For anyone who had not noticed, there is a new world out there. In particular, there is a new environment regarding the sale of jewelry to women, because it is increasingly being bought by women themselves. A number of reasons have been given for the growing phenomenon.
Some commentators say there are women who are simply not prepared to wait around for their boyfriend or husband buy them a piece of jewellery. They have increasingly come to the conclusion that the jewelry item is never going to arrive so they prefer to buy their own jewellery. Or it might be that they what they wear must reflect their personality and lifestyle.
Or it could be that with increasing numbers of women entering the workforce and with a trend toward growing parity in male-female salaries, they feel empowered financially. The traditional scenario, where the boyfriend, fiancé or husband goes out to purchase a ring or other item of jewellery, it appears, is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
Many industry analysts believe the biggest boost to female self-purchase 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 jewellery began with the launch of the tennis bracelet," said diamond jewellery analyst Ken Gassman. "That was the beginning of women making the statement about their ability and power to buy themselves their own jewellery.”
"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 jewellery 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 jewellery 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 jewellery 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 labour market at the time. The diamond buying culture in the country was then of relatively recent vintage, and the analysts at the ad agency surmised that young female consumers had fewer expectation about having to receive diamond jewellery from partners than did their counterparts in the West.
But the women’s jewellery self-purchase market has been growing globally since at least the start of the past decade. Women who once saw jewellery only as a gift now also buy it for themselves in greater numbers. A study by the Jewellery Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC) carried out some eight years ago in the United States found that most females who planned to make a jewellery purchase before the end of the year were likely to do it themselves.
Why do women buy jewellery for themselves? The answer, it appears, can be as complex and varied as the woman herself. Some may be looking to mark an important life event, such as a special birthday, a career success, or to mark a certain occasion. Meanwhile, others may simply see a particular item that appeals to their tastes or complements their wardrobe.
Research has also shown that the jewellery 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 jewellery.
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, jewellery 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.
In the modern era of celebrity, and particularly in light of the rise of powerful female personalities in music and movies, but also in politics, those stars have also helped boost the market for self-purchase. Role models for younger women in particular, singers such as Beyonce Knowles, singer/actress Jennifer Lopez, and former model Brooke Burke, are frequently seen and spoken about in the media making and paying their way.
Women are buying jewellery for themselves, but they are frequently doing so at venues other than traditional jewellery stores, according to a JCOC study. Chain stores remain the most popular place among women buying jewellery for themselves, followed by independent fine jewellery stores, according to the JCOC.
However, 60 percent of women buy jewellery at places other than traditional jewellery stores, and the percentage of women buying jewellery 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 jewellery for themselves in the past, and 16 percent planned to do so within the next six months. Some 78 percent said they bought jewellery 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, but also because women often choose the jewellery item but it is paid for by their partner.
Is the retail jewellery industry making enough effort to attract self purchasing women who have become such a powerful consumer force in the marketplace? The JCOC, which carried out a survey on the issue in September 2009, believes the industry has a long way to go in this respect, saying, "As a jewellery consumer, this demographic is largely underexploited and ignored by the broad spectrum of the jewellery 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 5 times per year.
However, when it came to jewellery 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 jewellery are real versus synthetic; having confidence in the salesperson; and being able to easily return or exchange the purchase.