No longer waiting to receive jewelry

Large numbers of women from across the world are increasingly buying their own jewelry. Why? They are more financially independent than ever before. They trust their own taste. They want tangible evidence of their success. These are just a few of the reasons.

For diamond and jewelry manufacturers and retailers, this growing market segment and the types of diamonds in the items that women choose can provide valuable market intelligence about changing trends and the types of goods that are growing in popularity. Is the diamond and jewelry industry neglecting a great marketing opportunity? Read on…

Buying jewelry is like buying clothes, says Manuel Carrera, who created the Spanish jewelry firm Carrera y Carrera. “Today, women are independent. The contemporary woman doesn’t need to wait for her boyfriend or her husband to buy her a jewelry piece.”

It is no coincidence that the rise in self-purchases of jewelry has coincided with historic numbers of financially independent women. With more disposable cash than ever before, analysts say they are proud of their independence and want tangible evidence for their own self-satisfaction.

Verdura CEO Ward Landrigan has been in the jewelry trade for half a century. He remembers that in the past whenever women wanted to treat themselves to jewelry, they would lie about buying the gems themselves. “The reason was that they were embarrassed that a man was not buying it for them,” he said.

That situation has apparently changed dramatically. Being able to buy your own jewelry shows the level of success that’s part of the “having it all” package. “Women are going to make better purchases for themselves than men,” says Landrigan. “You wouldn’t send your boyfriend or husband out to buy you a dress.”

And some jewelers say that women are so in control of their jewelry purchases that they are seeing fewer men buying engagement rings for their fiancées on their own. “Women used to basically get what they were given. The guy shopped alone and she accepted it. Now it’s completely flipped. The woman comes in alone. She already knows what she wants,” said one jeweler.

The traditional structure of households both in North America, Europe and around the world has changed drastically in the past 30-40 years. In the vast majority of families today, both the mother and father work. Fewer than 10% of American families live on only a single income. Furthermore, 95% of the decisions made in connection to shopping in the US are, according to surveys, made by women who carry out 85% of the shopping themselves. Women decide how to distribute the household expenses and they are the ones to spend part of their paycheck on products they desire. Financially comfortable working women are a marketing sector that is growing quickly and they control household expenses as well as having their own income which they can spend as they wish.

Although it is difficult to estimate exactly how much the female self-purchase market is worth, anecdotal evidence suggests it is an increasingly important segment of the market.

A 2009 study by the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC) found that 23 percent of self-purchasing women expected to buy jewelry containing colored gemstones or cultured pearls at least once during a typical year, while many women were likely to purchase the jewelry for the sake of fashion. They did not want to simply wait to receive a taste of luxury, especially when they know exactly what they want.

The JCOC report also found that 50% of self-purchasing women will buy a piece of jewelry simply because they like it. Self-buying women look for fashion jewelry in earrings and pendants. “They’re buying chandelier earrings, stud earrings, a lot of hearts on fire pendants,” said Long.

And local jewelry retailers are responding to the power of women in luxury purchase decisions by offering wish list systems in order to clarify the preference of each woman in the case of an engagement, for example.

“It’s sort of as if a bride is registering for a wedding,” said one jeweler. “Frequently the woman will come in first, and we write down what she likes so the gentleman knows exactly what to look for.”

Due to changing trends and economic situations, local jewelers continue to provide a personal step for personal treats for female self-purchasers.

 Many industry observers believe the biggest impetus for female self-purchasing came from De Beers, with its advertising campaign for the right-hand ring: "Left hand is we. Right hand is me. Women of the world raise your right hand."

"I would say the trend in recent years toward women buying their own jewelry began with the launch of the tennis bracelet," said diamond jewelry analyst Ken Gassman. "That was the beginning of women making the statement about their ability and power to buy themselves their own jewelry.”

"Then came the three-stone ring and the right-hand ring, and it was the latter in particular that was aimed solely at women. It was entirely a female affair. That was the critical point at which female self-purchase really took off,” Gassman said.

"The main factors in the development of female self-purchase have clearly been the rapid closure of the income gap between men and women, especially in the younger age group. That is good for the jewelry industry because it needs to attract young women who are more likely to buy for themselves, and if it can retain those women throughout their lifetimes to keep returning to buy jewelry then that can be a very strong segment of their sales. That is called the 'lifetime value of a customer';’ if that client can be attracted and retained the benefits for the industry are very large,” said Gassman.

