The Disparity of Online Vs Retail In-Store Prices

online versus physical store prices

Diamond prices of online stores vs physical retail shops.

The Internet has drastically changed the nature of businesses in the 21st century. In the digital age, a business is no longer limited to its physical location or confined to the usual retail opening hours. And for consumers, e-commerce has benefited us with the ability to compare products, pricing and other features instantaneously.

But when it comes to buying a diamond ring, is it better to buy online or in store? Where should you shop to get better value for your money?

In this write up, we take a look at the various pros and cons of buying diamonds online vs retail stores. You will also find out why there’s a big difference in diamond prices and how you can take advantage of this to save money.

Buying Diamonds Online vs Retail – The Good & Bad

The underlying value of a diamond is determined by a complex mechanism of market demand and physical attributes of the diamond. I’ve written extensively about the factors that affect the price of a diamond in this article.

Beyond the intrinsic value of a diamond, the prices of diamonds sold by retailers are subjected to a mark up in order for the seller to make a profit. In general, you can expect an online retailer to have significantly lower markups compared to traditional brick and mortar stores.

Here’s why:

Reason #1: Online sellers do not have to shell out money for expensive property rental, staff salaries and interior decorations which make up the bulk of operating costs for running a physical jewelry store. When the business owner incurs these costs, who do you think will ultimately be paying for the rent on high street and flashy interior designs?

This is the reason why diamonds sold in physical stores typically cost 40%-50% more compared to an online retailer. I don’t know what you think about this. But from my personal point of view, 40-50% less on a five-figures purchase equates to some serious savings.

What’s even more shocking is that the diamond rings sold by big jewelry chains and branded boutiques can easily cost twice as much! If you are interested to find out more, you can read my personal shopping experience or my reviews of Tiffany/Cartier see more in-depth comparisons.

Case in point, I bought this stunning princess cut engagement ring online for $2,000. If you were to buy an equivalent ring in store or via a mall jeweler, it would easily cost you twice as much.

 

 

Reason #2: Diamonds aren’t cheap and the costs of holding an inventory of diamonds will quickly add up to a huge sum of money. Every single diamond that is physically brought in store involves hefty shipping, stocking and insurance costs.

That’s why you often see a limited amount of selections in brick and mortar shops as they simply cannot afford to carry and own the type of volume offered by online stores. In contrast, online vendors operate their business in a lean and efficient manner which requires less inventory expenses. This lower cost gets factored into your jewelry pricing when it is purchased online.

Reason #3: If you are buying from another state or province, you might not have to pay taxes and that could result in huge price differences as well as additional savings. For example, the state of New York charges a sales tax for the purchase or receiving of goods in New York.

However, if you get a friend or relative living outside New York to make a purchase on your behalf, the goods that are shipped out of state will not be subjected to sales tax. Obviously, this would not be possible if you were buying your engagement ring in a New York based physical store instead of buying online.

Reason #4: Of course, everything is not as rosy as it seems with Internet purchases. There is always the question of whether buying diamonds from Internet sources is safe since you can’t physically touch or see the product.

With reliable vendors like James Allen or White Flash, these risks are completely negated because of the detailed information they provide in their listings and their risk-free return policies. The only downside here is that you incur some wasted time, hassle and shipping fees if you decide to exchange or refund your purchase. For US based consumers, James Allen even mitigates this as they offer free return shipping.

So, when you weigh all of these factors to buying physically in store where you get no 100% money back refund policies or lower quality diamonds, it is actually safer to buy online because of their transparent business practices!

Whiteflash and James Allen are 2 of the best online vendors that offer a great selection of GIA/AGS certified diamonds. Their transparent business practices like offering tangible video listings and scope images makes it easy for you to see and fully understand what you are buying.

Case Study: Buying Online vs Retail – Which is Cheaper?

Here, I am going to perform a real life comparison of engagement ring prices between buying jewelry online vs. in store.

Helzberg runs one of the largest jewelry chain stores in the USA and is a brand that most people should be familiar with. I’ve selected a 1ct solitaire diamond ring in 14k white gold.

If you look at the product details, you will realize that this is an uncertified diamond with H-I color and an I1 clarity rating. Bear in mind that the true quality of this diamond would be much lower if it were sent to GIA for a grading report.

The cost of the ring is about $5,500. You should also bear in mind that the picture of the engagement ring used is a stock photo and in real life, an I1 diamond will never look as pristine and flawless.

dubious listing physical store diamond ring with uncertified diamond

To perform the comparison, I’ve picked out a GIA certified 1 carat diamond with I color and I1 clarity from James Allen. I had also selected a similar solitaire setting to complete the ring.

