By Michelle Graff
Last week, a jewelry industry colleague sent me a link to a 15-second Blue Nile ad called “Engagement Ring Shopping Shouldn’t Be Scary,” which most definitely takes a swipe at the e-tailer’s brick-and-mortar competitors.

A soon-to-be-betrothed young man who is millennial aged, or perhaps a bit older, is walking down Main Street U.S.A. on a nice, sunny day. A bird with an ominous cry circles overhead as he stops to peer into the window of “Bosworth Jewelers” (est. 1974), only to be startled when a creepy-looking salesman with a bird-like nose and too many teeth pops into the frame.

“Looking for an engagement ring?” he drawls.

Scared off by this specter, the young man walks away and, presumably, buys his engagement ring elsewhere.

My colleague said she found the ad to be ugly, and disparaging to the industry’s mom-and-pop operations. “When the biggest kid on the block needs to effectively bully smaller shops via marketing, it’s a sad thing indeed,” she wrote to me.

JCK News Director Rob Bates didn’t care much for it either. In his annual roundup of the highs and lows of the holiday season’s jewelry ads (which is something I enjoy reading every year), Mr. Bates called it a “little mean-spirited and even obnoxious.”

My take on the ad (which, by the way, runs online only, in case you were wondering if you’d see it on TV) is a bit different.

When I saw it, I found it to be a bit silly overall. I also thought that brick-and-mortar retailers could actually take its creation as a bit of a compliment. Blue Nile, the afore-described “biggest kid on the block,” finds them threatening enough to spend the money to create an advertisement targeting them directly.

Why? Because brick-and-mortar jewelers have something Blue Nile desperately wants—face-to-face, personal interaction with people.

The Internet has changed retailing forever, yes, and not all for the better. But people still are going to go out and shop. We are social creatures by nature; we, for the most part, like to be out and about among other people and that’s never going to change. The Internet will never be a full substitute for human interaction.

And Blue Nile knows it. That’s why they are spending money to open as many as four new “webrooms” next year. It’s also why other online-only retailers, including Amazon, Gemvara and BaubleBar, have been or are experimenting with physical locations or distribution.

Blue Nile doesn’t worry about competition from other online retailers; they are by far the biggest online seller of jewelry.

They worry about the retailers that have what they don’t—a store, a place where people can come in, pick up the jewelry, see it, touch it, feel it, and talk to somebody about it.

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