By  on September 10, 2008

Not content to see brick-and-mortar retail partners lose business to online ventures such as Blue Nile, Sasha Primak is taking matters into its own hands by creating e-commerce sites for the $20 million jewelry maker’s dealers that improve on the build-your-own-ring concept.

Four will launch in the next month or so, along with Sasha Primak’s own Web store. Over the next 18 months, Sasha Primak hopes to expand its online presence to 40 of the firm’s 300 dealers.

“This allows the consumer to shop on the Web but have a relationship with the store next door,” said Igor Shersher, president of Sasha Primak.

McNelis & Sherry of Haddonfield, N.J., has had a Web site since the mid-Nineties but does not currently sell online. The Web store will drive traffic into the physical store, said president Judith McNelis.

“I think it will be wonderful because we’ll have more of a range of product and loose diamonds than we would stock in the store, and will give customers the ability to check it out quickly and come to us,” she said. “It will make it convenient for the consumer to have a relationship with a brick-and-mortar jewelry store.”

Younger customers often come in looking for mountings but aren’t sure whether they should buy loose diamonds in the store or online, she said. “If we explain to them we’re competitive when it comes to loose diamonds, we’ll make the sale,” she said. The site may also attract more customers just over the bridge in Philadelphia who otherwise might not make the trip, she added.

The McNelis & Sherry site currently has a link to Sasha Primak’s marketing site. McNelis & Sherry will not scrap its current site, which is extensive, but rather customers will be able to shop the forthcoming Sasha Primak store as if they are in a boutique on the existing McNelis & Sherry site.

Other retailers are free to set up their sites however they like. They are Descenza Diamonds of Boston, Charles Rivchun of Cleveland and Mervis Diamonds of Tysons Corner, Va. In some cases, Sasha Primak might power the whole site, and retailers are welcome to include all their other lines and inventory. There is no charge to the retailer for the site or the service.

Orders will be sent to the stores so customers can pick them up in the store. Shoppers who live outside the stores’ trading areas can order directly from Sasha Primak.

Sasha Primak’s configurator dynamically changes the image on the screen as the shopper makes various choices from a variety of options. For example, depending on what carat size the shopper selects for the center stone, the proportions of the ring on the screen and any side diamonds will grow or shrink accordingly. Typically, shoppers see only static drawings.

The options include choices of setting, type and quality of stone and as many as six types of metal, including palladium. Retailers can choose how they want to set up the configurator on their sites, so each store could offer a slightly different set of options.

Sasha Primak tapped several firms to handle the site technology and design, including Studio Case of Manhattan. The jewelry maker said it plans to invest “heavily” in cooperative advertising with its dealers. The ring of Web sites will be known as the Sasha Primak Dealership Network, and eventually stores will be able to use it to order their own inventory as well.

Although Web commerce is not expected to supplant brick-and-mortar stores, the category is growing as more retail business moves online. In 2007, 11 percent of jewelry sales took place online, for a total of $6.4 billion. This year, 13 percent of all jewelry sales are expected to take place online, for a total of $7.6 billion. By 2012, the online jewelry market is expected to ring up $12.6 billion in sales, according to Forrester Research Inc.

“Here is a new threat from the Web, and we have the ability to develop a high-end tool to allow [our retailers] to effectively compete with this threat,” said Shersher.

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