An engagement ring is one of the most significant investments you'll ever make, and amid a global pandemic, it's questionable as to whether or not such a purchase is feasible. Diamonds are known for retaining their value, but the uncertainly surrounding finances, in particular, can weigh heavily on many couples. But here's the good news: according to jewelry retailers, engagement ring sales are up since COVID-19 hit. However, the process of shopping for an engagement ring has changed. Still, the primary takeaway is that more than ever, customers are keen on commitment and on an expedited timeline in many cases.
"COVID-19 has brought many couples closer together," Olivia Landau, the founder and CEO of The Clear Cut, tells Brides. "If there's something positive that we can take away from the pandemic, it's spending time with those close to us and cherishing our loved ones. Every time a Clear Cut couple gets engaged, I feel so hopeful that we can get through this tough time!"
Toni Zehrer, the vice president of Signet and chief merchandising officer for Kay Jewelers, Zales, and Jared, says through these trying times, she sees customers taking their relationship to the next level based on research conducted by the jewelry retailers, as well as on-the-spot, in-store proposals. "We're seeing couples come in to buy or pick up engagement rings and literally get down on one knee right inside our stores or at the curbside location! In some cases, our jewelry consultants, who are also ordained ministers, have married customers right there on the spot."
Zehrer says the pandemic is accelerating relationships and acting as a catalyst for engagements, with at least 55 percent of soon-to-be-engaged couples quarantining with their partners. "Some report that their relationship has been strengthened and that it's better than before the pandemic," she explains. "We're seeing that optimism about the future is higher among men and young people — the core audience for engagement ring purchases."
Ahead, keep reading to discover the five key changes surrounding engagement ring shopping during the pandemic.
Engagement Ring Sales Have Spiked
Landau and Zehrer both report a spike in engagement ring sales during COVID-19, as did Kate Rogowski, the vice president of marketing at Forevermark. "The average sales volume for Forevermark authorized retailers were up 20 to 30 percent despite the pandemic and economic uncertainty. Particular trends have included more classic styles that will stand the test of time, think classic solitaires, and pavé bands set in platinum."
Zehrer says bridal-related sales, including engagement rings, have outpaced the companies' overall sales average, 13 percent to 10.9 percent. "We think this momentum will continue through the holiday season, which is typically the biggest season for engagements," she adds.
Couples Are Buying Wedding Bands Quicker
Most often, couples will first purchase an engagement ring and then wedding bands down the line. But according to Madeline Fraser, the founder and CEO of Gemist, customers are shopping for both off the bat. "Since COVID-19, it seems clients are wanting to do a one-stop-shop, getting their engagement ring and wedding bands," she explains.
Landau echos this sentiment. "We have seen couples having mini-weddings with their immediate families and saving a bigger celebration for later. Because of that, we have seen many couples buying wedding bands soon after getting an engagement ring."
Couples Are Spending More on Engagement Rings
A common thread across the board for couples is a bigger spend on engagement rings. According to the experts at Forevermark, Signet, and The Clear Cut, travel restrictions are a significant cause of this change, whether for a destination wedding, honeymoon, or other vacation. Couples are also dealing with cancelations and postponements or opting for a smaller, more intimate wedding, resulting in more money to spend on a ring. "We are seeing an uptick in diamond engagement ring purchases across a range of price points and carat weights," Rogowski explains. "This signals that many are opting to spend more on their engagement ring, but also that those couples who may have not previously planned to purchase a ring are now doing so."
As customers shift dollars that they used to spend on pre-COVID experiences like vacations, concerts, and entertainment, Zehrer says she sees customers selecting a larger carat size in some cases. She also attributes a more significant spend to "quarantine fatigue." "We're seeing some people look to splurge a bit or simply want a powerful symbol of love that can withstand the test of time." While carat size is one way she sees this bigger investment happen, customizations are another route, including inscriptions, to express deep emotion to their loved ones.
Don O'Connell, the CEO and president of Charles & Colvard, has also seen a shift toward greater total carat weights through side-stone rings. "People want that extra sparkle along the band," he says.
A Shift to Online Shopping
Another universal COVID-19 change for jewelry retailers has been the once-in-a-lifetime migration to online sales and a need for virtual services. Brands like The Clear Cut and Gemist, who already predominantly sold online, were prepared and accustomed to both formats. "We were already selling 70 percent of our custom diamond engagement rings remotely," Landau explains. "Now, the need for remote engagement ring creation has accelerated! That's why we have invested in rolling out a platform to support the future of purchasing high-end jewelry virtually."