1 carat gia certified i1 diamond price comparison online vs in store

14k white gold solitaire diamond ring setting design

The total cost of the ring when you buy online at James Allen is $3,590 ($3,050 + $540). This is 35% less than what it would cost if you bought the ring at a Helzberg jewelry store. And mind you, the differences are actually much greater as this is a GIA certified diamond that is reliably graded.

Does the Saying “You’ll Get What You Paid For” Hold True?

Just as there are unethical jewelers plying their scams online (e.g. on eBay), there is no lack of scumbags who rip off consumers in a physical retail setting. In general, if a deal is too good to be true, it usually is. Unlike perishable grocery goods, truly high quality diamonds don’t go on sale and if the price of a diamond jewelry piece is too low, there’s usually an underlying reason why.

So, how do you compare prices and size up a purchase correctly when buying diamonds? Well, all you need to do is to make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Factors like the 4Cs and the reliability of the grading certificate are all important things to take note of.

Logically speaking, when you compare an online pricing to another online pricing of an identical product, you shouldn’t expect to see enormous differences. But what about comparing the online prices to prices in a physical store?

Why is there such a big discrepancy for the same diamond which could sometimes amount to an insane 100% markup? Now, cheaper online prices don’t necessarily mean lower product quality. Likewise, more expensive prices in retail stores usually don’t translate into better quality.

channel set with 6 sidestones

How do you know exactly what you are buying?

One common tactic employed by “brick and mortar” stores is that they are seldom upfront with the prices of their goods. This is purposely done to squeeze every possible bit of profit out of a consumer. During my experiences of posing as a dumb undercover shopper in local stores, I met many salespeople who attempted to prey on my “ignorance” and fed me a pile of smooth talking garbage.

As a follow up to their crafty sales pitches and to look really convincing, many merchants actually offer a “one-time” discount on the diamond’s pricing while complaining what a great deal I was about to get. Yeah, right. The truth is, they were offering discounts on a price tag that was way too high to begin with.

This is akin to listing an orange at $10 and making you believe you’ve gotten yourself a great deal if I gave you a 50% discount. Even after the 50% discount is applied, the price is still stupidly high. In reality, this is what happens regularly in jewelry stores and I just can’t help feeling sorry for consumers who actually fall prey to such tactics.

How to Shop for an Engagement Ring to Your Advantage

If you want a safer shopping experience, better product choices, higher quality and better value for your money, you need to buy your diamond ring online and ditch the idea of buying physically in a store.

Don’t get me wrong, physical jewelry stores still have their place in today’s world of online shopping. There will always be people who are skeptical about making purchases over the Internet and won’t mind paying an excessive mark up for a piece of jewelry in a physical store.

Here’s my take.

Online retailers offer benefits of higher quality selections and risk-free sales policies that physical retailers can never match. The money back guarantees mean that you can always return the engagement ring for a full refund if you don’t like what you see.

If you are someone who needs to visualize how things look like in person, a good strategy is to head to a brick and mortar store first and look at the varieties of diamonds that are available. Check out how diamonds with different shapes, cuts, colors, clarity, carat sizes and ring settings look like in real life.

Once you have a good idea of what you want, go make your purchase online and enjoy the significantly lower prices and better product quality. Below, you can check out some of my recent diamond ring purchases I personally made online.

1ct diamond halo ring size on wife hands

Cushion cut halo diamond engagement ring I bought.

hearts and arrows Vatche pave diamond engagement ring holding hands

Designer Vatche pave diamond engagement ring.


I’ve even made a video to show you how the online diamond engagement ring I bought looks like. Watch the video below where I examine the ring under different types of lighting environments.

 

 

We see that the choice of which path to take, online or physical stores, is entirely up to you. You should do a cost-benefit analysis of both methods and pick which suits you best. If you are someone who is willing to pay 40-50% more for a lower quality product because you are fixated on shopping physically in-store and seeing things in person, feel free to do that.

If you are a sensible and practical person like yours truly, buying a diamond ring from a reputable online retailer would yield a higher quality product and peace of mind due to consumer orientated sales policies. The lower price is just a by-product of shopping online and is a cherry on the cake.

Whichever method you choose, my best advice is – do it once, and do it well. Make sure you do your research and select your diamond properly instead of making any decisions impulsively. If you infuse the entire process with confidence and positive energy, I’m sure you will find the right fit…and the perfect price.

