Lots of couples get engaged over the holidays. Today, the average cost of an engagement ring runs about $5,900. That’s a chunk of change!
Add the fact that many people have never bought fine jewelry before, mix in the pressure to purchase a ring that’s Pinterest-perfect in the intended’s eyes, and it’s no wonder buyers are nervous.
Online jeweler Blue Nile is focused on allaying those fears. On its extensive website, consumers can shop for high-quality diamonds, engagement rings, and fine jewelry and even design pieces themselves, as well as peruse a library of information on jewels, metals, and baubles. They can also view a spreadsheet of more than 150,000 diamonds and sort them by shape, price, carat weight, cut quality, color, delivery date, and clarity.
But behind the scenes, the Blue Nile finance team was also using spreadsheets for its financial planning and analysis, a process that involved lots of files, left plenty of room for data-entry errors, and couldn’t keep up with the fast-moving world of e-commerce.
The finance teams of B2C brands such as Blue Nile need to be able to help their companies anticipate—or at the very least adjust to—emerging trends, fiscal realities, and market opportunities.
For example, one of the big trends in engagement rings, according to The Knot 2019 Jewelry and Engagement Study, is personalization: 45% of these rings now include custom-designed elements, which plays to one of Blue Nile’s strengths. Another trend: 1 in 10 soon-to-be-weds are opting for stones other than diamonds.
While Blue Nile gives ring shoppers seemingly endless options to consider, having the insight and flexibility to adapt to ever-changing inventory needs, design trends, and even marketing approaches is crucial.
In June 2018, Blue Nile began implementing Oracle Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) Cloud to make that planning and budgeting process more efficient. Nine weeks later and just in time for the company’s annual budget cycle, the new application went live.
“Today, we can spend more of our time doing analysis rather than digging through a bunch of spreadsheets and tracing formulas in Excel to find the root answer to a question,” says Stacie Robbins, Blue Nile senior director of financial planning and analysis. “Now that information is at our fingertips.”
Not only does the new EPM system enable her team to provide deeper and more accurate insight, it’s also made the budgeting process much simpler.
“Our planning spreadsheets had lots of links and lots of files, with one file relying on another—which made them too large to send around,” Robbins says. “We didn’t want to send these out to our business partners who help us develop a budget and the forecast and say, ‘Please fill out these 100 cells in this 20-megabyte spreadsheet.’ It just wasn't user-friendly.”
Now, she says, users across Blue Nile’s entire organization can enter their budget numbers directly into the tool. No more emailing around huge spreadsheets or submitting numbers for the finance team to key in.
Members of Robbins’ financial planning and analysis team can go into the application to create custom account hierarchies for automated management reporting. They can use the system’s Smart View capabilities, which provide a familiar Microsoft Office interface, to do ad hoc reporting and data queries.
“We can zoom in or out, look at different combinations of accounts and departments, and get to specific views of our data very quickly,” she says. “For example, if we see that building rent costs are up 10% year over year, we can easily go into the Excel Smart View interface, create an ad hoc query, and drill in to see which specific departments are driving that increase.”
As for Blue Nile’s front end, customers are given a range of options for zooming in on their perfect ring.
In addition to visiting the Blue Nile website (where I couldn’t resist designing a ring with the biggest diamond in stock—a 16-carat sparkler that runs more than $2.8 million), buyers who want a human touch can call the company’s customer support staff to get advice, a bit of hand-holding, and help to stay within their budgets.
Some customers are so grateful that they send their support person pictures of the engagement—and, occasionally, wedding invitations.
But engaging customers starts much earlier for Blue Nile, which is honing its email marketing program to be more relevant and timely for each customer.
“Buying an engagement ring is a non-linear process,” says Andre Woolery, Blue Nile senior director of brand marketing. “We realized that we had to get to a certain level of personalization to help customers through.”