The pandemic is still stealing the shine from the jewelry business, with less dating leading to fewer wedding proposals -- all contributing to ongoing sales declines at Signet Jewelers, the world’s largest retailer of diamond jewelry. Its Zales brand hopes that a rebranding and “Love Real” campaign that replaces idealized romance with happy realism will turn things around. Kecia Caffie, president of Zales, tells Retail Insider how the new work reflects ongoing changes in the business of love.
Retail Insider: What made you decide to rebrand?
Kecia Caffie: I became president of Zales in February, and as most leaders do in a new position, I wanted to ground myself in the banner's history. The last time we had done deep consumer research was before the pandemic. We wanted to see how our customer is feeling and what was resonating.
[The result?] They are looking for some genuine connectivity. They wanted to see more of their lives in commercials. Their lives aren't romanticized in their heads. So the genesis of “Love Real” and a second campaign, called “When you know you know,” that supports the Vera Wang Collection, came from that. Proposals usually aren’t perfect, and we lean into that.
Retail Insider: Got an example?
Caffie: I’m a research unit of one, but I often tell the story of how my husband screwed up our engagement. He sent a text to me meant for his brother, saying that tomorrow was the big day. So, I quickly deleted the text and pretended like nothing happened. But that happens more often than not -- the moment is different from the perfect event we might have imagined. People recognize those moments in their own lives.
Retail Insider: We all know the headlines. At first, the pandemic resulted in canceled and delayed weddings. Then, because people had been dating so much less, there were fewer proposals, so fewer rings sold. Were there any findings in your research that were more surprising?
Caffie: Not in terms of timing. There's a three-year trajectory from dating to getting married, and the pandemic slowed a lot of relationships down. But generational differences popped up. Many Gen Z and younger millennials may get engaged and never get married. Yet they are choosing to memorialize more things in their lives. They decide to treat themselves, so we see a higher level of self-purchasing. They are using jewelry to celebrate or commemorate a moment.
Retail Insider: What mood are you hoping “Love Real” creates?
Caffie: We want the customer to feel that authentic moment, to recognize their lives. We worked with GSD&M, our agency, to make sure it didn’t feel overly perfect but recognizable and comfortable.
Retail Insider: Besides the decline in wedding jewelry, are there other shifts?
Caffie: There’s a styling shift within wedding jewelry, focusing more on solitaires. Pre-pandemic, blingier styles were more popular. And in non-bridal products, yellow gold continues to be hot.
People are using jewelry to express themselves. There used to be when there were always those five pieces every woman had to have in her jewelry box. Rules aren’t that clear-cut these days. People choose the pieces they think are critical to them. So we want to have the right product so that customers can cultivate their look.
Retail Insider: What’s the current interest in lab-grown diamonds -- and does it stem from sustainability concerns?
Caffie: As a corporation, ESG and responsible sourcing are important to us. And with our Lab-Created Collection, you can almost put a line through our age groups and understand who's more likely to buy them. Well-educated younger customers, 35 and under, lean toward them and understand the concept well. Some of the appeal is sustainability. Some of it is cost per carat. You can get an amazing diamond and a larger carat weight than you can with a mined diamond. Our older customer set is not as sensitive to sustainability.
Retail Insider: Besides reigniting sales, how else are you tracking the success of this effort?
Caffie: Our brand awareness is high. We’re one of the top jewelry retailers in the country. This effort is also trying to increase engagement. Frankly, as we get ready to turn 100 next year, I’m interested in making sure that we continue to be relevant for Gen Z and Gen Alpha. That’s where the ultimate win is. And I want us to be known for that everyday jewelry purchase, not just special occasions.
Customers are not necessarily as tethered to traditions as they were previously. We’ve got to be agile and lean into all of those moments that people can use jewelry to celebrate.