3 Things to Watch for as Retail Evolves

Join the Fool for a conversation with Harvey Kanter, who took over as CEO of online jewelry retailer Blue Nile in March 2012. Harvey came to Blue Nile from Moosejaw Mountaineering and other retailers including Backcountry Travel, Michael's, and Eddie Bauer. Based in Seattle, Blue Nile specializes in engagement rings, and prides itself on educating first-time buyers about diamond quality.

Harvey shares three forces he sees influencing retail -- not just the jewelry industry -- in coming years, and how Blue Nile is responding to these trends through its focus on technology.

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Austin Smith: Obviously a disruptive model. That's where the biggest growth investors are going to find, is in a disruptive model like this. Where do you see the jewelry space in five years, given where you guys are going?

Harvey Kanter: What's real exciting is there's really three critical elements, I would say, that are evolving in retail, not only in the jewelry space.

One is the consumer's preponderance to want to shop where they want to shop, when they want to shop. The Internet provides access to that, and mobile is the next forefront, if you will, for providing that consumer's ability to do it where they want. That's a really big deal. Conversely to brick-and-mortar stores, if you think about it, we're not constrained by that.

Second is really international. For us, international is a huge opportunity. Just one data point: China, the country marketplace, is about twice the size in our core engagement business in the U.S. We already have two offices in China. We're really trying to extend our relationship there. We have a good brand awareness overall, but that opportunity is really meaningful.

Then the third one is just the overall marriage rate and the desire for jewelry, which will never go away. Since the economy has started to rebound, more people are getting married once again, and over the next three to four years, that horizon looks pretty rich. We expect to continue to grow market share and tap into that growth trajectory, which is really meaningful.

Austin: Three pretty big changes that are definitely going to be affecting you over the next few years. You mentioned your stores in China. What other things is Blue Nile doing to address or run at those serious changes that you talked about?

Kanter: The first one is our orientation around technology. We launched a really unique way to shop online. We were the first jewelry retailer to have an app.

We have an M.dot site today. We're actually evolving that site to be more responsive and bringing channel-agnostic interaction to the consumer over the next six months, which, in layman's terms, means no matter what device you come to interact with us on, you will have the same experience.

We will offer all the feature benefits of our PC on a tablet, an iPad mini, on an Android phone or an iPhone, or whatever. That is one of the critical elements. To leverage that even greater, we're actually bringing new technology and new advancements to how you interact.

For instance, a band matcher is something we'll launch in the next couple of weeks. It's the ability to envision what the band would look like on the ring by actually showing it.

We'll show that in-store experience, and we'll show you multiple number of bands that match an engagement setting, and allow the consumer to not just envision it in their imagination but see it real time. That's somewhat disruptive. No one does that today at the level that we'll bring it to the marketplace.

Relative to technology, we're really continuing to push ourselves to interact with the consumer in the way they want to interact, and to be offering... kind of dimensionalize an experience in spite of the fact that it might be on an iPad.


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