24 Karat Corner: Retailing in the On-Line Age

The fourth largest book store chain in the nation is closing.

Book World, a 45 store chain located in the upper Midwest could not survive the changing nature of retailing, and so announced its liquidation.

“That’s a shame!” you are probably saying to yourself. “But, Howard, I’m a jeweler, and this is a jewelry publication, so what could that possibly have to do with me?”

To be fair, you are partially correct. Book store sales have suffered for a couple of reasons, neither having any parallel to the jewelry business. First, reading in general is way down. Personally, I love books, I just don’t enjoy reading them. Apparently, I am not alone. Secondly, those that do read books, now read e-books which they down-load for a fraction of the cost of a hard cover.

But the real dagger in the heart of the book retailers is, of course, Amazon, who delivers the same exact book for less than the retailer can. And, without the hassle of parking, standing in line, indifferent sales people, finding it out of stock, etc.

As one of the executives of Book World said, “To go on-line is so easy, so convenient. To draw people into a store now is a monumental challenge.”

But, if you are like me, and prefer to do your shopping the old-fashioned way, (as I recently had to do when I discovered my dress suit had shrunk two sizes just by hanging in the closet unworn for 6 months), you don’t have to worry, retail stores and malls are not going away completely. There may be more pain in the future, but smart operators will continue to survive and flourish.

So how does a retailer thrive in this daunting environment? Kemper Freeman, the owner of Bellevue Square, one of the most successful malls in the country, said in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, the retailer must provide “emotional fulfillment”. By which, he means the joy customers take in seeing, touching, sniffing and testing the product before they pull out the credit card. A computer can’t match that experience. And, don’t miss the irony that Apple Stores are usually the busiest stores in any mall.

But here is his main point. Yes, it helps to have free parking, and a pretty, inviting store. “(But) the primary value added of retail shopping is the expertise that the sales people can offer customers. They better be knowledgeable about what they are selling, or people will go on-line.” And, it doesn’t hurt to carry only those lines and brands that are not readily available on-line.

Fortunately, jewelry retailers have a big advantage over our friends trying to sell books. Book retailers can’t possibly read every book they stock. The added value they contribute to the process is marginal at best. The only help I ever seem to get in a book store is usually unsolicited, and often sounds like this, “The diet books are along the back wall...”

Jewelers, on the other hand, can and need to provide a wealth of information on every sale. Why is platinum and gold so expensive? Why one over the other? The history of diamonds, how to decipher the Four Cs, the properties of colored stones, how to service customers after the sale - these are the reasons consumers will shop in a store rather than on-line.

The 24 Karat Club offers a variety of scholarships to members of the jewelry trade so that sales people can not only be more informed about the products they sell, but learn the sales techniques that will make them more successful and productive. Sales “clerks” will no longer make it in today’s on-line world. Only those businesses that employ well-trained, professional sales people can provide the experience consumers are looking for and will avoid the fate of so many retailers today.

So, if you, or someone you know would benefit from a 24 Karat Club scholarship, ask your favorite 24 Karat Club member to consider nominating you. You can find a list of 24 Karat Club members at www.The24KaratClub.org. Funds are limited, and the process is competitive, but if you qualify and are awarded a scholarship, you could choose to use the money for any number of sales courses.

We want our jewelry consumers to have a fun, educational, stress-free, emotionally-rewarding experience every time they walk into a store. All the things they can’t get on-line. If our sales people are trained to provide that, we’ll have nothing to worry about from the internet retailers.

I’m sure there must be a book about all of this - good luck finding it!

Howard Kelrick is President of Finger Mate and a  board member of The 24 Karat Club, SEUS.  Finger Mate manufactures and installs expandable ring shanks and sells to retail jewelers throughout North America. Contact Howard at 954-458-2700 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..