Bulgari Interview with Jean-Christophe Babin
Bulgari’s CEO looks back on a hugely successful year and discusses the rise of e-commerce and the brand’s forthcoming watch launches.
Can you give us a review of the past year for Bulgari?
It was probably one of the most extraordinary years ever for the brand. Not only in terms of results but also regarding the brand’s future. We opened a brand-new workshop for jewellery which is the largest in Europe, we expanded our high jewellery facilities in Rome, we have opened two additional luxury boutiques hotels – one in Dubai and one in Beijing – so we now have five and we will add a sixth this year in Shanghai.
We opened several new flagship stores, including one extraordinary on Fifth Avenue in New York, we have started rolling out e-commerce beyond the USA and Japan to the UK and China on Wechat and we will continue this in 2018 to cover most of our major markets.
Bulgari Hotel in Beijing © Bulgari
In the watch segment there has been extraordinary interest in the Octo, which won two categories at the GPHG but also numerous other watch awards. This is a source of pride for us and is a great motivation. The year 2017 also confirmed the appeal of Serpenti and Lvcea for ladies so I’m very happy with the year because it shows that our three key pillars, Octo, Serpenti and Lvcea – which are very young designs by the standards of the Swiss watch industry – are very successful, and this is quite rare nowadays.
You mentioned e-commerce. Will customers find the entire Bulgari collection available for purchase online?
We have developed a full omni-channel concept, which means that before even thinking about e-commerce we organised customer service at our huge logistics centre in Ireland, where we already have ten people dedicated solely to customer service. So not only can you buy online and have the goods shipped to your home or click and collect, you also have support seven days a week. This started in the US and Japan upstream of e-commerce and now we are rolling it out to other countries. We will also open new customer service centres in Singapore and the Middle East to complement our existing presence. So it’s not just about e-commerce but a full customer experience, meaning, for example, that if you send us a message on Instagram you get a timely response, or that you can get help in the middle of the purchase process. We want to build a 24/7 relationship with our customers.
Are there any type of luxury products that work better on e-commerce in your experience?
What is amazing with e-commerce is that we never seem to think big enough. Brands often see it as a complement to their existing retail channels but looking at the data you soon realise that it works independently and that it’s not just for low-value items. We have seen customers spending upwards of 20,000 Swiss francs online, for example.
How do you see e-commerce developing?
Nobody can say what the situation will be like in ten years’ time, but if e-commerce starts to account for increasing market share I think it’s better to be leading than following! I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if it accounted for 50 per cent of our business in 10-15 years.
Octo Finissimo Automatic, winner of the Men's Watch Prize at the GPHG 2017 © Bulgari
The theme of last year’s international watch marketing days was big data and data intelligence. Given your significant move into e-commerce, what are your plans to leverage the data this provides?
Because Bulgari is predominantly a direct retailer with its own stores, we already have a solid CRM system in place and are quite advanced in how we deal with data. We developed algorithms a few years ago that already predict demand based on certain key performance indicators. It’s quite sophisticated and we have a very good success rate. We will of course build on this with our e-commerce.
The most recent export statics published by the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry confirm the upward trend that we have seen this year. Is Bulgari still above the average?
If I look at the year to date figures then yes, we are. First of all, it is good that demand is coming back, because it shows that there is an appetite for Swiss watches, which is good news. Secondly, the success of the Octo, Serpenti and Lvcea models has come at just the right time, which has allowed us to capitalise on this upswing.
Lvcea Moonphase © Bulgari
What does Bulgari have in store for us in 2018?
First of all we will have a focus on Serpenti as far as our jewellery lines are concerned to complement all the work we did in 2017. This will be presented as early as this month. Then we move on to Lvcea, which will see two new highly creative collections this year to build on the success of the original, following the same recipe as the Octo collection, which now comes in several varieties. In gent’s watches we will be looking to take the record for the world’s thinnest automatic watch back from Piaget and you can also expect some new materials in the Octo collection. And also a masterpiece on Diva which you probably don’t expect !
What are your thoughts on Baselworld 2018? Do you see any repercussions from the major changes at the show?
I think as far as costs are concerned, there is little difference between the SIHH in Geneva and Baselworld. It is more a question of the role of these two shows, which in my opinion has shifted from serving retailers to serving the media. I think it is good for the industry to have these two important dates to focus on twice a year and that there is a buzz around watches, which are not always top of mind because for most people they are only an occasional purchase. Then it is up to the brands to use their creativity to stand out at these shows so that we have a healthy competition, just as they have to do in a store window.
Serpenti © Bulgari
Bulgari has its own clear definition of excellence, which involves the perfect balance between design, added-value, quality of its products and its worldwide service. In the case of Bulgari watches, it all started with the Bulgari Bulgari watch that led to the creation of Bulgari Time in Switzerland in 1982.Find out more >
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