By Michelle Graff
Michelle-blogOn Sunday, though, I had my first experience behind the podium, moderating an early-afternoon session on retailing in the “Internet age,” where we (attempted to) teach retailers how to better compete with online players and utilize social media to their advantage.

I had a total of four panelists who so generously and enthusiastically donated a few hours of their Sunday to participate: diamond wholesaler Marc Knobloch, Jewelers of America’s Matt Tratner, Keith Adwar of Adwar Casting and Diane Warga-Arias, an occasional columnist for this publication who also does brand development and appears on HSN.

From behind the podium, I was not able to take notes in the same copious manner I would have had I been sitting in the audience. Perhaps, though, it wasn’t such a bad thing to do less furious scribbling and more listening and absorbing.

In any case, here are three great takeaways from the discussion for those of you unable to join us in New York on Sunday.

1) Even if retailers hire an outside agency or extra staff member to handle social media, they still need to understand it. Diane said retailers need to put the same love into building their online brand, website and social media presence, as they did when they first opened their store. Even if retailers use a marketing company or hire someone specifically to do social media, it doesn’t excuse them from understanding it or keeping tabs on posts, tweets and pins.

It’s perfectly fine if you don’t know anything about social media and have to learn as you go along. Diane had a great quote on this point, something to the effect of, “You learn to drive a car while driving.”

2) Anthropologie, Greenwich Jewelers in New York, Kravit Jewelers in Oceanside, N.Y. and Starbucks. What do all of these names have in common? They were all mentioned by panelists (to be clear, Anthropologie was actually the moderator’s mention) as being examples of retailers who are providing a good experience for customers in store and/or online. Anthropologie is a retailer of clothing and fashion jewelry, some of which borders on being fine. Greenwich Jewelers is a store located here in New York City while Kravit Jewelers is on Long Island. I think everybody knows what Starbucks is.

Visit these retailers’ websites, go into their stores, sign up for their emails and check them out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. They are doing good things, and there’s no reason not to learn from them even if they are not all sellers of fine jewelry. In fact, if you ask me, I think jewelers could learn a lot by taking a page from the digital innovation of retailers outside the industry.

3) Make it easy for people to buy from you by selling online. People today think more carefully about purchases before plunking down their hard-earned and, for many, dwindling dollars. I know I do.

On a Friday a few weeks ago, I (shockingly) got away from desk at lunchtime for an hour and wandered into the nearby Nine West shoe store. (Add Nine West to the list of stores whose websites you should study. They do a really good job online.)

In there, I saw the wine-colored suede version of a pair of high-heeled black booties that I already have and love. They were on sale, but I still wasn’t entirely sold. Do I really need them? Do I have outfits I can wear them with? Do I already own something similar? So I left the store without them. I have this rule about shopping that I’ve instituted in the wake of the recession that also correlates with the rise of e-commerce: I don’t buy something unless I absolutely love it. More often than not, this means I leave the story empty-handed and go through the physical closet check I mentioned above when I get home. If I feel like the shoe, bag or dress fills a gap in my wardrobe and I can’t stop thinking about it, then I buy. If the desire fades or I decide that it’s too similar to something I already own, then I don’t. Sometimes purchasing involves going back to the store but, more often than not, it happens online. I’ve done this a lot with Nine West and also with Anthropologie, which I brought up during the panel as being an example of a retailer that has a great in store and online experience.

This is all a somewhat-long-winded way of saying: You have to give people today the chance to shop when and where they want to, a statement backed up by Matt during Sunday’s panel. Matt brought up the example of a couple browsing a jewelry store one afternoon that is really interested in a ring. They leave without it, which is understandable. It’s a big purchase. But then they go home and the wife still really wants the ring so the husband decides to go ahead and get it for her (always the right choice, in my opinion.) Make it easy on him. Put it online and let him buy from home, right then and there.

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Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.