JEWELRY FIRMS’ SITES GETTING SOME POLISH

Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Many jewelry companies were tentative about jumping on the Internet bandwagon, but firms are now moving full steam ahead with a range of online marketing plans and site enhancements.
Pure Internet firms such as Ashford.com, Adornis.com and Miadora.com are focused on building name recognition, while traditional retailers like Zale, Neiman Marcus and Tiffany & Co. are fine-tuning their Internet plans determining the best way to move their existing businesses into cyberspace.
Many firms are supplementing online activities with offline events, such as promotional giveaways, and sites are being upgraded to include features like three-dimensional viewing and one-click shopping.
Ashford.com, which began primarily as a discount watch site about two years ago, has expanded its product offerings to include a wider range of luxury products — including leather goods, ties and fragrances — although watches, jewelry and diamonds are the company’s three largest categories, according to Michael Barkley, director of brand marketing for the Houston firm.
The company has “transformed itself” into a luxury site and has “drastically reduced” its reliance on price, Barkley said.
“We are now focused on continuing to add the best brands and have the best product selection,” he said. “We are also looking at ways to enhance customers’ shopping experience. We recently added 24-hour, seven-day-a-week customer service, as well as free overnight shipping.”
The publicly held company recently added a number of new additions to the site, including colored diamond offerings and a step-by-step tool that allows users to “build” their own engagement rings.
Ashford has begun producing innovative events, such as a highly publicized diamond giveaway promotion, and has recently added a corporate gifts section. It has also both online and offline advertising, with an emphasis on television and print media. Adornis.com, which was launched last November, has focused on marketing itself through print ads in fashion and lifestyle magazines, such as InStyle and W, to build its site. The company primarily carries high-end jewelry designers. Currently, about 35 designers are featured on the site, and the firm expects to have 50 signed on by the end of the year.
“Our feeling is that we are building a jewelry brand that happens to be online,” said Marion Davis, Adornis.com’s senior vice president of marketing and communications. “Our thinking is that we want to assimilate into people’s lives and minds through the traditional places that they make decisions.
“We will continue to monitor where the customer is taking in the message. For the moment, we have seen a lot of response from offline media. We are not a big believer in deals with portals.”
Adornis received a boost late last year when it was announced that Richemont Investments SA, a Swiss luxury conglomerate that owns Cartier, Piaget and Montblanc, had invested $5 million for a 20 percent stake in the business.
Miadora.com, the online jewelry and gift site that was launched last September, started a quarterly catalog last holiday season, and the company is evaluating its performance, according to Barry Gilbert, chief executive officer.
“We are also a strong believer in radio as a very effective medium,” he said. “Also, we have had a relationship with Yahoo and have been featured as a premier merchant on the site, and there are other partnerships we are considering right now.”
Another initiative is a new technology called True Spectra, which allows customers to see the jewelry in a more realistic fashion and “is a great way for customers to be able to experience the jewelry online,” Gilbert noted. The technology will be launched soon on the site.
Among traditional jewelry firms, Zale Corp., the giant fine jewelry retailer, was an early Internet adopter, having started selling jewelry at Zale.com in 1997. “The Internet has been a retail venue that is absolutely still emerging, but we have been very pleased with it so far,” said Beryl Raff, Zale’s ceo.
“The Internet is an extension of our existing business. It is not at all cannibalizing or substituting for our bricks-and-mortar business.”
She noted that Zale would launch new sites this fall for its other retail divisions, which include Gordon’s Jewelers, Bailey Banks & Biddle Fine Jewelers and the Canadian Peoples Jewellers chain.
Zale is also focused on streamlining its site to create a more efficient shopping environment, and plans to cut down the number of steps required for customers to order online.
“We are not interested in a lot of bells and whistles for the site,” she said. “We want to make it easier for customers to shop.”
Zale has not done much specific marketing for its Web site, but it has incorporated its site address into its television advertisements and signs. The company recently signed an exclusive deal with WeddingChannel.com that will give Zale a jewelry boutique on WeddingChannel’s Web site.
Tiffany recently started selling jewelry on its Web site, and there are plans to dramatically increase the amount of products it sells on the site, according to John Petterson, senior vice president of direct marketing. The firm initially offered about 230 items when it launched the site last November, and by this October plans to increase that to about 1,000 products, he said.
Tiffany plans to add a bridal registry, which will be done in partnership with Della.com, an online bridal registry company. Tiffany is also investing in business-to-business concepts by launching a corporate gifts division, which allows users to engrave items and to ship to multiple recipients.
Neiman Marcus launched its Web site last October and has focused on building its Internet business with print advertising, including advertising the site in its catalog, according to Sharen Jester Turney, president and chief executive officer of Neiman Marcus Direct — the company’s catalog business — and Neiman Marcus Online.
“We have a multichannel opportunity in terms of the stores, catalogs and Web site,” she said.
Turney noted that jewelry business was a key element of Neiman’s online strategy.
“Jewelry will become a more important part of the site,” she said. “The category is a big one for Neiman Marcus, both in the catalog and the stores, and I believe we will have a stronger statement in terms of the entire jewelry category.”
Turney also said the firm is looking to add some new technology to the site.
“We are going to continue to look at customization and how that can enhance the customer experience.”