How COVID Revamped the Online Engagement Ring Shopping Experience
Shopping for wedding jewelry is one of the most exciting planning tasks. But, as with most other wedding traditions, the experience has been drastically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Because of indoor gathering restrictions and safety guidelines, buying an engagement ring during COVID-19 has required many businesses to pivot from traditional brick-and-mortar operations to virtual alternatives.
In fact, buying an engagement ring online is no longer an up-and-coming trend—it's becoming a popular way to shop. According to The Knot 2020 Jewelry and Engagement Study, 15% of proposers were unable to shop for a ring in-stores due to the pandemic. As a result, 32% of respondents purchased an engagement ring online. "Shopping online has become the new normal, even for fine jewelry," says Jamie Singleton, president of Kay, Zales and Peoples. "The pandemic is a real concern on shoppers' minds, so the online platform gives them a safe space to shop."
While online engagement ring shopping has been on the rise in recent years, the pandemic accelerated the trend. As a result, retailers have developed ways to bring the in-store experience to shoppers at home. Through new services like try-on boxes, advanced customization technology and easy access to diamond experts and gemologists, buying an engagement ring during COVID-19 is safe and easy. We've tapped the experts to share exactly how they've revamped the online shopping experience for customers.
At-Home Try-On Boxes
If you're wondering how to buy an engagement ring during COVID-19, consider starting with a try-on kit. Arguably the most important part of shopping for wedding jewelry is trying on different styles in a store to find the perfect diamond shape, carat size and metal color. Gone are the days of dropping discreet ring hints in hopes that your S.O. will catch on to your dream ring style. Since engagement rings and wedding bands are sizable purchases, more couples are having open conversations about what they want—and some even shop together.
Of course, engagement ring shopping during COVID-19 isn't without challenges. Jewelry stores have drastically limited capacity, and some couples might not feel comfortable trying on styles in-stores. To help customers shop online for an engagement ring, some retailers have introduced at-home try-on boxes to mimic the in-store experience. While the ring replicas look like the real deal, they're made of alloy metal and cubic zirconia stones to help customers determine their favorite style.
"Even though our clients can't come into the store, our try-on box is still a special experience," says Nicole Wegman, founder of Ring Concierge. "The box includes replicas of three ring styles, a ring sizer, and an Essie nail polish for a manicure. We also include three of our most popular wedding band replicas so the client can see what the engagement ring would look like when they're married."
With at-home kits, customers can often keep the box for a few weeks to test different styles. When the test period is up, the kit can be shipped back so the customer can buy the exact ring they like online. Finally, it's almost like a private experience. "Our home preview service is the safest and most convenient way to shop from home without losing the ability to see a style before committing to it," adds With Clarity co-founder Anubh Shah. "It's also a private way for couples to shop together without being scrutinized in-store or worrying about price tags."
Shoppers Have Direct Access to Diamond Experts
An engagement ring is a lifetime investment, so it's important to work with an expert to ensure you're making the best choice. It's easier to access diamond consultants and gemologists when shopping in a store, so buying an engagement ring online during COVID-19 can seem trickier at first. Luckily, retailers have developed new ways to virtually connect clients with educators and experts. As a result, our survey found that 13% of proposers used an online chat feature to connect with store representatives while shopping online for an engagement ring.
Don O'Connell, CEO and President of Charles & Colvard, says his company launched its virtual ring consultation service at the onset of the pandemic in May. "This interactive experience gives us the opportunity to help with the ring selection process and educate our customers along the way. Since buying an engagement ring can be a complicated process, we want to remove any friction by offering exceptional interactive experiences."
In addition to virtual consultations, many retailers offer unlimited access to consultants through direct messages and phone lines. "In early March we quickly implemented additional online service offerings to assist our customers," notes Singleton. "Customers may now connect with a virtual jewelry consultant via chat, video, social media and by virtual appointment to help with all their jewelry needs, from advice on how to clean a gemstone to how to design a custom ring."
Shah adds, "Our customer support team are all certified gemologists, and can be always reached via email, chat, phone or on social media. They're trained to answer questions about pricing, budgets and diamond quality—or, they can help clients explore diamond styles to find the right fit."
Brands Use AI to Help Customers Shop at Home
Yes, artificial intelligence has made its way to the jewelry industry. Buying an engagement ring during COVID-19 is made easier thanks to advanced technology that allows shoppers to view engagement rings like never before. In fact, our study indicates that 18% of shoppers used a virtual engagement ring try-on tool while shopping online for the perfect design.
Traditional stores like Kay and Jared even launched a tool that allows customers to upload photos of rings that fit their style. "All of our major retailers have recently launched a new function that lets shoppers take a photo of a piece of jewelry they're shopping for to find something similar," says Singleton. "The Visual-AI-powered product discovery tools used for this feature are an emerging technology, and our brands are among its early adopters."
Retailers who haven't jumped on AI technology yet still offer high definition photography and videos to help shoppers see exactly what they're buying. "We have 360-degree photos and videos for each of our products," says O'Connell. "It's important for the customer to see how the jewelry looks on a real person, so we also take photos and videos of people wearing our jewelry to share on social channels, our website and with customers directly."
Customization Options are More Attainable
The pandemic has also altered the way couples budget wedding money. Since gatherings are significantly smaller, couples have the ability to spend more on things like décor, lighting and floral arrangements. Some couples are also willing to scale back on the wedding budget and invest more in their wedding jewelry. For some, this means splurging on a larger center stone, an elaborate setting, or multiple bands for a wedding stack. Others are opting for something more personal, like customizations. Our data found that 48% of shoppers purchased a brand new ring with customized elements. Of those, 53% customized a preexisting design, while 33% designed the ring on their own.
Engagement ring customization can include everything from interior engravings to personalized bespoke designs. In-store retailers like Kay, Jared and Zales have created online programs that allow shoppers to work with artisans to build their own ring or customize an existing design.
Because couples are increasingly willing to experiment with alternative engagement rings and trendy new styles, wedding jewelry is no longer one-style-fits-all. As a result, companies are pivoting to allow shoppers to create a style that matches their personality. "The experience of shopping for an engagement ring is just as important as the ring itself," says Shah. "Because of that, we offer as many options as possible to ensure our engagement rings suit all couples."