Although most of the dollar volume in on-line jewelry sales—and most of the media attention—is focused on diamonds, one of the fastest growing on-line jewelry retailers specializes exclusively in cultured pearls.
PearlParadise.com had revenues of $5 million in on-line sales last year. Those sales came not only from consumers buying pearls on the company's web site but also from wholesale sales to other on-line retailers. Still, the nine year old business has grown much more slowly than Blue Nile but faster than you might expect for a retailer who doesn't advertise.
Educational content on the site on different pearl varieties and how pearls are cultured helps to build trust. The sales pitch is focused on value: PearlParadise offers comparisons with "retail prices" that are drastically higher than its sales prices.
The company says that it can offer low prices because it buys loose pearls in bulk from pearl farmers and matches and strings them itself.
Although the site has plenty of basic strands of white and dyed black akoya and freshwater strands and basic jewelry, it does also offer strands of Tahitian pearls and even golden South Sea cultured pearls for $10,000 and up.
"Our best selling category by value is most certainly our Tahitian pearls," says Jeremy Shepherd, PearlParadise founder and CEO. "We have been working with a farming co-op for some time, and because we match, drill, and string our own pieces, our cost is extremely low."
The site also offers a 90-day money back guarantee and an appraisal with each purchase. Nearly all pieces come with a "second appraisal guarantee" that they will be valued for at least five times what the customer paid.
"We have had a couple of customers return pearls because of our second appraisal guarantee. But this has happened only very rarely," Shepherd says. "If the appraisals are too far off from fact and we feel that the appraiser has no business appraising pearls, we will offer the customer the choice of sending the pearls back to us or allowing us to pay for an additional appraisal from a lab. Overall we do not face many issues with our policy. Our return ratio is less than two percent of total sales."
To encourage repeat business, customers are invited twice a year (before Mother's Day and Christmas) to a special web page with items selling almost at cost. The special promotion last Christmas yielded $100,000 in sales.
PearlParadise also has promoted its products in Oscar nominee gift baskets. In 2004, the company gave strands of dyed black freshwater pearls. This year, instead, it gave gift certificates for baroque Tahitian strands and required the celebrities to redeem them at the company's showroom in Santa Monica.