The UK jewellery industry is poised for the busiest trading period of the year, but will 2015 offer christmas cheer, and which trends will define the season? Rachael Taylor reports…
The pre-Christmas retail forecasts come but once a year, and as usual the analysts are offering a range of views more diverse than a festive-sized box of Quality Street.
While Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Neilsen, says “non-food retailers will need to maintain lower prices to drive footfall”, a report from Verdict suggests that “UK shoppers are set to splash out” this Christmas. Its data forecasts that UK retail sales in the final quarter of the year will increase 2.2% on 2014’s figures to reach a record £92.1 billion.
While consumer surveys and trend graphs can lead to some fairly solid guesstimates, the truth is, as Watkins points out, that “levels of retail spend are going to be hard to predict over the next few months”.
While they can’t confirm what will be selling out this Christmas, festive sales at UK jewellery wholesalers can offer a pretty good indication of retailers’ confidence levels. “I would say that people are realistic,” says Domino sales and marketing director Andrew Sollitt. “The feedback we are getting from our stockists is that the high streets are relatively quiet at the moment, but I don’t think this is worrying because Christmas seems to come later and our retailers have already bought stock in the knowledge that the season will come.”
Popular Domino lines bought by retailers for Christmas this year include 18ct white gold and diamond bracelets from the Rosabella collection and its Belle Ille pendant and earring suites, particularly the Edenand Midnight styles, which Sollitt says have “sold extremely well”.
“Our experience is that retailers are definitely looking for something new – indeed many came to our stand at IJL with the specific purpose of finding new and eye-catching designs for Christmas,” says Sollitt, who believes that festive sales for Domino will be on par with last year. “If Domino customers are the norm then I think retailers have been quite adventurous.”
Sales of Christmas stock are up year on year at jewellery wholesaler Amore, and managing director Barry Mistlin describes the mood of UK retailers as “cautious optimism”. He adds: “The year has not been as consistent as many would have liked and I think we are all hoping for a good Christmas and then some more consistency. We did find a little hesitancy when approaching our customers early this year to place their Christmas orders, but when we did actually get to see them, they did need stock and placed very healthy orders.”
While Mistlin says that some retailers have been keen to test new designs, its core lines have also sold well, such as its Love & Kisses silver collections and traditionally styled gold designs set with sapphires, rubies and diamonds.
Patrick McHale, UK and Ireland country manager for fashion jewellery brand Rebecca, believes that autumn’s unseasonably warm weather may offer jewellers an opportunity in the run up to Christmas. “We have seen very good Christmas sell in and sell out,” says McHale, who says trading this year for Rebecca has been characterised by early orders with strong early repeat business. “There is lots of very strong optimism and retailers are investing in sprucing up premises and windows as well as increasing the number of brands they carry. I believe with the very late end to autumn that jewellers will see the spin off as consumers have not spent as much as usual on winter clothing. This should release extra spending for jewellery, but if the high street clothing retailers start to panic they may discount heavily to vacuum up spend.”
The key to tempting shoppers away from other categories this Christmas, according to National Jewellers Association chief executive Michael Rawlinson, is to get creative with market and sales strategies. “The financial situation the market is in is a bit more buoyant than it has been so we have the opportunity,” says Rawlinson. “Retailers have to think more creatively and imaginatively – business doesn’t just roll in at Christmas.”
For London-based jeweller Tessa Packard, who has no physical presence on the high street either through her own shops or through retail stockists, this has been of the utmost importance and she has focused on intimate customer events to drive festive sales. “We are hosting a much wider number of events this festive season, many of which are new in concept and vary from what we have organised before,” says Packard, who expects this year’s sales to be up on 2014. “We have certainly felt a greater sense of presence this year than ever before, and I think this is in part due to our more prolific and diverse events schedule. I would say that of the two events we have hosted to date, both demonstrated that clients are ready to spend with Christmas in mind from early November.”
Further north, Daniella Draper, who sells her own collections of jewellery from stores in Cleethorpes and Lincoln, has been busy preparing festive promotions. “We are always active on our social media, however at this time of year we push it further,” says Draper, who adds that about 30% of the business’s sales are made through its website. “We also have Christmasthemed brochures and make a big effort in decorating the shop for Christmas. This creates a great atmosphere and shows that we care about our product and want to create a wonderful experience for our customer.”
At Hallett Retail, a jewellery concessions specialist that runs the jewellery departments for stores such as House of Fraser, founder and managing director Wendy Hallett says she expects this Christmas to deliver a small rise on last year, driven by carefully planned promotional activity. “We have made sure that the key brands we manage are included in the department store Christmas brochures that are produced and given out in store as well as sent in the post to loyalty card holders,” she says. “This is usually done through advertorials emphasising certain key pieces from the brands. We also encourage our brands to submit marketing collaterals to be included into Christmas specific blog posts and social media marketing campaigns that our retailers are utilising over Christmas.”
One of the key moments in the festive calendar for Hallet Retail is Black Friday, a day of pre-Christmas discounting that this year fell on November 27. This retail trend originated in the US but has been steadily adopted by British retailers in recent years.
“I think its going to be all last minute and we wont see any action until we get Black Friday out the way,” says Helen Molloy, managing director at Dorset’s Forum Jewellers. Last year the store received at least 10 calls from customers asking if it would be running a Black Friday promotion, so this year Molloy has decided to capitalise on the interest to shift old stock ahead of any January sales.
To generate interest in the Black Friday sale, which offered up to 70% off stock, Molloy was planning to run a preview of the items that would be discounted on the day. “We did it years ago with a half-price sale and we had a queue outside the shop,” she says. “We have got some really old things that have been in three sales so we’re just going to slash the prices.”
Molloy says that most of the calls she received about Black Friday discounts last year were enquiries about whether there would be deals on Pandora jewels, and at Charles Nobel Jewellers, about an hour’s drive away in New Milton, director Piers Bollard believes the brand will continue to be big news this Christmas.
“We expect Pandora to be strong once again this year within our branded ranges and we also expect classic diamond jewellery ranges to feature strongly,” says Bollard. “We have recently reopened our store after a major refit and see the interest created by this as a great opportunity to promote the business at this time of year. We had an excellent Christmas in 2014 with a number of higher-end items selling. If we can outperform last year we would be extremely happy, but we would also be more than happy if we equalled it.”