February 19, 2014, 1:17 PM

Top 500 online jeweler Signet will buy rival Zale

Combined web sales for the two retail chains topped $229 million in 2012, according to Top500Guide.com. Learn how the two retailers stack up against their rivals in attracting shoppers to their e-commerce sites.

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Cue all the clichéd engagement and marriage jokes: Signet Jewelers Ltd.  the third-largest online jewelry retailer in North America, says it will buy competitor Zale Corp., the sixth-largest. Signet says it expects to pay about $900 million for Zale.

Signet, No. 167 in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide, owns the Kay Jewelers and the Jared The Galleria of Jewelry brands in the United States, and the H. Samuel and Ernest Jones brands in the United Kingdom—including the Kay.com and Jared.com e-commerce sites and about 1,400 stores in total, 500 of them in the United Kingdom. Zale, No. 203, operates online shopping sites Zales.com and GordonsJewelers.com, plus about 1,700 stores. Together, the two chains had combined annual sales of $6.2 billion, Zale says today.

"This transformational acquisition further diversifies our businesses and extends our international footprint, opening the door to greater growth and innovation across the enterprise," says Mike Barnes, Signet's CEO. "The addition of Zale to the Signet family is consistent with our long-term growth strategy and leverages our combined operating expertise to create better choices for our customers, new opportunities for our employees, and makes us a more attractive partner to our vendors.”

According to the latest data from Top500Guide.com, Signet’s web sales in 2012 reached $129.8 million, up about 40.6% from $92.3 million the year before. Zale’s web sales stood at $100 million, a 9.9% increase from $91.0 million the year before. Combined, Signet and Zale web sales totaled $229.8 million, which would have been good enough for No. 109 ranking in the Top 500, ahead of Tiffany & Co.—which is the second-highest ranked merchant, as measured by web revenue, in the online jewelry category of the Top 500. Blue Nile Inc. (No. 74 overall) ranks first in that category, with $400 million in web sales in 2012.  (2013 numbers will be updated on Top500Guide.com in late April.)

The combined Zale and Signet will operate in a relatively slow-growing product category. From 2011 to 2012, the 14 online jewelry retailers ranked in the Top 500 Guide posted collective U.S. web sales growth of 11.66%, to approximately $1.486 billion.

That growth number trails the Top 500 collective 16.67% sales growth, as well as the 15.9% growth in total U.S. e-commerce sales, as reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The only product categories in the Top 500 Guide that posted lower growth than jewelry in 2012 were: computers and electronics, flowers and gifts, office supplies and sporting goods.

Though Zale and Signet do not lead in online sales, they dominate Top 500 rivals in attracting monthly unique visitors. According to Top500Guide.com, that number stands at 3 million for Signet and 2.8 million for Zale—way ahead of the third-place company, Tiffany, at nearly 730,000. Part of that may be that Tiffany appeals to a more affluent customer—its average web ticket is an Internet Retailer-estimated $350, compared with the $200 each for Zale and Signet—and attracts less of a mass audience. Jewelry Television (No. 185 in the Top 500) is next up, with nearly 700,000 monthly unique visitors. Blue Nile had about 646,000.

Signet didn’t give details about how it would operate the e-commerce operations of the combined company. Zale sells on an eBay Enterprise-hosted platform while Signet built its e-commerce platform in-house, according to Top500Guide.com.

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