James Alperin
It’s happening more often than ever before: a customer comes into the store and wants to ask about diamonds. After all, you are the local expert and there are certain things that the Internet can’t provide. The computer today has fabulous 3-D photos of engagement rings and diamonds that allow your customers to see how a ring looks from every angle. GIA certificates, which are readily available to view on the Internet, make it easy to know the exact color, clarity grade and dimensions of the diamond your customer is interested in buying. After all, once the GIA established a universal grading system for diamonds, they became in many ways a standardized commodity. Once that happened, comparing one diamond to another became much easier for the consumer. 

The one thing that the computer can’t give your customer, other than the personalized service that we as brick-and-mortar retailers can, is the opportunity to try on a ring to see how it looks on their finger. It also doesn’t let the customer see how large a 1 1/2-carat diamond is compared to a 2-carat diamond. What color exactly is H, and how does it compare to an I? Only when the customer sees the stones, often next to one another, can they decide which color and size diamond they want or are willing to accept. So it seems that the role of retail jewelers is becoming more the showroom for Internet diamond web sites. We are the salesman for our biggest competitors and we don’t get paid for it!

If you think back, not that long ago, there was an uproar against the airline industry for instituting baggage fees. If you want to fly somewhere on vacation and take no clothes for a week or two then fine, pay the price of the ticket only. On the other hand, if you are like most of us, when we travel we take along more than just a toothbrush and require a suitcase. Not only is one charged to take one’s clothes but if you want to bring them home with you, you are charged a second time. What about the price of gasoline? When was the last time you heard a real protest against paying over $3 a gallon for a commodity that is needed in America, where train travel barely exists and public transportation in most cities is inefficient?

If we are to continue to exist as retail brick-and-mortar stores, it’s time to get smart about what we are giving away: our time, our experience and the costs of insuring and shipping diamonds into our stores to show people who plan on buying elsewhere. The many companies in the airline industry and the oil industry came together as one and instituted fees and raised prices. There was public outcry at first but it soon disappeared as those costs became industry standards.

As retail jewelers, it’s time to institute a fee for our service. The first visit to the store, when one is establishing what it is that the customer is interested in, should remain a free service. It is during that visit that the retailer finds out what it is that the person is looking for.

Educating your customer about diamonds or, if you need to ship diamonds into your store for them to see, should be done for a fee. The fee should be presented as one for your professional time and shipping costs and will be applied to the purchase of a diamond from your store. If the person across the desk or counter from you is just using you to better understand their Internet purchase, then they should pay you for your time. If they plan on making a purchase from you, then the fee should be applied to that purchase. The customer loses nothing and, in fact, gains from your knowledge and ability to present live product to them, which can add up into the tens of thousands of dollars very quickly in our industry. There is value in that and it should be paid for.
At first retail jewelers will resist the idea of fees for service because we have always given away our expertise as a way of developing loyal customers. In today’s technology-driven world, where billions of dollars in diamond sales are going to the Internet, we have to consider changing our business model. Fees for services rendered need to be instituted industry wide, like the airlines did with luggage. Soon, like airline fees or $3-a-gallon gasoline, the public would expect to pay for your time and might even buy more diamonds from brick-and-mortar stores in order to recoup their initial investment in your time.

The times they are a-changin’ and it’s time we changed with them.

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