We are all consumers. On a daily basis we make informed decisions on where we chose to shop, what we buy and how much we are going to spend. And all of us in the jewellery industry rely upon the consumer directly or indirectly for our livelihoods.
So my critical question is, why is the consumer largely ignored in the jewellery supply chain process? Who is communicating with them to explain the good work the industry is undertaking to improve transparency in the jewellery supply chain?
It is a fundamental business and marketing requirement that businesses survive and prosper on making what the customer wants to buy, not what they want to make. It is the consumer who decides.
If we set a new industry strategic direction to understand consumer needs and making the consumer more informed, such as happens with clothing, food, timber and electrical goods, then this will surely impact upon what is made, how it is made and how it is sold.
Are we not as an industry ashamed that in the majority of cases we are unable to explain product provenance to consumers? Can’t the industry realise that such knowledge would clearly add value to the sales proposition?
Surely, if the industry mantra of wishing to create greater consumer confidence in the purchase of jewellery is to be truly effective, then there needs to be industry wide co-ordination to improve the consumer narrative.
Let’s look at the rise of synthetic diamonds. I have no problem with these. Where I do have a problem, is with synthetics being passed off as naturals where the consumer will ultimately be duped. Let’s make sure the consumer knows what to look for, and to make an informed purchasing decision by being able to ask the right questions at the point of sale and to know what a correct response from the retailer should sound or look like.
Note that earlier I mentioned that the consumer is largely ignored — but there is a momentum and appetite for change. We have the rising importance of the millennials and the easier access to information through the internet and social media making consumers savvier when they buy jewellery. Which in turn has led to a change in business models where designers, manufacturers and retailers are becoming more in tune with ethical supply.
Let me quickly go back to the line “making consumers savvier when they buy jewellery”. Or should this be if they decide to buy jewellery. Jewellery is fast losing its appeal to competing spend such as travel, healthcare and electronics. A more transparent, honest industry would certainly help to reverse this trend. The UK jewellery market is forecasted to remain stagnant at around £5 billion ($7.1 billion) per annum. Who in the industry doesn’t want a bigger slice of this or making the market larger by being better at what they do?
Now, I often hear from jewellery retailers that the consumer doesn’t really care — and that to engage with the consumer on ethical supply issues is a waste of time and will only raise questions that don’t want to be or can’t be answered.
Well, the world is changing and if there wasn’t a consumer demand and higher expectations for more transparent sourcing, then businesses such as Fairtrade Gold, De-Beers Forever Mark and Canadian Diamonds, would be out of the supply chain as would the businesses of ethically responsible designers, manufacturers, emerging brands and retailers.
But at the moment, this is only a very small part of the current market and there is a huge space for an organisation with a dedicated leadership team to provide the link between the consumer and the supply chain.
Our collective aim should be to make responsible trading mainstream and not niche.
However, before the consumer is engaged with, we need to make sure that the industry is prepared with greater access to information, education and training. Standards, knowledge and protocols have to be improved and delivered by an independent entity to educate the industry not only to ask the right questions of their suppliers but most importantly to know what the right answers are.
I am still haunted by the 2011 Deidre Bounds Channel 4 Dispatches TV programme when she asked a retailer on camera did they know where their gold came from and was met with the answer that the gold they sold was okay as it conformed to the Kimberley Process.
Has anything improved since then?
Reference also needs to be made to the final report of the Jewelry Industry Summit held in New York on March 11-13. A collection of 150 US industry stalwarts (including DDI, RJC and Signet) with a fair sprinkling of sceptics who met to “collaborate on leading the industry into sustainable business practices and responsible sourcing throughout the entire supply chain.”
With one of the agreed outcomes described as:
“International recognition of the jewellery industry’s leadership role in evolving a sustainable supply chain and a thriving industry aligned with consumer interests”. And supported by the need to understand more on what the “consumer cares about, greater consumer communication, making sustainability the brand and to provide the relevant industry training and education.”
It is only making the consumer part of the solution that the jewellery industry will be driven to improve the way it does business - which ultimately will be the long term sustainable solution to greater honesty, integrity and transparency this industry so urgently needs.