Signet Jewelers losing customers over sexual harassment claims
Women this season are turning away from Signet Jewelers' three retail banners — Jared, Kay and Zales — in light of sexual harassment and discrimination issues at the company, according to a brand assessment study from YouGov BrandIndex. Women's perception of the brand and their "purchase consideration" levels are both down, according to YouGov BrandIndex's measurement of potential sales revenue.
That has been a boon to rival Pandora Jewelry, which moved ahead of Signet's brands in those two metrics this holiday season, according to the report, which was emailed to Retail Dive. Some 8% of women would consider buying jewelry at Pandora, compared to 7% at Zales and Kay, and 5% at Jared, according to YouGov's assessment.
Signet in March added a "respect in the workforce" committee to its board, replaced its CEO (Mark Light, who is at the center of the controversy) and hired an independent consultant to review its workplace culture after hundreds of former Sterling Jewelers employees alleged the company fostered a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination. Signet in the past has dismissed the claims as "distorted and inaccurate" and declined to comment to Retail Dive about YouGov's report.
Signet for years has been buffeted by charges of sexual harassment and discrimination, well before the cataclysmic culture change ushered in this fall by revelations of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's predatory behavior and the #MeToo movement that has followed. A lawsuit against Signet that began with 15 women in 2008 has grown into a 69,000 class-action suit.
Todd Stitzer, chairman of Signet's board of directors, said on an earnings call in March that the allegations describe a "parallel universe," according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha. But even then Wall Street wasn't so sure: Signet's stock dropped to a 52-week low following the report. Light, one of the executives named in the filings for allegedly promoting female employees if they responded positively to sexual advances, stepped down as CEO in July (citing his health) and Virginia Drosos, who had served as an independent director on the company's board since 2012, took his place. On the company's conference call with analysts last month, executives made no mention of the controversy, and analysts didn't ask, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha.
YouGov's research suggests that the company may not be able to leave it at that, however. Pandora Jewelry is the 22nd largest specialty jeweler in North America, and Signet is the largest. "Pandora's achievement is even more impressive considering they have the lowest Ad Awareness by women of all four brands," according to YouGov's report. "Since Ad Awareness levels began their annual holiday ascent in early November, second place Kay Jewelers overtook Jared, to go from 8% of women saying they saw one of their ads the past two weeks to currently 17%."
The controversy, in a climate that's turned particularly negative regarding this issue, is brewing at a time when Signet as a whole is facing significant challenges to keep up with changing consumer demand and adopt a digital-focused, omnichannel approach. Signet's three chains are mall-based retailers feeling slowdown in foot traffic.
For the study, YouGov BrandIndex conducted approximately 20,400 interviews with women 18 and over. YouGov BrandIndex measured perception of the jewelry brands using its "Buzz score," which asks respondents: "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?"
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