It swallows consumers by the thousands, storing them in its belly while it traverses the seas in search of places for its captives to spend money as rapidly and efficiently as possible. Teams of well-trained pre-sales cheerleaders prime the consumers for the feeding frenzy while gently steering them to the sellers willing to pay for targeted customer delivery. After processing the customers through several shopping feedlots they are disgorged back to their original capture point happier, fatter, and over-burdened with new purchases.
Welcome to the world of cruiseships in the Caribbean; floating palatial resorts designed to make the passengers feel wealthy and spoiled. For the last twenty years I worked as a consultant to the Caribbean jewellers serving the multi-billion dollar cruiseship market. I recently took a cruise and had a chance to see it from the passenger’s point of view. It was an eye-opening experience.
From the moment you book your cruise there are two things that are stressed in their communications more than anything else: We are here to guide and protect, you are here to enjoy and consume. Onboard there is constant entertainment, never-ending food, and free-flowing alcohol to trigger the self-indulgent gene that hides in all of us. Every slightest wish is fulfilled instantly by the helpful and friendly crew. And underneath all of the luxurious splendour, the gluttonous consumption of food, fun and frolic is a constant message delivered both blatantly and subliminally: “You must buy jewellery!”
Ads for jewellery stores at each scheduled port grace almost all onboard media. There are port lectures extolling all the wondrous delights that await at each stop including selected fine jewellers. Professional “Shopping Experts” give workshops on how to buy a diamond; briefly touching on the 4C’s while promoting the hand-picked, trusted stores where you will save at least 70% over back home prices. The Shopping Expert will even meet you onshore and hold your hand through the entire purchase process…just to be sure you get the best deal. On-board contests often have a jewellery item as a prize.
Tapping into people’s emotions it triggers their greed and instils a small amount of fear. That fear drives the customers to the trusted businesses where the cruise line guarantees the purchase through a US based service centre. Buying at any other store carries the risk that you might get ripped off in a foreign country with no recourse.
There is a fee for a jewellery store to be on the list, along with product donations for prizes, a gift of a nice watch or pendant for the shopping experts to wear, and last but certainly not least…a commission on each sale made to a passenger on that ship. This is for each ship visit. In some ports there may be six or seven ships per day.
And the whole scheme works remarkably well. Customers are primed and pumped. Featured stores and products experience a feeding frenzy of buying that you must see to believe. The cash registers keep ringing. Individual stores may sell more in a day than many hometown jewellers do in a month…or several months.
Next week: The retail side of the machine, the view from behind the counter.