Cruises are booming. Last year, 26.7 million people booked a holiday aboard a luxury liner, making for a 20.5% increase on the previous year. And jewelry brands are using this flourishing form of vacationing to take advantage of captive audiences to sell tax-free jewels on the high seas. These buoyant figures come from the Cruise Liners International Association (CLIA), which profiles today’s average cruise passenger as 47 years old and on a week-long trip. Exclusive research conducted by analyst m1nd-set on behalf of Duty Free News International’s (DFNI) Crest of a Wave Cruise & Ferry Retail Conference, which was held in Rome this June, places watches and jewellery as one of the top retail categories, accounting for 23% of total sales made on cruise ships globally last year. This mobile form of tax-free travel retail is so popular that it is even outstripping airport shopping, according to m1nd-set Peter owner Mohn. «Shopping has become part of the whole cruise journey,» he told delegates at the DFNI conference. «People are expecting to shop onboard, they want to shop onboard and, of course, they have more time available.» Just like airport stores, the level of brands available on cruise liners is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Depending on the prestige of the liner and the route, the jewellery offer below deck can vary from affordable gifts up to jewels worth hundreds of thousands of Euros.
According to Paolo Novembri of Northray Group, a wholesale jewellery supplier to cruise retailers, top-selling brands include Italian goldsmith DonnaOro and its men’s offshoot UomOro, and Czech jewellery Style Avenue, while Japanese pearl brand Misaki’s Sway collection won Best New Jewellery Product at the DFNI Awards 2017. At the top end of the market, brands including Bulgari, Dior, Chopard, Mikimoto, Cartier and Piaget sit in plush multi-brand boutiques or even have monobrand shops that mimic the luxury of their dry-land stores. Luxury jeweller Kat Florence is new to cruise ship retail but now sells on 40 liners, and in April the brand sold a $250,000 gold necklace set with diamonds and a rare Zultanite gemstone. The brand’s eponymous designer says that the Caribbean has proved to be the most lucrative route in terms of sales, followed by Alaska, and that the average sales transaction is $29,000. «I was surprised, as I’d never been on a cruise, so I went and everyone buys jewellery – it’s nuts,» says Florence. «They know so much about gemstones as they are stuck on a boat and get lectures. It’s an untapped territory I hadn’t even considered.» According to the m1nd-set research, 64% of people on cruise ships have little to no idea of what they want to buy before they board, so creating engaging and educational experiences to grab their attention is key. Starboard Cruise Services, a cruise ship retail provider owned by LVMH, is keenly aware of the need to whip up a little retail magic. One of its latest retail experiences is High Tea with Tiffany at Sea, aboard the World Dream cruise liner in Asia, which invites cruisers to enjoy finger sandwiches, cakes and tea in the onboard Tiffany & Co boutique while they browse the latest collections. «The cruise industry in recent years has upped its game in creating ships that rival the imagination and it’s vital that our retail experience does the same,» says Starboard president and chief executive Beth Neumann, who expects her company to operate 360,000sq ft of retail space by 2020, selling 750 brands on 90 ships. «Shopping must be every bit as entertaining and engaging as the rest of the onboard activities.»