With two weeks to go until Christmas, independent jewelers across America reported slightly tempered expectations for this holiday season compared with the very bullish sentiments that prevailed a week ago. For the most part though, 2017 remains on course to be the best holiday season in a while.

“People seem very upbeat and happy — very refreshing after a ho-hum decade,” said Jo Goralski, who owns The Jewelry Mechanic, in Oconomowoc, WI, with her husband Mike.

Added Ben Brantley of Ben Brantley & Co., Shelbyville, TN: “It's been the best holiday selling season I've ever had. Much higher tickets than last year.”

More than one in three of the 147 jewelers who answered our survey described the season as exceeding their hopes – 12 percent said it was “terrific” and 23 percent rated it as “better than expected” – while about one in five categorized it as “worse than expected” (19 percent said “disappointing” and 3 percent said “dismal”). The rest, or 44 percent, rated it “as expected”.

Holiday mini survey 3

Overall, jewelers reported both higher tickets and foot traffic than last year.

  • 37 percent said they were seeing more customers in their stores compared to 2016 (vs. 28 percent who said traffic was down).
  • 39 percent said average ticket was up (vs. 19 percent who said it was lower).

Average sale also remained high, with 41 percent of the jewelers in our survey saying their typical ticket was over $350.

With 14 days to until the traditional end of the season, many jewelers are still holding out for a strong finish, noting that each year, they do more sales in fewer days.

“The Christmas season is becoming more and more concentrated. We do half of our month's total sales in eight days,” said Bill Elliott of Ross Elliott Jewelers in Terre Haute, IN. “Numbers right now don't have much weight. Last year at this point we were up nearly 40 percent. We ended up down 7 percent.”

The weather, with generally benign winter conditions in most areas, was also seen as being supportive.

For those jewelers struggling, the culprits were the now familiar foes: Millennials, who seem interested “only in bridal” and online competition.

Still, there are also signs jewelers are getting better at dealing with this new retail environment.

“This year we started before Thanksgiving and mapped out week by week our social media posts. We have combined more posts at the bench, fun shots of employees and posts that show our custom jobs before and after. I have had so many customers comment. It has been eye-opening,” said Linda McEathron, owner of Design Hous in Waco, TX.

Bill Levine of Van Cott Jewelers in Vestal, NY, was another who felt the small-business message was finally resonating with consumers.
“After years of battles with the major chains and Internet, our strong message of ‘we care’ hit the buyers of fine jewelry,” he said.

In terms what’s selling this year, it was a continuation of the trends reported in our previous two mini surveys, with custom and higher priced diamond goods doing well. Diamond goods were mentioned by about one in three respondents and custom by one in four. Watch sales appeared soft with only one mention.

“Pandora and Alex & Ani sales are slowing but mid-range to higher ticket sales seem to be increasing,” said Steve Floyd, whose store, Floyd & Green is in Aiken, SC.

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