Will Interactive Displays Appeal to Consumers?

Vickie Blevins of James Middleton Jewelers has noticed a trend that she believes does not bode well for the store’s future.

Customers swarm her Memphis, Tenn., store for 40th and 50th wedding anniversary gifts, but she sees very few fresh faces buying engagement rings or first anniversary presents.

So, she opted to buy something new for her store–Stuller’s Interactive Ring Display–to attract the attention of a younger demographic, the type of consumers who will spend a Saturday afternoon at an Apple store, enthusiastically testing out computers and iPods with their own hands.

Launched by Stuller in 2005, the interactive displays allow customers to slip the displayed rings on their fingers without a salesperson’s assistance, but the rings cannot be easily snatched away as they are tethered to a weight (similar to the Apple store experience).

“I’m noticing that my customers are getting older,” Blevins says. “I need to be [attracting] customers who are getting engaged, buying five-year, 10-year anniversary, first baby gifts, that kind of thing.”

While sales brought about via the device have not been outstanding, Blevins says the display has caught the eye of the younger shoppers she hopes to nab as present or future customers.

“That’s what young people like, that interactive kind of thing,” she says.

The thought of allowing customers to handle merchandise without a salesperson’s assistance is one that has long been rejected by an industry fearful of the accompanying security risks. Those retailers have a point: Jewelers would be ill-advised to let diamond rings worth thousands of dollars lie around on the counter.

However, having a lower price-point portion of the store dedicated to younger shoppers–who came of age in the era of online shopping and self check-out lanes–is an idea that retail jewelers do not reject entirely.

In an online poll conducted in 2008 by National Jeweler, 41 percent of the 419 respondents said they would not try interactive jewelry displays because they are too risky.

But 38 percent conceded they would give them a whirl with lower price-point items, and 20 percent said they were already using such displays.

Tiffany, others get interactive

In October, iconic jeweler Tiffany and Co. opened a new, 2,600-square-foot concept store in Glendale, Calif.

Smaller than the usual Tiffany stores, the space allows shoppers to interact independently with all the merchandise, but the store does not carry engagement or high-end jewelry.

Tiffany, which declined to comment on its interactive efforts, expressed confidence in the format in its financial report.

“Management anticipates that Tiffany will open additional locations in this smaller format,” the company’s latest 10-K Securities and Exchange Commission filing states. “The selection allows the store to concentrate higher-margin products in a smaller space. Management believes that this new format will be highly efficient and will give the company the opportunity to open stores in affluent, albeit smaller, U.S. cities and to better serve larger markets where the company already operates full-assortment stores.”

In addition, Canadian chain Spence Diamonds, which, at press time, was in talks to buy six stores from the bankrupt Robbins Bros., features open showcases that allow customers to try on different ring styles, all set with cubic zirconia.

After settling on a style, customers can pick out a real diamond and the ring is then custom-made for them.

What portion of this model will transfer to the U.S. market if the sale goes through, however, is unknown at this point.

The art of presentation

While Tiffany is comfortable with customers handling charms and Spence Diamonds feels free to let the cubic zirconia fly, there is a limit to the number of jewelry retailers who will allow customers to handle pricey pieces by themselves.