NEW YORK — It's wedding season. And the Internet can be a busy jewelry buyer's best friend, if you know what to look for.
Experts estimate that engagement and wedding rings from online jewelers can be more than 20 percent less expensive. That's because you're not paying the extra overhead costs of traditional retailers. And online retailers, such as Blue Nile Inc. and James Allen, usually have more styles to choose from than their brick-and-mortar rivals.
More people are picking out their baubles online. The online jewelry and watch industry has grown to $9.8 billion, increasing an average of 2.9 percent a year for the past five years, according to IBISWorld, an industry research firm.
Rachel Hofstetter did most of her wedding planning and buying online, so she didn't think twice about buying her wedding band online too. The 28-year-old New Yorker bought a $210 14-karat rose-gold wedding ring for herself on BlueNile.com after doing an Internet search.
“It's faster and easier,” said Hofstetter, who founded Guesterly, which publishes glossy magazines for wedding guests.
Tom Brodeforth knew he would ultimately buy his fiancee's engagement ring online too, even though they browsed jewelry stores first. “I knew I could get a better deal online,” said Brodeforth, a 41-year old bank vice president.
Brodeforth, who lives in Old Bridge, N.J., bought a $25,000 2-carat diamond engagement ring set in platinum. He thinks he got a good deal. He had the ring appraised in New York the week he received it and was told it was worth more than $30,000. “I was blown away,” Brodeforth said. He plans to buy wedding bands for himself and his future wife from James Allen for their September wedding.
If you plan to buy a wedding band or engagement ring online, here's what you need to know.
• CHECK THE RETURN POLICY
Before choosing an online store, read the store's return policy thoroughly. A diamond is tricky to judge online, and you might not be happy with the ring. The retailer should offer free shipping and a full refund, and allow you to send the ring back within at least 30 days.
Most returns or exchanges are easy. Before settling on the $25,000 ring for his fiancee, Brodeforth bought a $19,000 ring from James Allen that he wasn't happy with. The ring didn't have that sparkle he was looking for. “I wasn't in love with it,” Brodeforth said. He sent it back and, with the help of a customer service representative, upgraded the ring with a new diamond.
To limit returns, try buying from a website that features high definition photos. This will better enable you to clearly see any imperfections in the stone, said Ira Weissman, the founder of diamond shopping guide TruthAboutDiamonds.com. JamesAllen.com has high definition video for the diamonds it sells and Ritani.com offers the same for some of its stones.