Blue Nile makes it a pleasure to buy high-quality diamond jewelry online


Robert W. Bly



            A confession: I am not the target prospect for, an online marketer of jewelry, because I don’t like or wear jewelry (my wife is not a jewelry “nut” either, and I have two sons and one nephew, and no daughters or nieces). I’m going to try hard to make sure that doesn’t color my review of their site.

            Let me admit to another prejudice before I start: I don’t like complicated, busy, crammed Web sites. And that’s one reason why I was so dazzled by it’s a model of effective simplicity for online marketing.

            1. Brand Preference – A. Clearly supports and builds brand preference, encourages return visits.

            When you click on, you are immediately served a pop-up window with an irresistible offer: in return for entering your e-mail address, sex, age, zip code, and marital status, you are entered into a sweepstakes to win a diamond with an appraised value of $5,000.

            There is a check box where you can opt in to receive offers and announcements by e-mail, but this is already checked off. So you’d have to uncheck it to get off their list.

            The home page is cleanly and clearly laid out; in fact, it’s almost a little too stark. One could argue a jewelry site should be more elegant in design. But I don’t: the jewelry shopper is well-served here.

            At the top is a banner with the Blue Nile logo and the tag line, “Education, Guidance, Diamonds, and Fine Jewelry.” It does an adequate job of positioning the site, but it doesn’t engage me in a powerful way.

            Copy under and to the right of the banner positions the site more effectively: “As the largest online retailer of certified diamonds and fine jewelry, we offer outstanding quality, selection, and value.” Interestingly, they make no mention of saving money or time by buying online vs. going to a local jeweler.

            From there, the home page has pictures of jewelry and product descriptions that are hyperlinked to pages showing and describing those products. Simple and basic, but sensible; I wouldn’t do it any other way.

            There are also three additional value-added links on the home page:

            * “How to Choose a Diamond Ring” is a useful, informative guide to purchasing a diamond ring.

            * “Build Your Own Diamond Ring” lets you customize and then order a ring online with the stone and setting you select.

            * “Diamonds” searches for diamonds based on cut, color, clarity, carat weight, and price.

            2. Strategic Intent or Purpose – A. Clearly indicates the action to be taken.

            The mission of the Web site – to help the consumer shop for and buy a diamond or other jewelry online – is crystal clear. The entire site is designed to make the transaction as easy and painless as possible.

            Most of the hyperlinks on the home page go to specific products, so you can see what stones and jewelry are available. These pages are augmented by a useful but not overwhelming choice of some helpful content and functionality – mainly tips on buying diamonds, product searches, and interactive jewelry design.

            3. Content Webification – B. Some use of Web-based communication technology.

            To me, the site uses Web-based technology judiciously and appropriately.

            Sure, you could think of features to add: links to other Web sites on diamonds; a bulletin board for jewelry buyers to share experiences; the ability to get questions answered via e-mail by a Blue Nile jeweler or gemologist.

            But it’s all unnecessary. The site is not an information resource; it is a place to conveniently buy diamonds and jewelry online. And it fulfills that mission brilliantly.

            4. Relationship building – B. Content personalization devices are present.

            The major personalization feature is “Build Your Own Diamond Ring,” which allows the consumer to mix and match stones and settings to personal preference, rather than buy a ring “off the shelf.” There’s not much other personalization, nor is it needed.

            One neat idea would be a tool where I could enter the names and dates of major events (birthday, anniversary) for friends and family. Then, when it is my assistant’s birthday, could send me an e-mail reminder with a gift suggestion.

            The Web site does allow you to enter your e-mail address to receive reminders of major holidays, but it is not customizable to your personal list of gift recipients.

            5. Community building – F. No community involvement devices.

             A site for people with a strong interest in diamonds as collectibles, investments, or gems would be a good candidate for a bulletin board or other community-building device.

            But is a pure shopping site. Yes, is also a shopping site, and it has the community-involvement device of allowing customers to post product reviews.

