The two just can’t be compared. Oh wait, yes they can. And I’m just the person to do it! I’ve popped into my fair share of mall stores and chain stores with girlfriends who wanted to just “get an idea” of what they like (in Chicago, when they can’t just come visit RLJ and pick out exactly what they want.) And every time I’ve been floored by the straight up misleading sales tactics used to push sub par diamonds on young, naïve customers.
And I’m usually underwhelmed by the selection (isn’t the whole point of a chain store their buying power?) It’s usually variations of the same 3 styles in a handful of close-in-carat-weight shapes with middling clarity and color grades. Whenever I’m back at RLJ I usually spend an hour at least ogling all the new goodies in stock since my last trip to South Florida. It’s like a treasure trove of different designers, styles, and of course – DIAMONDS. Big ones. High quality ones. But I digress.
In my experience, the biggest differences between chain stores and independents are twofold: The service and selection. This isn’t unique to RLJ either – our neighboring brands and jewelers have similar service policies, if not the amazeballs variety of engagement rings that we do. And both are vastly different experiences than anything you get at the mall.
Big box chain stores cannot match independents service. And most of the time they will not. That post I was referencing yesterday? Listen to his exact story:
My wife’s ring was beautiful, but after a few months of wearing it she noticed the diamond was set too high and was catching on things now and then. We went back to the store to see if they could reset it only to hear the jeweler say “yeah, we get this all the time with this ring; there’s nothing we can do, but we could sell you a different setting.”
It’s been 24 hours and it still makes me see red. That’s totally unacceptable and gives every brick and mortar jeweler a bad rap. Of course, shopping online you wouldn’t know that the setting was too high until after you’d proposed, and then hopefully your online jeweler wouldn’t have a problem re-setting it for you, or at least exchanging it for a lower-profile setting free of charge. But if you shop at a local jeweler, you can know that a) you will see the setting ahead of time to know that it might be a little too high-profile and b) if that turns out to be the case, 9 times out of 10 we’ll lower the head on the setting free of charge. You just paid us several thousand dollars for this ring. We want you (and your fiancé) to ADORE it. And we’ll do whatever it takes to get you there. And as far as re-sizing goes, there’s always at least one included in any engagement ring purchase. Add to this free rhodium for a year, free diamond checks for life, and free cleaning for life – these are all little (and not so little) perks you get included with your purchase from an independent. You’ll pay for these services at a chain store.
When it comes to selection, you’d think the chain stores would have the upper hand. However, besides their proprietary lines and designs, they don’t carry premium designers. Brands like Verragio, Tacori and Simon G. authorize independents to sell their hand crafted settings. Chain stores will often have one off bridal lines attached to some big celebrity name, but they’re celebrities…not jewelry designers (with the exception, of course, of King of the Roses Neil Lane. But Neil’s chain store line is a different animal than the rings you see on The Bachelor. ) They also carry a much, much smaller selection of diamonds in-store. They tend to stick to their bread and butter (stones just around 1 carat of moderate quality) with a few special rocks thrown in for dazzling effect. But if you’re seriously shopping for something that’s not the norm (pear shape, anything over 3 carats, GIA certified diamonds, etc.) chances are they’ll need to order your diamond. And chances are you’re going to need to pay for that diamond first (sight unseen.)
Compare this to RLJ (and I have to use them as an example because I’ve seen it first hand, but I’m sure this is standard of any quality independent jeweler.) If a groom comes in and we don’t have exactly what he’s looking for, I’ve watched our sales team play phone tag for the rest of the day (at least) with diamond dealers trying to get a nice selection for them to come back and check out, in person. They may not even end up buying from us, our sales team has no commitment yet, but they’re still jumping through hoops if there’s even the potential of a happy customer.
And on that note, in the comments on the Money Under 30 post I did see one mention of sales people and commission. That’s pretty much the industry standard. They all work on commission – even the fine people at Tiffany & Co. This does not mean that you should settle for being eyeballed and profiled for wearing flip flops to the jeweler (uh, especially in South Florida.) It doesn’t mean you should tolerate a salesperson forcing a sale you’re not comfortable with. It also doesn’t mean that your salesperson is blindly in it for the sale – remember they’re people too! They have husbands and wives and kids who are getting married and it’s one of the many reasons they stick around in this industry. They love love stories! So try not to let the commission-based income throw you off. It’s just how they pay the bills. And in the long run, your happiness with your purchase (and you turning into a long time client) should be a lot more important to them than a single sale!
Now that we’ve cleared up the issue with lumping all brick and mortar jewelers together, check back tomorrow for my final thoughts on buying an engagement ring online vs. in store.