"Being an online-based company, you can say we were already ahead of the game," Fraser says of Gemist's direct-to-consumer business model, which also offers a one-on-one customization service called "On the Hunt."
VRAI is another direct-to-consumer brand that's benefited from the shift toward online shopping. "The pandemic has opened up the way that people shop for engagement rings," Mona Akhavi, the company's CEO, says. "Consumers who might have been hesitant to make such an important purchase online are realizing that they can get exceptional service through virtual appointments and feel confident about their choices." Akhavi points out the expedited timeline that VRAI's online services all allow for, too. "Customers can select their diamond of choice, pick between platinum, white, yellow, or rose gold, select the orientation of the diamond, design their band, add an engraving and receive it in less than two weeks. It is truly a personalized experience, and we have seen a notable increase in engagements!"
A personalized experience is also key to KATKIM designer Katherine Kim's business. "With the pandemic, I think a lot of couples are more open to the idea of creating their special piece virtually," Kim tells us about the shift to online. "They seem to appreciate the intimate one-on-one experience and that they are still able to be involved in the process from start to finish in the comfort of their own home."
A Live Chat service has been vital for Forevermark, where customers can speak to an expert. "To adapt to the social distancing measures of COVID, Forevermark retailers are offering virtual appointments, virtual events, and curbside pick-up for those shopping online and more," Rogowski says.
Zehrer notes a similar shift in strategy, including implementing virtual appointments with jewelry consultants to a one-on-one "Live Advice" functionality. "When we had to close our stores in March, we dramatically accelerated our eCommerce options for all our brands, and customers continue to embrace shopping for fine jewelry with these new options," she says. "We continue to innovate every day, leading into the holiday season." Additionally, Zales, Kay, and Jared have implemented virtual customization tools to create a one-of-a-kind ring and a "Visual Search" function that allows customers to upload a picture, be it their own or from Pinterest, and search for similar options. "[It] is easy to use and can be found by looking for the small camera icon on our sites," Zehrer adds.
Socially-Distanced In-Store Shopping
Although the online shift is booming for fine jewelry retailers, in-store shopping remains a critical part of the business for brands like Forevermark, Zales, Kay, and Jared. "Since a purchase such as [an engagement ring] is so personal, many have still opted to shop in-person," Rogowski explains. Since re-opening physical stores, the marketing executive notes Forevermark's COVID-19 safety protocol, including limiting the number of people in stores at one time and booking appointments to have a more intimate in-store experience.
Zehrer says Zales, Kay, and Jared are putting safety first. "We're taking every step possible to help our customers connect with us in ways that help them shop safely, regardless of where, when, and how they want to shop." In August, Signet launched a robust Love Takes Care health and safety program created with leading medical and safety experts to heighten protection in all stores, complete with new jewelry try-on protocols that involve cleaning jewelry before and after try-ons.
"We're taking a very comprehensive approach to in-store safety," Zehrer says. "This includes required social distancing throughout stores, mandatory face masks for both employees and customers, having supplies of disposable face masks on hand for customers who may not have one, and requiring frequent cleaning protocols – especially for high-touch areas." Additionally, Signet brands launched curbside pick-ups in April, and to date, have done more than 78,000. "For added security, customers receive a unique password that they must repeat when arriving curbside to pick up their item and are required to show their ID."
Zales, Kay, and Jared customers can also buy online and send their order to a local store for pick-up. "We're seeing customers react favorably to this option, too," Zehrer says. "We expect this to be so popular this season that we've created an entirely new role called the 'Concierge.'" This new role will help customers waiting in line and those who've placed an online order. "We know these customers will expect an expedited process, so we're ready for them!"
With small businesses feeling the biggest impact from the pandemic, many couples have turned to indie designers for this big purchase. "Consumers are in general encouraging purchases from smaller independent businesses where they can get to know the designer behind a brand," says designer Angie Marei whose brand has seen a major shift to online shopping and inquiries in the last year. She adds that clients have been really turning to unique designs and custom commissions during this time—wanting their engagement ring to stand out. "We’ve already had private commissions for bespoke adaptations of [our most popular] designs featuring alternative gemstones such as shield-cut diamonds, sapphires, tourmaline, and other colored precious stones," says Marei.