            Could do the same? Of course. Is the lack of such a product review feature sorely felt by the jewelry shopper visiting Blue Nile? It doesn’t seem so to me.

            6. Persistent navigation – A. Does an excellent job at letting users fulfill goals.

            It’s fun and easy to shop for jewelry on Blue Nile. You can easily find what you are looking for, the shopping cart works well, and there are always links that let you drill down for more product detail and consumer information, whether it’s a close-up photograph of a ring or a schematic diagram showing how a certain setting holds the stone in place.

            Navigation isn’t perfect: there are some valuable content pages you can’t easily find from the home page, and that are only brought to your attention once you’re on other pages within the site (e.g., a page explaining how to read independent diamond grading reports). I might expand the menu of choices on the home page to make more of these content pages easier to find when you first log onto the site.      

            7. User task depth – A. User was able to complete all four tasks.

            On a commerce site, the major tasks the user wants to complete include (a) shopping for and finding products, (b) learning more details about products, (c) completing a purchase, and (d) handling customer service-related activities such as reporting a problem with delivery or canceling or returning an order. The Blue Nile site gets an A+ for the first three tasks and an A for the fourth.

            8. Affordance – A. Links and buttons clearly do what they “afford.”

            All links, buttons, and menu choices are clearly labeled. When you click on them, you get exactly what you would expect.

            9. Labeling and language – A. Audience centric, has good representation of key words and phrases.

            The language throughout is well suited to the target audience: the consumer buying jewelry. Jargon and technical terms are avoided. Everything is simple, easy to follow, and crystal clear.

            10. Readability (content density) – A. Uncluttered, adequate white space, column width, type size, and face.

            The page layouts are nearly perfect. Adequate use of white space creates a clean, uncluttered look and makes the images – photos of jewelry – stand out. You never feel overwhelmed by the text or graphics, and so are inclined to spend more time browsing and shopping – a very pleasant experience.

            11. Organization (marketing quadrants) – A. Marketing quadrants are appropriately exploited, navigation OK.

            The home page is divided into classical marketing quadrants. There is a horizontal series of standard buttons hyperlinked to major menu choices (e.g., jewelry, watches and accessories) along the top of the home page under the banner. That’s the first quadrant.

            The second quadrant is the series of menu items in the left column, which are headings (e.g., diamonds, earrings) that are underlined to indicate a hyperlink. There is some redundancy between these two quadrants.

            The third quadrant is the main home page space, which has photos and lists of items (products, consumer information, tools), again underlined to indicate a hyperlink.

            The fourth quadrant is a horizontal series of items at the bottom of the home page, mainly to do with customer service (returns, financing).

            12. Content freshness – F. The update schedule is infrequent or unclear.

            It’s not clear how often the selection of products on the Web site is updated, which items on the site are new, or where to find new items.

            13. Load time – B. Under 25 seconds on 56K for text—low graphic load.

            When tested using the Web Page Analyzer at, the Web site took 17.51 seconds to download at 56K. That means it’s a pretty fast downloading site, not burdened by overuse of graphics.           

            14. Aesthetics – A. Supports the purpose of the site, is consistent with user mental model.

            The design fully complements the function and mission of the site: showcase and sell high-quality diamond and other jewelry online.

            Conclusion – overall grade: B+.

            Using the Mequoda Scorecard, I rated Blue Nile an A in every category where it was important to get an A; it only received lower ratings in categories that I felt were not critical or applicable to the site or its objectives. Therefore, I give it an overall grade of B+ (and was tempted to just make it an A), despite the F grades it received in community and content freshness. The only major addition I would suggest is a page giving the visitor reasons why buying your diamond ring online at is preferable to just visiting your local jeweler.


            About the author:

            Robert W. Bly, a freelance copywriter specializing in direct marketing, is the author of 60 books including The Online Copywriter’s Handbook (McGraw-Hill). His e-mail address is and his Web site is