The first concerted campaign to encourage self-purchases of diamond jewelry by women actually dates back to the early 1980s, and it was designed for the Japanese market by J. Walter Thompson on behalf of De Beers.

JWT’s groundbreaking “Diamond for Working Women” campaign was designed to cash in on the relatively large number of single, working women in the Japanese labor market at the time. The diamond buying culture in the country was still in its infancy, and the analysts at the ad agency surmised that young female consumers had fewer expectation about having to receive diamond jewelry from partners than did their counterparts in the West.  

But the women’s jewelry self-purchase market has been growing globally since at least the start of the past decade. Women who once saw jewelry only as a gift now also buy it for themselves in greater numbers. A study by the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC) carried out some eight years ago in the United States found that most females who planned to make a jewelry purchase before the end of the year were likely to do it themselves.

Why do women buy jewelry for themselves? The answer, it appears, can be as complex and varied as the woman herself. In addition to wanting to mark an important life event, such as a special birthday, a career success, or a certain occasion, other women may simply see a particular item that appeals to their tastes or complements their wardrobe.

Research has also shown that the jewelry can often be bought as a memento of a place that has special meaning for the buyer, such as an item bought on vacation. It is also on many occasions purchased as a bond with someone the buyer cares about, such as mothers and daughters, or two best friends buying matching jewelry.

More frequently, the purchase celebrates events such as promotion at work, a significant birthday, and an important anniversary. And they are not the predictable anniversaries, such as weddings, but also events such as a year of surviving treatment for breast cancer.

Furthermore, jewelry can be a strong statement for women who are self-purchasers. Its very permanence – being made of metals such as platinum, gold or silver, and set with the hardest stones known to man – makes a persuasive case for purchase. It can be worn repeatedly, with a range of different outfits, and to many different occasions. And in the end, it can be passed on to the next generation.

Women are buying jewelry for themselves, but they are frequently doing so at venues other than traditional jewelry stores, according to a JCOC study. Chain stores remain the most popular place among women buying jewelry for themselves, followed by independent fine jewelry stores, according to the JCOC.

However, 60 percent of women buy jewelry at places other than traditional jewelry stores, and the percentage of women buying jewelry online, at department stores and at mass retailers is increasing. More than two-thirds of the 2,476 women surveyed reported that they had bought jewelry for themselves in the past, and 16 percent planned to do so within the next six months. Some 78 percent said they bought jewelry whenever they saw something they liked, and more than half said they bought it while shopping for others or to celebrate birthdays or accomplishments.

According to Gassman, it is almost impossible to give a figure for how much the female self-purchase market is worth, partly because of the proliferation of purchasing locations that have sprung up in the Internet era.

Is the retail jewelry industry making enough effort to attract self purchasing women who have become such a powerful consumer force in the marketplace? The JCOC survey concluded, "As a jewelry consumer, this demographic is largely underexploited and ignored by the broad spectrum of the jewelry industry."

The JCOC study found that two-third of female self-purchasers in the United States, in a typical year, will buy new shoes for themselves between two and five times, while an additional 12 percent said they will purchase new shoes more than five times a year. Similarly, with clothing purchases, in a typical year 45 percent of respondents said they would buy a new dress or clothing outfit for themselves between two and five times per year while 29 percent answered more than five times per year.

However, when it came to jewelry purchases in a typical year, just 23 percent said only once a year, while 19 percent said "not sure" and 23 percent replied "none."

These included 57 percent saying they only "sometimes" found enough selection and choices, while 61 percent said they only sometimes find prices within their budget. The three most important value drivers in importance to these consumers in terms of shopping for this product knowing that the stones in the jewelry are real versus synthetic; having confidence in the salesperson; and being able to easily return or exchange the purchase.

Pam Danziger, president and founder of Unity Marketing, a market research firm specializing in the luxury sector, also believes the jewelry industry is missing a huge opportunity in not launching specific marketing programs aimed at modern women. "The industry has traditionally targeted the male purchasers, especially in diamonds," she said. "But ignoring women is a huge missed opportunity."


May 2014 - This article is provided by diamond and jewelry industry journalist Albert Robinson.