose form. There’s no way you can see the difference between 2 colours unless they’re right next to each other, on a white piece of paper – under a white light. To justify the extra spend you should at least be able to perceive the higher characteristic you’re splurging on. I think so.
  • Poor variety of diamonds available. Even if you’re lucky enough to see loose diamonds, options will be extremely limited. It’s interesting to play around with size, colour and clarity combinations to see what spread of diamonds are available at your price point. 
  • Little to no knowledge regarding metal choices. The material that is used to manufacture an engagement ring will play a key role in its longevity. During our price and market research of February 2017 I was once again stunned by the number of jewellers that dismiss palladium as a terrible metal choice. Just because a jeweller couldn’t master working in palladium doesn’t make the metal inferior. I agree, inferiority has shown its face – but it’s not the metal. You can do your own research but locally platinum is still the most favoured metal, with palladium short on its heels. 18k white gold is in third place. As I’m typing this the palladium price per gram is only 20% lower than that of platinum. If you manufacture the exact same design in platinum and palladium the platinum ring will weigh about 60% more than palladium. But on a gram to gram price comparison, they’re not far apart. Palladium is a great alternative to platinum and when a jeweller dismisses it as a metal without value they’re scarily ignorant.
  • No custom projects are undertaken. Quite a few prominent local jewellers will not do custom designs. They have their 2017 catalogue and you should fall in love with something between page 2 and 10. If your dream ring is not there, well then you’re dreaming the wrong dream, honey.
  • Most jewellery stores (99,9%) don’t have designers on their premises. If you want a custom design, you’ll be working through a sales consultant. This inherently creates delays and misunderstandings about what the designer should be briefed on. A large percentage of these stores and brands wouldn’t even allow you to speak to a designer directly. They’re hidden at the “head office” busy with their wizardry.
  • Manufacturing times are comical. I hired and fired a manager from one of the more prominent South African jewellers last year. During our 3 week spin I learned a single fact – “they” took/take 10-12 weeks to manufacture a custom ring. That’s literally as long as it would take you to walk around the moon. If this yells “they’re busy!” to you… they’re not.
  • And when you get your ring it’s wrong. You’ll be surprised to learn how few jewellers manufacture their own products. When manufacturing is outsourced you lose the close relationship between the designer and the goldsmith. Unless you have designers checking that every 3D printed model and the eventual cast is perfect you just have a no name goldsmith grinding away at job #21D3. Whatever is lost on the job-card, misprinted by a 3D printer or just messed up by the goldsmith is just… how job #21D3 looks. Mr No Name Goldsmith has no idea what Sarah wanted.
  • Slow feedback. Once you’re on the system and out of the store you’re working with a consultant who’s serving at the front end of the empty store. They’re on the floor waiting… NOT in front of their computers for quick replies or just a call away. More delays. By the way – next time you’re in a mall, take a peek into a high-end jewellery store. I’ll bet you a cat the store is empty 99%+ of the time.
  • Low transparency on diamond certification. An alarming amount of jewellers sell diamonds graded in-house (who do you think is winning in this scenario?) or by laboratories that aren’t recognised as authoritative and accurate by leading international diamond trading platforms. Diamonds are priced according to the grading and over-grading can have you overpaying for a piece of jewellery. Since the main diamond is set into a jewellery piece you’ll see “certificates of authenticity” (as if someone is faking their products…sigh) and fancy packaging but the issue of proper diamond certification will be danced around. When you’re solely viewing loose diamonds it’s quite obvious if there is no proper (DIA or GIA) certificate in sight.
  • Bad Mouthing. I’d say about 5% of the work we do is remaking rings that people purchased elsewhere. They learned the hard way that lowest price often equals lowest quality. A lot of corners were cut to get that rock-bottom quote. People who have their rings remade often visit a few jewellers to get their comment on the quality. If they’ve made a few stops before they visit us they’re usually flustered and panicked about the horrendous quality they purchased at jeweller X. Often the quality isn’t horrible. If the ring was handmade it’s often average quality – just not perfect as you get with modern 3D technologies. You’re fortunate to have a few proper jewellers in South Africa. If a jeweller just starts bashing everyone else; that’s all they have to offer. We have over 30 000 monthly readers of this blog and I’d like to hear in the comments if anyone has ever heard us bashing any specific jeweller on quality. We don’t. We’ll simply show you what high-end jewellery quality looks like. That’s always more than enough.
  • Refusing to buy back their products. Some estimates say up to 15% of engagements don’t make it to wedding day. It’s a sad topic, but very relevant. We’ve never declined to buy back a ring we manufactured. Obviously, certain costs can’t be recouped (design and labour charges) but you’ll get the bulk of your money back. If the ring was manufactured elsewhere our recommendation is always to try the jeweller you purchased from. Most jewellers just refuse. If you purchased from an overpriced jeweller you’re now stuck with some very, very expensive scrap metal and diamonds. People often feel low-balled by our offers until we show them what we would have charged for a similar ring. I once saw an invoice that was 3 times the price we would have quoted for the same item. 

Most engagement ring shoppers are first-timers. Browsing for that perfect design in a mall is usually great fun, and how often do you get a glass of free “champagne” on a Saturday morning? Before you take a sip just know that when all is said and done that glass of sparkling wine might turn out to be the most expensive drink of your life. 

Gentlemen, your girlfriend wants to feel special. As our survey showed she’s not bothered with ancient jewellery brand names. Sure, it takes time and effort to have that perfect ring made up, but I promise you it will be well worth your effort. 

As always, any feedback is welcome. You can reach me directly on johan@poggenpoel.com

Take care.