To get more bang and better mileage for your money, I recommend shopping at Whiteflash and James Allen. These 2 vendors have some of the largest diamond selections and offer features like videos/gemological inspections/after-sales policies to help you make better purchases.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Johannes-
    November 1, 2017 at 4:58 am

    I am currently (within the next few months) looking to buy a diamond for a ring online instead of in store. I am only interested in the ring as I have already found a jeweler I would like to use for the setting. I am more fussed about perfection than size as this is intended for a more ‘underplayed’ scandinavian style ring.

    The one I am currently looking at is https://black.briangavindiamonds.com/diamond-details/bkags-104084407032

    I would like to ask for your opinion on this in relation to:

    1) Does the specs look good on this one?

    2) From looking around there seems to be very few as ‘perfect’ as this? Is it worth the price / what else would you recommend (around the same price point)?

    4) What time is normally best for buying – i.e. is there such a thing as black friday / cyber monday sales on diamonds?

    I hope you will take the time to give your thoughts.

  2. Avatar
    Paul Gian-
    November 2, 2017 at 4:55 am

    This diamond you picked is as good as a round can possibly be cut to. It is extremely rare for Brian Gavin to produce D/IF diamonds; let alone find one that has this degree of cut caliber.

    When it comes to super ideal cut diamonds, they are already very rare. At such a large carat size and a D/iF, it makes them even harder to find. Whether or not it is worth it really lies in your own preference. If you need the symbolic reason to get a D/IF, this IS THE DIAMOND YOU NEED TO PUT ON HOLD NOW.

    Personally, I don’t care much about D/IF diamonds as I am a practical shopper. A well cut F-G/VS2 will face up IDENTICAL to a D/IF. It’s all in the mind and again, I need to reemphasize, up to your personal preference. If you don’t mind paying the higher prices for the D/IF specifications, then go for it.

    This is about the best time to buy a diamond. Some jewelers run a Cyber Monday promotion but for people like Brian Gavin, they typically don’t have discounts on diamonds. The thing is, high quality stuff never goes on sale or discounts. They don’t need promotions to sell. What you might get would be a discount off the setting (most probably).

    If I were to buy a diamond, this would be the one I would buy: https://black.briangavindiamonds.com/diamond-details/bkags-104089113007

  3. Avatar
    Evan-
    May 4, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Hey Paul,

    First of all – Thank you for all of your work and for offering this service to others; You really are doing a great thing here.

    I want to start off by first describing the particular buying situation that I am in; I am in the market for an engagement ring for my significant other – We will be traveling to Italy in a little over a month and I was hoping to have the ring for the occasion.

    My significant other has a retail jeweler in the family (cousins) that they are fairly close to; However, the jeweler’s store is located in California (not where we live) and I have never personally met them. My SO has talked about these cousins a lot and wants to plan a trip to visit them in California soon; So naturally, I figured it would add some sentimental value to the engagement ring if I went through her family. I have been working with her cousin (the jeweler) over the phone/texts/ and emails the last few days and he has been sending me pictures, recommendations, and GIA reports to compare. So, yes, I have read your articles in full, but I an unfortunately in a situation where I am buying a bit blind here; Albeit, I am buying from future family. My budget, that I shared with the jeweler, for the complete ring (stone + platinum band) was around $15K. When I started the process of looking, I wasn’t sure what I wanted in terms of carat size/cut/etc. I was very very uneducated about the whole process. I was really hoping I would get some good recommendations and options to compare from her cousin, the jeweler.

    Here is where it gets interesting:

    The first stone he shares with me, he really pushes on me hard. He tells me that he sorted through several dozen stones and that this one, to him, is the best deal he can offer me and is a great stone for the price. It ends up being a stone graded by EGL USA (LA Lab) – I have done my research and read about all of the discrepancies in grading standards. Even adjusting for “EGL discount” – The price he is offering me on the stone is still definitely fair (When compared to the retail value of GIA-graded stone of ~2.5-3 grades lesser). He has visually inspected these stones and says he is only sharing eye-clean stones that meet his, personal best standards.

    After asking a few times, I was able to get him to share a few more diamond options that are GIA graded. But he is still highly recommending the EGL USA diamond.

    I guess my main questions are: Do you see any major red flags with the EGL USA stone? (Obv. not ideal that I can’t share high-res photos or tangible test results)

    Any comments around the proportions of these stones?

    Would you recommend looking further into the EGL USA stone, or stay away for sure?

    Would you take a second look at any of the GIA stones below?

