The world’s largest retailer of diamond jewelry, Signet Jewelers, announced historic earnings last week. The Drum caught up with chief marketer Bill Brace to find out how this traditional company navigated lockdown via some untraditional methods, and why he’s bullish on consumer spending after lockdown.
“Every kiss begins Kay” goes the familiar television jingle. Just as familiar: Kay Jewelers, Zales, Jared and Piercing Pagoda locations at a mall near you.
TV-centric marketing and real estate expansion were core to Signet Jewelers’ strategy for a long time. In fact, the company stayed the course a little too long, according to chief marketer Bill Brace. “Frankly, we missed the boat on some of the more digital aspects of the purchase journey.”
Brace joined Signet two-and-a-half years ago, after 15 years at Procter & Gamble, to help chief executive Gina Drosos execute her three-year “Path to brilliance” turnaround plan.
At the core of the strategy was not only taking a good hard look at how consumers were buying, but also who was buying. “We took a more customer-centric approach to everything. We reinvented our campaigns to include more modern and, frankly, more diverse depictions of love and relationships,” says Brace.
Before the pandemic hit, Signet aggressively moved to an omni-channel marketing mix and started its shift into e-commerce to help support retail sales. Flashing forward to last week’s earnings call and its clear to see that the path the company embarked upon appears to be the correct one.
Signet had its best holiday sales season in nine years. Full-year revenue is expected to hit $6 billion and e-commerce sales grew 71%.
A diamond? When things are rough?
Consider this: the average engagement ring can cost up to $3,000. Signet, in fact, sold a $200,000 diamond engagement ring earlier this month. While many stores have remained open, albeit with fewer locations, there was a great need to make buyers feel more comfortable researching and purchasing these once-in-a-lifetime items.
A diamond purchase “can be intimidating,” says Brace. “That’s why we’ve focused on how to make our digital experience more human and our store experience more digital.”
To help with purchases of engagement rings and other fine jewelry purchases, it introduced virtual consultations where customers can communicate via text, voice or video to ask questions. Signet has conducted more than 300,000 of these sessions to date. It enhanced its photographic techniques so buyers can blow up the diamond 40 times its real size see the diamond’s cut or check for imperfections. It enhanced its personalized design capabilities so buyers can make unique items. And, it added visual search. Much like a buyer who comes into a store with a picture of a necklace or ring they like, users can upload a picture to find that product or something similar online.
These e-commerce enhancements helped people make more informed decisions during a moment when “they are looking to celebrate relationships.” Brace says, jewelry sales have thrived in absence of travel, nights on the town and elegant dinners. “The traditional avenues to celebrate have been harder.”
Keeping the love going as the world opens up
Signet’s amped up e-commerce capabilities are only on part of following its “path to brilliance.” Bringing Signet’s mission, for “all people to celebrate life and express love,” to life in its marketing has also been key.
For Valentine’s Day, Zales introduced ’Valentina’ who is “Cupid’s style muse” and a spreader of love. Lower-end brand Piercing Pagoda has been encouraging its consumers ’Be more you.’ And, Jared has been promoting its ’Love can’t wait’ virtual weddings and dialing up the stories behind the love stories. It dropped its ’He went to Jared’ tagline in 2018.
“The campaigns have been more agile in how we developed them, more culturally relevant and very much a move in the direction of authenticity, storytelling and individual expression,” says Brace.
So, what happens when we can all go out and eat, travel and dance? Brace says, jewelry will be a part of all of those occasions. He points to the number of engagements and weddings that have been put on hold, the future in-laws that have never been met in person and the gatherings about to unfold. He also notes: “there’s a lot of savings in customers’ accounts. They’re now going to celebrate the ending of Covid-19. We are well-positioned to compete for those dollars.”