Civilian Shopper 

If the temperatures quoted by my local weather lady are correct, it’s beginning to feel a lot like autumn (by day), and winter is peeking out in the evening hours.

This has always been my favorite time of year, as a New Englander who feels at her very best when wrapped in multiple layers of cashmere or fleece, sipping hot cider and daydreaming about holiday decor.

But for most of my working life, the holidays have meant a serious uptick in stress levels and a calendar with very little room on it for all the fun events that seem to pop up when the mercury dips below 40. Working in a retail environment means longer hours, more consecutive days, and a generally pervasive feeling of not enough time. Latkes on a weeknight? Christmas party on a Saturday? You want me to join your choir and sing when? Don’t make me laugh. 

But this year, for the first time in forever, I won’t be working on Black Friday. I can go to Holiday Pops — a family tradition for well over 20 years — on a weekend. And I can smile with angelic patience and goodwill while participating in enthusiastic consumerism, tinny Musaq blending with the incessant of beeping of snowplows as background accompaniment.

Poetic descriptions aside, I will miss certain things about holiday retail — namely, the looks on my clients’ faces when they discover the perfect gift, that glow of happiness at finding a shiny new treasure to present to a friend or loved one. Those are the moments that got me through the season; I’m sure for many jewelers, they’re the main reason we stay open late, buy the expensive wrapping paper, and hand-deliver diamond rings at midnight.

So retailers, I promise not to mess up that perfectly- folded table of sweaters, ask you to “check again” for my size, or complain that the music’s too loud and temperature is too hot and line was too long and the box is the wrong color and the holidays are just sooo exhausting, y’know ? 

Now it’s just about time to dust off the family recipes, write up my Nice list, and start enjoying the season. 

Follow Up: Good. vs. Goods, The Other Guy’s Perspective

Well, this is convenient. Hard on the heels of my recent editorial on the current state of marketing in the jewelry industry, a features writer over at Racked (a fashion/lifestyle headline-style site) took on the issue from Signet Jewelers’ perspective — you know, the largest monopoly conglomerate covering such household names as Kay, Zales, and Jared.

The article is worth a read, especially if such figures as “$5.7 billion in annual sales” and “3600 stores” pique your interest. But free advertising and product placement aside, what does Signet try to say about their products and their massive share of the industry? They’re all about the (straight, middle class) man.

Women react to their marketing — all 10+ channels of it — with opinions ranging from “cheesy” and “gimmicky” all the way to feeling downright offended by the way the ads portray women and their relationships with men. The fairytale gifting scenarios and mass-appeal life event celebrations ring hollow for most, as is clearly removes any sense of responsibility on the part of the gifter to make an effort and understand a woman’s unique style. The emphasis is all on a come-hither ease of use, rather than any real meaning, romance, or sentiment.

The idea is to make the experience so comfortable, so ridiculously easy for the (straight, middle class) male shopper that he loses all ability to reason and simply buys what he sees the girl on the TV screen loving and crying about, with no consideration for his (ahem, or her) giftee’s desires and needs.

And this is how those poorly-chosen gifts end up here with us. They need broken delicate chains replaced with something sturdier to stand up to a tugging toddler. A watch strap that actually fits him. Three diamonds replaced in the micropave shank because she’s a hairdresser and they keep falling out. A setting lowered or swapped because the latex gloves she wears to the hospital every day are getting shredded by the prongs.

I appreciate the need for mass-market appeal, as I mentioned in my earlier post, because I believe it helps romance the whole idea of jewelry and not just that particular piece from that particular store. But this… is not what I mean. Offending an entire gender with patronization and general lack of nuance is not helpful. Convincing men to enter a store at holiday time and stand in line, zombie-like, to receive this year’s version of last year’s hit, is not the kind of experience this industry stands for.

My soapbox is starting to bend under the weight of my heavy disdain for these tactics, so I’ll leave you with this thought (from the article) for now: “Every time I see [one of their ads] on TV, I want to throw something at the screen… [t]hey are infuriating because they are an insult to my intelligence and emotions! I am not that easy to buy and gift-giving just isn’t that magical.”

A Professional Opinion

Doctors. Law enforcement officers. Judges. Manicurists. These professions require a range of qualifications, but to practice them ethically (and legally, minus the manicures) the chief requirement is the ability to tell the truth. Always. Regardless of a person’s feelings, other wants and needs, or how that truth may impact the lives of others.

But for many other professions, telling the (whole) truth can be a risky business practice indeed. I’m not talking basic factual information here — yes it’s cashmere, no it isn’t leather, yes, it comes in green, etc. — but the part of a business transaction that involves an opinion.

From your hair stylist to your jeweler (hi there!) to the people who run those fun little wine-and-painting parties, they’re all still in business now because they’re able to walk a fine line between truth and a bit of stretched, um, fiction. The proverbial little white lie can be incredibly useful, when deployed with tact, diplomacy, and integrity.

Wait — integrity, you ask? Isn’t a lie of any kind, by definition, totally devoid of such a thing? Allow me to use an example straight from a day in my life.

Customer: What do you think of this bracelet? I’d like something to wear on special occasions.

Me: I think that piece can certainly be dressed up. The gold accents and high polish finish already give it a more formal look.

Customer: Yes, I think so too. And I really love it. But… (she turns to face me straight on) I really want to know what you think about it. Does it look right? Isn’t it gorgeous?

You all know what I said here. You know I told her that she loves it, it fits her description of what she wanted, and it’s a versatile piece she’ll wear often. You also know that I uttered not one peep about whether I personally think it’s gorgeous, but that it’s gorgeous on her. And of course she purchased the item, because everything I said was true.

What I didn’t say was that I think the bracelet is gaudy and clunky, and that I’m so glad she loves it because it’s been in the store for what feels like forever and I’m sick of looking at it. That’s a personal opinion that is totally irrelevant to both my customers in general and that sale in particular, and it has no business getting in the way of… business.

The fine jewelry industry has long been plagued with what I’ll call the bad apples. There are still places and people who are only out for the buck, and would happily sell a professional rockclimber an emerald eternity band to wear as an “everyday ring” just because they could. This kind of practice has no place in this business because it only comes back to harm the integrity of the industry as a whole, and I categorically condemn any business that allows or encourages used-car-salesman tactics. Those bad apples are telling lies — harmful untruths that stem from laziness, a total lack of integrity or ethics, and that ultimately serve to undermine the trusting relationship the good apples work so hard to build.

Our job is to educate consumers and help them navigate a highly emotional, mostly blind purchase. My professional opinion gets time in the spotlight when asked if a ring is too big, a setting is loose, or a chain is too light. It stays tightly locked behind my teeth in most other situations.

Yes, those earrings are very pretty. No m’am, I don’t think those galoshes make your calves look too big. That will be an interesting 10-page-paper topic, Jimmy. Your engagement ring is beautiful. Honey, this chicken tastes great!