By Michelle Graff
Seattle--Executives for Blue Nile said Thursday that they anticipate fourth quarter sales could grow as much as 19 percent due to the lowering of engagement ring prices and the addition of brands. 

Following a weak second quarter in which rising diamond prices hurt sales, engagement ring sales grew 5 percent year-over-year in the third quarter ended Sept. 28, from $57.9 million to $60.8 million. 

CEO Harvey Kanter said during the company’s earnings call Thursday morning that the e-tailer took steps to ensure that, “no matter what, Blue Nile’s superior value is absolutely clear.” 

Several times during the call, executives mentioned, but did not elaborate on, the company’s growing “data science program,” figures gathered over its 15-year history that tell Blue Nile how its customers respond to price changes, and guides them on how to adjust prices in a way that retains as many as possible. 

Chief Financial Officer David Binder said while the prices for smaller stones remain elevated, diamond price inflation overall has abated for the time being. Helping to push retail prices down was an increase of supply on the market as the industry’s grading labs work through their backlogs. 

Binder said Blue Nile had more than 200,000 diamonds to offer at one point during the quarter, topping its previous high of 160,000. He added that more suppliers are wanting to list with Blue Nile to “get superior turn for their inventory.”

Outside of engagement rings, sales were not as strong, falling 2 percent year-over-year from $23.9 to $23.5 million. 

Despite the drop, Blue Nile executives see fashion jewelry as being a main contributor to sales in the coming fourth quarter due to the addition of bridal and fashion jewelry lines created by well-known designer Zac Posen, the expansion of fashion jewelry offerings by Monique Lhuillier and the just-announced addition of Sloane Street and Lisa Jenks to the Designer Collective, which has been weak thus far. 

All this product will be coming online in the next two weeks, before Black Friday. 

Total sales for Blue Nile, including international sales, grew 7 percent year-over-year from $98.9 to $105.8 million. Gross profit totaled $18.9 million, or 18 percent of sales, compared with $18.7 million in the third quarter 2013, which was 19 percent of sales. 

During Thursday’s call, Kanter noted that more than half the retailer’s website traffic comes from a mobile device now.  Blue Nile sold an $187,000 diamond to a customer via a smartphone during the quarter. 

Company executives are bullish on the fourth quarter, anticipating sales of $159 to $174 million, up 9 to 19 percent over last year. Fourth quarter sales in 2013 grew 7 percent year-over-year, though Blue Nile’s fourth quarter includes an extra week this year.

For the full year, Blue Nile forecasts that sales will grow between 6 and 9 percent, reaching between $475 and $490 million.  

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