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When the pandemic began, Jerome Brustlein, the CEO of fine jewelry company Fenton, noticed a slight, but significant, change in his customer base: an increasing number of people were rushing into romances more quickly and getting engaged sooner than usual.
In one case, a couple in Gloucestershire, England got engaged after just nine months of dating during the pandemic. They’d met online right before the U.K.’s first lockdown and decided to move in together right away.
Mallory Shelter’s custom ring designs have gained popularity during the pandemic.
“They told us, ‘When you know, you know,’” said Jerome, whose business is based in the U.K. but ships internationally.
Since then, Jerome and his team at Fenton have seen many of their clients enter into these so-called “turbo relationships,” and many customers have shared that they’ve gotten engaged more quickly than they otherwise would have had there been no pandemic.
It’s a trend seen across the jewelry and wedding industries. Despite the pandemic—or perhaps because of it—engagement ring sales have spiked, according to reports from jewelry retailers The Clear Cut, Signet, and Forevermark. And for many consumers, getting engaged when things like travel, local outings and group celebrations such as weddings and showers were limited, meant they could spend more on pre-designed rings or customized pieces – as long as they had pandemic-safe options to view and purchase the goods.
For businesses, this has required adapting to generate sales and meet customer demands by doing everything from offering virtual appointments to hand-delivering rings and other jewelry to buyers.
“The pandemic has been a challenge for the entire operation of our company, from adapting to working from home and the logistical challenges of meeting delivery times for our customers, to marketing our products online,” said Xavier Duran, Chief Marketing Officer of PDPAOLA, an international women’s jewelry company that is launching its first engagement ring collection in the summer of 2021.
PayPal spoke with three jewelers about the global engagement phenomenon to uncover the main ways the pandemic has affected the industry and influenced how, and what, customers are buying. What’s clear is that engagement rings and jewelry sales kept shining during a hard year – here’s how.
Engagement rings have never been one-size-fits-all. During the pandemic, the same has been true for how jewelers have chosen to show and sell their rings from a safe social distance.
Mallory Shelter is a Washington, D.C.-based jewelry designer.
For some, focusing on building an online presence was the best way to adapt. The Knot’s 2020 Jewelry and Engagement Study reported that nearly a third of engagement rings sold in 2020 were purchased online, whereas in a study they did in 2019, 70% of responders said it was important to see a ring in person before popping the question. Mallory Shelter, a custom engagement ring designer based in Washington D.C., saw this firsthand. Before the pandemic, only about 5% of her sales happened online, while the rest occurred at her jewelry store Shelter, which sells her custom work and jewelry from other independent designers.
“When the pandemic began, I had to move 100% of my sales online,” Mallory said. She had to rely on ecommerce and social media to make sales and interact with customers. For custom designs, Mallory scheduled FaceTime appointments to show her customers progress on their rings, and shared images of the finished rings on Instagram to help acquire new business.
Still, nothing quite beats seeing an engagement ring in person, so for some local customers, Mallory would drive to their homes to share socially distant design updates or deliver the final ring. “A sparkly engagement ring is, inherently, a really exciting thing that you want to show people in person,” she said.
To be sure, despite the pandemic, the majority of ring sales–63%–have still occurred in person, according to The Knot’s 2020 Jewelry & Engagement Study. One business that leaned into in-person sales was Fenton. Before the pandemic, Fenton was an entirely digital company, offering virtual appointments with its experts. But during the pandemic, Fenton chose to open its first showroom in London.
“We saw an opportunity to bring our brand ethos offline,” said Fenton’s CEO Jerome Brustlein. The store began allowing shoppers to use Fenton’s website to book 30- to 60-minute appointments in the showroom, where rings are sanitized between appointments. The move helped boost Fenton’s sales, which tripled in 2020, and Jerome expects the same success in 2021.
As big wedding-related ceremonies were put on pause due to the pandemic, customers turned their splurge toward engagement rings.
Fenton opened their showroom to allow customers to view rings in person before purchasing.
Mallory observed this in her one-on-one experiences with customers, who often told her that spending so much money on “the big day” suddenly felt outdated. Instead, they wanted to invest in something more lasting, like a ring. “There’s a bit of extra thoughtfulness going into designing and purchasing a ring that I haven’t seen before” among customers, she said.
This trend of spending more on engagement rings – and jewelry in general – has given jewelers another reason to implement secure payment options for customers. International jewelry company PDPAOLA added PayPal Checkout to its website because of the brand’s universal recognition and trust. “Our clients feel safer paying with PayPal than doing it directly with their credit card,” said Xavier Duran, CMO of PDPAOLA. “Despite the fact that a large part of our business happens through ecommerce, we always put our clients as the main focus of the company and as the most important stakeholder,” he said. “Since we added PayPal, our visit-to-transaction ratio has increased significantly.”
Fenton Jewelry saw benefits after adding PayPal Checkout to its website. With features like PayPal’s Purchase Protection program1, “customers can shop confidently knowing that these valuable purchases may be protected,” said Fenton’s CEO Jerome. “In fact, PayPal was used to complete the most expensive custom ring order to date from Fenton,” he added.
For Mallory, adding PayPal as a checkout option similarly helped establish trust with potential customers, but it also meant making their shopping experience a bit easier.
“The ease of transactions is just helpful for a lot of people” shopping online, she said.
The limits on activities during the pandemic left many people with more time and in search of new creative outlets. Consumers who were getting engaged started pouring their time and creativity into their engagement rings, adding custom design elements to their choices. The Knot’s 2020 Jewelry and Engagement Study found that 48% of shoppers bought a new engagement ring with customized elements, more people than before the pandemic. And among this group of buyers, 53% customized a preexisting design, while 33% designed a ring on their own.
Fenton’s customers have opted for more colorful stones recently.
Jerome of Fenton said this proved true for his business, with more of his customers wanting a customized option. Some opted for colored gemstones (emeralds, blue sapphires and aquamarines have been most popular, he said) or more unusual designs. He attributes this to couples’ desire to be more expressive. “They want the engagement ring to be unique to the couple, and something which reflects them,” Jerome said.
In ring designer Mallory Shelter’s experience, family ties have played a role in some custom designs. She has noticed more people requesting redesigns of family heirlooms. “With more time at home, I think people are cleaning out their jewelry boxes and noticing, ‘Oh, I’ve had this piece from my grandmother that’s been sitting here, maybe I could do something with it,’” Mallory said.
In 2014, Mallory designed her own custom ring after having no success finding one from a traditional jeweler. “The [traditional] process felt cold, stuffy and overwhelming,” she said. So now, in her custom work, her approach is conversational and inviting, which has contributed to her business success.
“If anything, this year has taught us to be more empathetic. There's so much emotion that goes into purchasing an engagement ring,” Mallory said. “It’s an honor to be a part of that process.”
1 PayPal Purchase Protection is available on eligible items. Limits apply.
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