Professional Jeweler Archive: Counter-Surfing the Web

August 2000

For Your Staff/Selling Timepieces

Counter-Surfing the Web

Persuade onliners to buy in-store

The headlines at the start of the new millennium were filled with predictions. To our immense relief, most of us survived the crossover to a new century with little or no damage to our businesses or computers.

But one term loomed larger than any other on the retail front: the Web. Was this the beginning of the end for bricks-and-mortar retailers? For those of us concerned specifically with watches, how would we compete? How would we handle Web-savvy customers? Here are some guidelines we’ve found useful at our store.

Know Your Authorizations

After watching the spectacular growth and the spectacular decline of weaker online shopping sites, one thing is clear: the Web is a factor in fine watch sales.

I say this knowing very few top-flight luxury brands sell watches on the Web. Though most watch companies have strict prohibitions against displaying their name and products online, clearly many weak retailers and international markets supplied Web sites with new, preowned, gray-market or discontinued watches. As a result, a number of customers have told us about the fabulous deals they’d seen on a dot-com watch site.

Don’t Overreact

Our first reaction was predictable: “Oh my, you shouldn’t buy that; you’ll certainly regret it.” We shared dramatic tales of unauthorized products, filed-off serial numbers, non-genuine or preowned products and no manufacturer warranties.

We most likely drove some customers to the Web to see what great deals could be had. Sometimes “fear” makes the very thing you try to prohibit more attractive.

Consult, Don’t Scold

As the year progressed, people became more used to the vast array of products on the Web and the problems associated with buying watches there. This helped us develop our strategies – some call it embracing the Web. We decided to stop terrorizing customers. If there was teaching and learning to be done, it would succeed more effectively if we created a consultive climate rather than a scolding one.

We also realized that just because customers look online doesn’t mean they buy online. They may use the Web to gather information about watches and check price ranges. Our response now when customers say they’ve looked online: “Hey, that’s great. You’ve probably learned a lot. Tell me what you found.”

This flatters the customer and opens the door to further conversation. It becomes much simpler and friendlier to explain why the customer should buy from an authorized dealer to reap the benefits of the manufacturer/dealer partnership.

Counter the Web

Though good prices may be available online, you often can counter this argument by demonstrating the strength and security of buying in a brick-and-mortar store. Many consumers are too wary to make such an important purchase without a hands-on approach that guarantees authenticity.

Work diligently to establish your store as a brand. Let customers know you are their advocate when problems arise. Do everything you can to educate your staff and your customers about the advantages of buying from you. We follow this policy. So far we’ve learned to live with it and, when at the counter, to counter-surf the Web.

– by Paul White, Watch Division director, Reis-Nichols Jewelers, Indianapolis, IN

Each month Paul White fills this column with tips for sales associates who want to sell more watches. If you have suggestions for topics, questions for Paul or specific examples from your store, send them to Professional Jeweler, 1500 Walnut St., Suite 1200, Philadelphia, PA 19102;

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications