The Retailer’s Perspective: How to turn a negative into an even bigger negative

A couple of weeks ago, I had a strange situation occur. I had someone come in wanting me to verify an online purchase they made - and I knew them! They were actual customers of mine. Every single time that’s happened in the past, and it’s happened a lot, it’s a total stranger. This was a first and it went something like this.

Two of my really good customers of over 20 years, a husband and wife, came in and needed my opinion on some $25,000 diamond studs that he purchased online for his wife’s birthday. He had them appraised elsewhere because he thought it’d be awkward to have me do it since he bought them elsewhere. And honestly, I don’t really blame him. That would have been awkward. He got the appraisal in the mail and that’s when he got nervous.

The appraisal he received didn’t reflect what the online ‘wholesale to the public’ diamond company said they should appraise for, you know, since he bought them wholesale and all. Hah! He and his wife decided they needed a professional opinion - mine. They came in with the studs, the certs, the receipts, and a case of Bud Lite as a peace offering. I knew something was up when I saw them coming in with the beer. In a nutshell, he didn’t get ‘ripped off’ and I told him so. What I kept to myself was that he could have done better with me.

These two people are long-time customers and friends. We do things socially together, we invite each other to our homes, and he beats me so bad in tennis I won’t play with him anymore. I felt sorry for them because they realized they probably screwed up and were losing sleep. I put their mind at ease, but now I think I handled it wrong. We’ll get into that a little later, but let’s talk about something else first.

I saw a situation on the internet the other day about a jeweler who had a family member wanting the perfect yellow diamond. This relative made the jeweler jump through lots of expensive hoops to ship diamonds in to show her, and none of them were good enough. Then they had to send those back and have different stones shipped in, over, and over, and over again. You know as well as I do that shipping costs, and time spent looking, gets real expensive, real fast. Then, out of the blue, her customer/relative shows up with a ring she bought at Costco and wanted her to ‘verify’ that she got a good deal and wanted her to size it for free and do an appraisal. Ouch! As I read all of the ‘what should I do about this situation’ comments, there was a consistent theme. We are all turning negatives into even bigger negatives.

Needless to say, Thanksgiving dinner is going to be interesting in that family this year. Judging from all of the online comments, they should just cancel Thanksgiving forever.

All of us with brick and mortar stores have been seeing more and more of this. People, that are your steady customers, buying elsewhere, and using your expertise to tie it all up in a pretty bow to give them a warm, fuzzy feeling of validation. And then they want us to have a warm, fuzzy feeling right there with them, while patting them on the back and saying, “Way to go!” All of this while standing in our expensive stores listening to the hum of the electric meter just whirling away.

While I was at the Atlanta Jewelry Show recently, I reached out to people on both sides of the aisle about what we, as retailers, should be doing. The general consensus was this, stop turning a negative into an even bigger negative! Without a doubt, the best answer I heard about resolving the situation above with the ring from Costco was, “Costco has a great return policy. You need to take advantage of it.”

Now I’m wondering if I shouldn’t have employed that tactic with my customers that bought the diamond studs online. I could have matched what they bought and pocketed about $2,000. Or could I? Maybe I would have had the same situation as the jeweler above. I was lucky because they didn’t run me through the ringer only to buy them elsewhere. On the other hand, the customer who bought at Costco cost that store a lot of time and money and then bought elsewhere. The struggle is real!

When people bring in the horrible things they bought online or on TV, we’ve got to quit saying, “Hah, you got ripped off you big dummy!” That is the classic example of turning a negative into a bigger negative. They came in upset, seeking our help, and now they are even more upset. The only difference is, now they are mad at us too, and they’ve added us to the list of bad guys. Trust me; I’m guilty of this as well. We’ve all got to get better at dealing with this situation and get those customers off the internet and into our stores. If your company has a policy regarding this, I’d love to hear it. Write me and let me know how your store handles these situations.

And, speaking of getting people back to face to face interactions, let’s talk jewelry trade shows. I attended the Atlanta Jewelry Show recently and something hit me. Even we retailers are guilty of buying online and not buying in person. A jewelry trade show is an expensive undertaking for all parties involved. Vendors spend a tremendous amount of money to travel to the shows, rent a booth, and sit there for 3 days to get some face time with customers. They are experiencing the same problems that we’re facing, buyers not showing up physically, and opting to just order online.

That got me to wondering; why didn’t you go to the Atlanta Jewelry Show in early March? Why didn’t I see you there? Of course, it could be that they stuck me waaaay in the back this year and you couldn’t find me. Or, could it be because you were at your house, in your hometown, and not even in Atlanta?

I’m curious as to what your decision-making process was that led you to that decision? What was the one or two things that made staying home a better option over going to the show? Was it the vendor mix? Was it the educational offerings? Was it something else entirely?

I talked to Carol Young, the director of the show and she wants to know what changes they could make that would get you to Atlanta this August for the next show. If you haven’t been to the SJTA in a few years, it’s not your grandma’s jewelry show anymore. To all of the vendors that weren’t there, what is it that kept you from showing at the March show? What would it take for them to get you to the August show?

As retailers, we’re battling online sales versus in-store sales constantly. The industry buying shows are feeling that pinch too. In this ever-changing business environment that we operate in, let’s have a discussion about what it would take to get you to the Atlanta show in August. They already have free drinks every night, so there’s that! Write to me at the address below and give me your thoughts and I’ll pass them along.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go see how many links this person, carrying a huge yellow box, needs me to remove from their online watch purchase. I’m going to be soooo sweet and nice. Just watch!

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. If you would like to contact Chuck or need a speaker or instructor for your next conference/event he can be reached at 615-354-6361, or send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..