Jeweler Blue Nile Inc. is investing in both the physical and virtual realm.
Earlier this month, the retailer, No. 108 in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, announced plans to open 50 showrooms across the United States over the next three years.
Blue Nile is starting with three showrooms opening throughout Q4. The first store opened at Park Meadows in Lone Tree, Colorado, near Denver on Oct. 5 and the other two are slated to open on Nov. 2 at Fashion Island in Irvine, California. On Nov. 9 at Oakbrook Center in Oakbrook, Illinois, near Chicago. Blue Nile will locate the 50 showrooms in traditional and high-end malls, open-air malls and urban, street-side locations, the retailer says.
Blue Nile says it had planned to build the showrooms before the coronavirus pandemic. The retailer currently has eight showrooms where shoppers can book in-person appointments to view diamonds that they can first see online by clicking a “View In-Showroom Collection.”
“Approximately 80% of shoppers explore BlueNile.com before visiting a Blue Nile showroom, and we’ve found that enabling shoppers with the option to schedule in-person appointments allows them to find, create and purchase the exact ring they are looking for,” says Charlie Severn, chief marketing officer.
The retailer also is investing in virtual appointment services, Severn says. Between a third to half of Blue Nile’s sales take place over the phone, but to make the journey more personalized, Blue Nile is designing studios and converting some of its existing headquarters in Seattle into virtual showroom spaces, he says.
“Think of a Home Shopping Network set-up with different camera angles and showing our personal jeweler and the jewelry, Severn says. “We anticipate that these virtual appointments, which we’re planning to introduce by Black Friday, will feel like an in-person experience and let consumers see inventory that they might otherwise have to go to a store to see. We feel this is a game-changer for us.”
Blue Nile’s diamond jewelry consultants will be equipped to connect with customers virtually, share screens, co-browse the site and provide ring-building and buying guidance, Severn says.
To use the service, a shopper will book a virtual showroom appointment via BlueNile.com. During his appointment, the shopper connects with a diamond expert located in a showroom designed specifically for virtual appointments. The diamond expert will learn a little more about what the shopper is looking for and then share on camera real pieces of jewelry, including diamonds, located in the virtual showroom. When the shopper expresses interest in a piece, the diamond expert will pick up the item and move it to a display table to provide the customer with a close-up, high-definition view of the jewelry with professional lighting. If the shopper wants to move forward with his purchase, the diamond expert will build the ring or other jewelry item with him via a shared screen over Zoom, Severn says.
Blue Nile’s 2019 sales totaled a Digital Commerce 360-estimated $539.85 million. In February 2017, it was acquired by Bain Capital and was taken private. “While we could have never anticipated the impact of COVID-19, our core business has fully bounced back from the stalls in March and April,” Severn says without being more specific. “Like many companies, we’ve benefited from the consumer’s evolving behavior to shop and buy things online, and we’ve been very happy with our performance this year despite the global pandemic.”
Several retailers including wedding apparel retailer David’s Bridal Inc., (No. 476), jeweler Brilliant Earth (No. 264) and luxury retailer Olivela have invested in virtual appointment or consultation technologies during the pandemic as they seek to better connect to online shoppers who are staying at home.