The online jeweler opens a 'flagship' showroom in Houston and plans as many as 28 more stores nationwide through 2023.

Fine jewelry brand Blue Nile Inc. built its business selling diamond engagement rings online. But buying an engagement ring on the web isn’t for everyone, says David Olsen, Blue Nile’s senior vice president of strategy, analytics and retail.

In late 2020, Blue Nile (No. 143 in the 2022 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 ranking) shifted its business model by opening showrooms in California, Colorado, and Illinois. As of last month, the retailer had 18 stores, including a newly opened “flagship showroom” at the Houston Galleria mall.

The Houston location is its flagship showroom and its second store in Texas. Nationally, the retailer plans eight more stores in 2022 and another 10 to 20 in 2023.

“We want people to interact with Blue Nile any way they want,” Olsen says.

The best way to do that, he says, is to adopt an omnichannel model, allowing shoppers to interact with Blue Nile’s people and products on their own terms.

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Stores’ roles keep evolving as born-on-the-web brands like Blue Nile use physical shops to reach new customers and deepen relationships with current ones. Stores have evolved into distribution hubs and staging areas for orders placed online for shipping, pickup and on-demand local delivery.

Blue Nile’s case for opening stores

Olsen says Blue Nile stores serve several purposes for the brand. First, he says, the physical locations give the retailer’s customers an opportunity to interact with Blue Nile’s personnel and products firsthand. It’s an option many customers find more engaging than buying online without help or scheduling a virtual appointment.

Blue Nile

A rendering of the Blue Nile flagship store in Houston.

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Diamond engagement rings make up more than half of the jeweler’s sales, Olsen says. That can be an emotionally laden, personal experience for couples. So, it makes a lot of sense to give customers the option to see and handle products before buying.

Because no two natural diamonds are alike, stores give customers the chance to consult face-to-face with jewelry experts who can explain their options and how diamonds are priced. Those personal contacts, he added, provide customers with a place to go for jewelry repairs and cleaning.

Another purpose for opening stores, Olsen adds, is marketing. Stores, he says, can help raise brand awareness and increase consumers’ confidence in the products for sale.

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“It is effectively a billboard for Blue Nile,” Olsen said about the Houston Galleria flagship store.

That’s important, Olsen says, because, on average, customers “touch” Blue Nile — on its website, in stores, on social media and elsewhere — about 20 times before buying a piece of jewelry.

Flagship status

A Blue Nile spokesperson says the Houston Galleria store is different in several ways from its other stores. For example, at 2,200 square feet, the Houston Galleria location is approximately 50% larger than the jeweler’s other showrooms. The extra size allows clients to browse a much wider assortment.

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“The extra space also allows Blue Nile to also have more personal jewelers in the showroom room to deliver on expert advice and guidance for clients,” the spokesperson says.

The larger footprint also allows the Houston Galleria store to offer a lounge area — a space the spokesperson describes as “a beautiful, comfortable, private space where we can celebrate a client’s special moment” — and consultation rooms offering more privacy than at other locations. The Houston location is not the first Blue Nile store to offer private consultation rooms. However, the Galleria consultation rooms are “in a space that is separated from the open showroom,” the spokesperson says.

The additional showrooms planned in 2022 will open in the following shopping centers:

  • Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota.
  • Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta.
  • Garden State Plaza, Paramus, New Jersey.
  • SouthPark, Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Brickell City Centre, Miami.
  • Mall at Millenia, Orlando, Florida.
  • Roseville Galleria, Roseville, California.
  • NorthPark Center, Dallas.

In addition, Blue Nile plans to relocate its store in Tysons Corner, Virginia, to a larger location with updated branding. In 2023, Blue Nile will continue to open showrooms in 10 to 20 new locations.

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