The battle for market-share is raging between traditional stores and online operations. And this is not confined to the diamond jewelry sector, it’s taking place in every consumer category. Currently, the frontline is most obvious in the U.S., the world’s largest economy, where online commerce is most developed and its penetration the deepest. In some sectors, the online buying experience may be better than in the Main Street; however that is not necessarily the case with diamond
By definition, the online experience is different in many ways from the physical store experience. In college, a lecturer once described to a class I took the difference in approach between making movies and making TV dramas in terms of what he called “viewers’ consideration.”
Watching TV at home, he said, meant sitting in full light, the phone rings on occasion, people around you are talking, there are commercial breaks, you jump to the kitchen to grab something and you are always aware that there are other channels with other, possibly more interesting, programs just a few remote-control clicks away. Moreover, while you are paying for cable service, in your mind the program is free.
To see a movie, you get dressed, travel to the theater, and sit in the darkness with all attention on the screen, with a great sound system supporting the experience and with hardly any distractions. You paid for the ticket, the popcorn and maybe for parking, possibly even for a babysitter. You have much more “consideration” involved in the movie and your attention goes along with your investment – you are far more focused and patient with a movie at a theater than with an episode of a TV drama at home.
These differences affect the way the two are made. An opening scene in a movie can be slow, start with a large vista or a very little detail and take time to reveal the scene. In TV, the lecturer said, you have to grab viewers’ attention immediately or they’ll change channels – a broadcaster’s biggest fear.
The same differences of consideration exist between online and offline stores. A dude sitting in his underwear in front of his laptop, munching out of a bag of chips has very little invested and therefore little commitment to sticking with the website. He can easily jump from one website to the next, while all along the phone is distracting him, a friend is walking into his house, food in the refrigerator is calling, the neighbors next door are arguing and there is always the temptation to leave the laptop and go out and do something else.
The website experience takes this into account. It has to present information quickly and make the proposition clear. No doubt, the best hook is a damn good price. This is how most of them compete. Yes, there is service, free delivery and nice graphics. Nevertheless, to keep visitors around, to generate what in online marketing jargon is known as “stickiness,” price is paramount.
Your retail store, in contrast, is a movie theater. A potential buyer already knows what a diamond is, so he may know the general plot of your movie, but the highlights are a surprise, left for the storeowner to unveil at just the right time for maximum impact. Likewise, the mood and setting should be one that focuses attention on the offerings and minimizes outside distractions.
Don’t be afraid of starting slow, there is no need to pounce on the buyer as if he is prey. On the contrary, he made the effort of coming into your store, so you have his attention. More importantly, as buyers clearly want something unique, and different from what their friends have, you can hook him up on the story, the background, and everything else that makes your store and jewelry special. No need to sell them primarily on price.
I have nothing against the online world and its offerings. I buy T-shirts, hardware, computers, mobile phones and groceries online, in addition to tracking my finances, paying bills, making hotel and restaurant reservations and much more. The online world is here to stay. There is no point trying to compete with websites on price. That is their arena. You should fight them where they are weak and you have the advantage – and the physical store’s advantages are many.
Price is not everything. Even Wal-Mart, which built its business on being very low cost, is constantly looking to offer more – community involvement, a commitment to hiring veterans or global responsibility. Good intentions or cynical marketing, they know that price alone is not enough.
True, in the years that passed since that class, TV has become far more cinematic, an era ushered in by The Sopranos and similar programs. Online stores are not yet that evolved, and stores still have plenty of room to compete – on their own terms.
As you think of your great inventory, do you really want to build your business by being known as being cheap? What a horrible thought. Aim high, offer great designs, have an awesome story, and charge accordingly. That is the way to go!