  4. Avatar
    Paul Gian-
    May 5, 2018 at 2:48 am

    Now, as for EGL graded diamonds, I’m afraid I have to tell you anyone who peddles in these goods is out to rip consumers off and it says a lot about their integrity. These diamonds are often priced to take advantage of uneducated consumers.

    https://beyond4cs.com/grading/difference-between-gia-ags-egl-igi/

    I’ve also looked at the grading reports and reviewed the diamonds in the attachment you sent. I can tell you with certainty that NONE of these diamonds are well cut diamonds. In fact, they are all mediocre stones.

    It’s best to avoid buying from friends or “family” as it reduces friction in the future. In your case, either they completely don’t know what they are doing and have zero knowledge about cut quality OR they do know what they are doing and knowingly recommend these diamonds because you are “family”. I can tell you either of these situations are both bad scenarios.

  5. Avatar
    Dave Brown-
    August 17, 2018 at 11:46 pm

    Hope you are well and thanks for your website. It is very informative.

    I have just purchased a diamond ring to propose in the next few weeks. My girlfriend did not want me to spend an extraordinary amount of money on a ring at this stage of our life. Therefore I set myself a budget of NZD$2000 and looked at chain jewellery retailers as other high street jewellers were obviously more pricey due to their higher quality diamonds. During my shopping I did notice that these retailers stocked many diamonds that were uncertified and they mentioned ranges for colour and clarity. These were usually I1-I2 and KLM, I did notice that some retailers did stock some “certified” diamonds. In the end I ended buying this “certified” diamond:

    https://www.michaelhill.co.nz/certified-solitaire-engagement-ring-with-a-0.45-carat-diamond-in-14ct-yellow-white-gold-12356546.html

    It has finally arrived and I have attached the “certification” provided which was done by GSI (I feel that they are probably biased towards giving the retailer good gradings). I ended up paying NZD$1480 for this. I have not done a good visual inspection of the stone. I do have 30 days to return the stone for a full refund. From the information you have what is your opinion about my stone and the price I have paid. I do understand that this is still a lower quality diamond in a 14ct ring but I felt compared to their uncertified diamonds that this was a safer purchase.

    Look forward to your response. I also loved your eBook, great stuff, keep up the good work.

  6. Avatar
    Paul Gian-
    August 18, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    Well, I can tell you that you overpaid for inferior quality. GSI is an unreliable lab and the garbage tier quality of the uncertified diamond raises red flag. If it were already so terrible that the jeweler doesn’t want to get it sent to GIA for a reliable grading, it’s going to be significantly worse than I2 clarity and lower than M color. It’s probably not worth half of the $1500 price tag the ring has.

    https://beyond4cs.com/engagement-ring/beware-of-cheap-diamond-deals/

    When you try to cheapen out on an engagement ring purchase, you will end up with an egg on your face. There’s a reason why I always emphasize on the need for proper GIA certification when buying diamonds.

  7. Avatar
    Shawn-
    June 10, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    First and foremost, thanks for your website. It has been extremely valuable in learning about diamonds and how to best shop for them in order to choose the perfect one.

    Since I read a couple times on your website to feel free to reach out for opinions I will take that opportunity.

    First, I am shopping at my local jewelry store (not big box store). They are a hearts on fire authorized retailer. When I walked in they described what hearts on fire was all about and their company but they weren’t pushy towards their diamonds only. I told them what I was looking for and my budget and I told them to order 4 stones and I would come back and view them independently in person (not knowing which were hearts on fire and which were regular). I viewed them by my naked eye in dark light, natural light, and in the store light. I also viewed the diamonds under the ideal scope. After looking at the 4 diamonds I chose my favorite based upon all the above factors. The diamond I chose ended up being a hearts on fire diamond. I was weary of that at first because I read a lot of how the hearts on fire brand can artificially inflate prices but without knowing it was HOF, I picked it anyway. I am no expert but it performed the best to my natural eye as well as under the ideal scope. The jeweler said the hearts on fire diamond I chose was a recent trade in from someone who upgraded their diamond. They said that is why I they were able to give me such a good deal on it. They also said that normal HOF diamonds from the company are price protected and there is no leeway for reducing price. What are your thoughts on this?

    Additionally, see attached AGS report for the diamond. I am curious of your opinion if this is a good buy. I am also curious to know what you think is a good price estimate. I have compared it to white flash and blue nile diamonds with similar characteristics and it seems in line with their prices.

  8. Avatar
    Paul Gian-
    June 12, 2019 at 4:45 am

    Hearts on Fire diamonds are generally well cut and consistent. The only issue that I could see is that the report is super super old. The conditions of the diamond (clarity) may have changed during this period of time. That is something I always look out for if I ever consider buying from the second hand market.

    And if it is in line with the prices offered by White Flash, then you probably overpaid for the diamond given the type of circumstances you acquired the stone.

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