CompareJewellery.com: what retailers really think

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Is exposing the actual value of jewellery good PR for the industry?

A new website has launched that compares the prices of high street jewellers to what it pitches as actual values, and exposes poor craftsmanship to consumers. Rachael Taylor finds out more about who is behind CompareJewellery.com and asks the retailers targeted if this is good or bad PR for the industry.

Worst Value Pieces of Jewellery on High Street Revealed,” screamed the headline of the press release sent out to accompany the launch of new jewellery price comparison website Comparejewellery.com. So what exactly were they?

According to the release, consumers in the UK “wasted” more than £1 billion on “poor value jewellery” last year. And it would seem that F Hinds, Goldsmiths and H Samuel are “amongst the worst offenders”. Along with the release came a list of 10 pieces of jewellery that Comparejewellery.com believes are robbing shoppers on the high street unjustly of their cash (see opposite page).

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Visit the actual website and you’ll see more shock-inspiring titles such as Jewellery Heaven and Hell, video reviews that compare the good and the bad of the jewellery world. In the current video at the time of going to press, Comparejewellery.com head of product and jewellery Ali O’Neill is filmed while extolling the virtues of a Beaverbrooks diamond solitaire for the heaven section, and then records her distaste of a H Samuel white gold CZ ring that she condemns to the fires of jewellery hell, but not before dramatically squashing it flat between her two fingers to show just how flimsy the metal is.

There are lots of fun features like this on the website, like the Cheap or Chic game that allows visitors to click through a gallery of jewellery shots trying to determine from a picture on a screen which is the most expensive item out of two. This is not an easy game to play (we got a 50% success rate) and highlights one of the major issues that the retailers featured on this site – at present F Hinds, Beaverbrooks, Ernest Jones, H Samuel and Goldsmiths – have with Comparejewellery.com. How can the reviewers on the site determine the quality of a piece of jewellery from looking at it on a website?

This, according to O’Neill, is not an issue. She is more than confident in her valuations, she says, because she used to be a buyer for a high street jeweller herself. After starting her career in costume jewellery, she moved to Next to launch a collection of silver jewellery for the high street retailer and was, she claims, the first person in the industry to create a commercial collection of silver jewellery set with diamonds. After this she moved on to Goldsmiths, where she was in charge of the merchandising and design of all of its jewellery.

“Because I have been doing this for so many years, all the retailers have a range of diamond qualities that they use and I know what they are, I know what the product weighs and I know what manufacture and labour rates are, so it’s easy to work out what it should cost,” says O’Neill, who runs her own jewellery design and manufacture consultancy business alongside her work at Comparejewellery.com. She then adds a profit margin based on how much design development she determines has gone into that particular product, which is usually where the retailers fall down on the site’s star rating system.

“I’ve done it myself, being a buyer for years,” she explains. “Some products are easier to hide profit in, and some are more transparent. For example, it’s harder to hide profit in solitaire than it is in a pavé ring.”

Another issue that has been raised by retailers is that the site makes its money through affiliate marketing, and is hoping to bump this up with advertising revenues from the very jewellers that it is putting under the spotlight.

Goldsmiths told Professional Jeweller that Comparejewellery.com approached it about advertising on the site and while the retailer granted the site a meeting, the marketing team decided against it as they believed that doing so would compromise the integrity of the site’s independent review policy. Although O’Neill counters this by saying that the retailer told her it would potentially advertise in the future but wanted to wait until the site had proved itself. Goldsmiths did, however, invite Comparejewellery.com to join its affiliate marketing scheme in which the comparison site gets a kickback from any sales made through Goldsmiths’ site by shoppers clicking through from the review site.

Each of the retailers featured on the site offers affiliate marketing, with the exception of Beaverbrooks, although the retailer is believed to be about to launch such a scheme. So will this sway Comparejewellery.com to favour products from retailers with better commission rates over jewels from those with lower commission rates? No, says O’Neill, adding that the case of Beaverbrooks blows this concern out of the water.

“At the moment Beaverbrooks hasn’t got an affiliate programme and they are very near the top of the tree in terms of star ratings,” she points out. “If I was biased, it wouldn’t be worth me doing it.”

But the site is out there to make money, make no mistake. It is funded by Ashley Faull, who founded Bid TV and Price Drop TV before selling the channels for millions and investing in a number of businesses, most recently Gold for Cash – the only postal cash for gold company to avoid investigation by the Office of Fair Trading. Now his attentions are on Comparejewellery.com.

O’Neill says that the plan is to make money through advertising on the site and affiliate schemes. While Comparejewellery.com has started with five of the biggest high street players, it has plans to cast its nets wider and has already identified 20 independent retailers that it will start working with.

The issue with expansion, O’Neill says, is that not many jewellers have affiliate schemes; some don’t even have websites. But the team has a plan and will be setting up its own affiliate scheme that retailers can join, meaning they don’t have to set up their own to join the site; a move that O’Neill feels could be “revolutionary” in getting a larger proportion of the jewellery industry trading online.

She also feels that the site will get more consumers shopping online for jewellery, as it will give them more confidence to buy jewels and to feel secure that they are not being ripped off. “We’re aiming to be like Which? for jewellery. [Checking the site] should be the first thing people do when looking for jewellery.”

So despite the attention-grabbing press releases and features on the website, Comparejewellery.com isn’t out to bash the industry, it says, but to police it as a sort of unofficial watchdog.

As such, there are more positive features on the site such as Product of the Month, which is placed prominently on the homepage. The reigning product at the time of writing was an 18ct white gold and diamond crossover ring from Goldsmiths that scored an elusive eight out of 10 stars.

And the retailers featured on the site are not quite as hyped up as you might expect about a price-trashing site with a top 10 of shame; most see beyond the shock PR tactics to a site they believe is useful for jewellery shoppers.

“In terms of them coming along and making comments on our prices, we’re pretty relaxed,” says F Hinds director Andrew Hinds. “We are strong on offering value for money and we’re pretty happy about our prices. In fact, we’re always trying to expose our prices to our customers.”

Hinds points out that such comparison shopping has been going on for years in the jewellery trade, albeit offline. “The easiest comparison for a customer is to walk into a shopping centre, and we’re doing that all the time,” he says.

So despite taking a hard line on jewellers in order to whip up some publicity for the launch, it seems that Comparejewellery.com is out to make the jewellery world a fairer place to be and work with the industry to boost its own bottom line.

The traction of comparison websites is traditionally slow, so it will be at least a year or so before a call can be made as to whether consumers find it a useful tool. And as for the jewellers, it all comes down to just how confident in their products they are and just how transparent they want to be as to whether Comparejewellery.com represents jewellery heaven or jewellery hell for the trade.

This Hot Topic was taken from the November issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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