Blue Nile is doing jolly well in shipping sparkle to Great Britain

Consider this a study on how to catch a bloke without even trying:

In fall 2004, Blue Nile put up a U.K. site so basic it sold just loose diamonds. A year later, the Seattle company beefed up its offering in time for the holidays.

While the online jeweler added build-your-own engagement rings and a limited assortment of jewelry, it continued to sell in U.S. dollars with a customer call center that operated during the Pacific time zone.

As if that wasn't enough to give a groom cold feet, Blue Nile offered a 15-day return policy — half the time its U.S. customers receive.

Oh, and it spent zero dollars (or pounds sterling, for that matter) marketing the site.

Despite all this, began to attract Blue Nile's core customer — young, professional men making their first large jewelry purchase.

In 2005, the U.K. site brought in $1 million; sales tripled the following year to $3.3 million.

What gives?

The Americas account for half of the world's diamond market versus Europe's 13 percent share, according to the International Diamond Exchange. Smaller markets mean higher prices, less selection and lower quality for consumers.

Blue Nile has seen enough interest to give the British consumer its full commitment.

The company recently added its first non-U.S. facility in Dublin, Ireland. On Saturday, it debuts a new site and broader selection, sold in British pounds.

The Dublin site will offer faster shipping times to the U.K. and Ireland (for now), a longer return window and customer service in the same time zone.

"We're pretty excited to see what will happen," Chief Executive Mark Vadon said.

They have reason to be. With $251.6 million in sales last year, Blue Nile owns roughly half of the U.S. online engagement-ring market.

The average price paid for one of its sparklers is $5,600, twice the national average.

Blue Nile said it's reaping its strongest growth in the $50,000-and-up category.

Take Valentine's Day, for instance, when it rung up four transactions worth more than $100,000 a pop.

Its largest transaction to date — a $323,000 emerald-cut ring sold to a Florida gentleman last fall.

If the same holds true overseas, we have one word for its competitors there: Crikey.

— Monica Soto Ouchi


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Retail Report appears Fridays. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or Monica Soto Ouchi covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-515-5632 or

A worker at Seattle's Blue Nile trims the prongs on a 1.85-carat diamond ring, shaping them so they are all uniform. The ring will be delivered with a $20,266 price tag. (STEVE RINGMAN / THE SEATTLE TIMES)