Online watch sales The challenges of buying new watches online
Watch brands are gradually embracing e-commerce. Time for us to see what’s what in the world of online watch retailing.
Online watch retailing was one of the main topics of discussion at Baselworld this year, thanks to increasing requests from customers who want to know where they can buy new watches online (see the example of Raymond Weil’s Bowie watch). Luxury watch brands are therefore looking into ways of selling their watches online without disrupting the traditional retail model on which their business is based (the watch brand sells to a retailer at a discount; the retailer covers the costs of their retail outlet and staff, pocketing what’s left over from the recommended retail price as their profit).
The latest approaches range from the discreet to the direct. The best example of the former is Armin Strom’s new watch configurator, which allows a customer to choose the individual components of their watch, much like you can now configure a new car before you order it. The price is clearly indicated and the brand offers customers the choice of collecting the watch from the factory, with a guided tour thrown in to show just how much of the watch’s production happens in-house.
Baselworld saw the arrival of the most direct approach possible when Eterna and Corum CEO Davide Traxler announced that these two brands had partnered with “the world’s biggest retailer” to sell both brands in selected markets (Italy, Spain and the UK for Corum and Germany, Italy and Spain for Eterna). At the press conference announcing this new partnership with Amazon, it was stressed that only the Admiral’s Cup would be offered in a first phase. The challenge here for both brands will be to differentiate their offering from existing Amazon outlets that purport to be the "Corum store" and the "Eterna store", which already offer the brands' collections.
Somewhere in between the two approaches is Mr Porter, an online fashion retailer, which currently stocks watches from Bremont, IWC, Junghans, Oris, Ressence and Zenith and recently added Bell & Ross. The platform will also have the exclusive rights to sell the new Montblanc smart watch for the first two weeks after its launch. Swiss retailer Gübelin has also just launched its own e-commerce platform, complete with a concierge service. You’ll be pleased to know that if you order a 300,000 Swiss franc Roger Dubuis double tourbillon you get free delivery in Switzerland.
A few minutes of surfing, coupled with the WorldTempus experience on the web and our recent foray into online retailing ourselves with the WorldTempus shop reveals the various benefits and pitfalls of these different approaches. Corum and Eterna may well soon have their own stores on the world's biggest marketplace and potentially benefit from its SEO, but they are also heaped in with millions of other products competing for attention. At the moment, when you click on the (incorrect) Eterna logo at the top of any page featuring an Eterna watch, hoping to see the brand’s full range of timepieces, you are instead presented with a page offering “Best selling lighting from Eterna” and “Best selling DIY & Tools from Eterna”.
Integrating fine watches on Mr Porter also comes with its own problems. As a fashion outlet, Mr Porter thinks in terms of “designers” rather than brands. So some, but by no means all, of the Bell & Ross watches bear the label “New Designer”. The watch aficionado browsing the site might, like me, justifiably wonder why some of the Bell & Ross models have a “new designer”. But perhaps Mr Porter isn’t interested in the watch aficionado at the moment, because he (you won’t find any ladies’ watches here – the clue is in the name) probably expects a selection of more than just seven brands, given the hundreds of Swiss Made brands available on the market.
A one-stop online shop for new watches still seems a long way off, therefore, which is why Armin Strom’s approach seems the most intelligent of the current bunch. Assuming that you are either already familiar with the brand, or that you have discovered them through a renowned watch website, the Armin Strom configurator keeps you captive in the brand environment and offers you an unparalleled level of personalisation (including engraving your initials on the watch). But more importantly for the brand, the configurator provides useful feedback on what combinations work well. As Claude Greisler, co-CEO, explains, “We have less risk when introducing new components because we can try them out on the configurator beforehand. It will also provide valuable data on customer preferences. For example, it’s thanks to data from car configurators that car manufacturers introduced different options packages (“Swiss Pack”, “Business Pack”, “Winter Pack” etc.) because they know what their customers in different countries want.”
It is a similar story for Czapek & Cie, another niche brand that pioneered the use of crowdfunding to relaunch this prestigious name in fine watchmaking. The Geneva-based brand is using the Internet to offer a modern interpretation of the watch subscription that Abraham-Louis Breguet used to sell his watches. Subscriptions started last weekend for the brand’s new Place Vendôme tourbillon models, of which only 25 are available. For a 20% deposit you can secure your preferred number for the first deliveries from October.
Selling watches online is one thing, acquiring and maintaining ownership of the valuable data that this can provide is another. This is why I welcome the initiative by the industry talking shop, the International Watch Marketing Day, to tackle the subject of “Digital Intelligence” at its annual conference on 7th December this year.
UPDATE: After feedback from Corum regarding its presence on Amazon, this article has been modified to clarify that the current offering of products for Corum and Eterna in the “Corum store” and “Eterna store” is not the official store of the two brands on Amazon.
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