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E-commerce - Why it hasn’t (yet) taken off

E-commerce Why it hasn’t (yet) taken off

E-shops, marketplaces, online auction sites - almost everything, whether new or second-hand, can be bought or sold online. Everything, that is, except for new watches, which seem to be lagging behind the curve where it comes to e-commerce. Let’s find out why.

 “Around 5%.” The answer sticks to reality, like chewing gum on the sole of your shoe. That’s the average percentage of online sales for watch brands. This average covers the entry level, under CHF 200, where online sales are booming, the mid-range (from CHF 3000 to CHF 5000), which is struggling to gain a foothold, and the five-figure premium segment where e-commerce remains terra incognita.

“To buy online, you have to be prepared to buy an image,” says Laurent Picciotto, founder and CEO of Chronopassion, who doesn’t beat about the bush. “That requires a degree of maturity. Or enough wealth that, if your item arrives and you don’t like it, it doesn’t bother you.” Chronopassion has no official e-commerce presence, although it does sell watches over Instagram and WhatsApp. It’s a fine line.

Why it hasn’t (yet) taken off

Laurent Picciotto © Stéphane de Bourgies

And yet, the horological paradox remains. You’ll pay for your next trip online. You’ll reserve your Tesla on the internet. And there’s no doubt that, come Valentine’s Day, some purchasers will have no hesitation in clicking “Buy” on an expensive piece of jewellery from the comfort of their armchair. So, why not a watch? “It’s a product that carries a particular emotion,” explains Frédéric Bondoux, President of Grand Seiko Europe. “Also, most Swiss watch brands still have relatively rigid retail habits. Online sales assume a degree of virality, a concept that could not be further removed from the discretion and control they generally exercise.”

« Grand Seiko est une marque à part »

Frédéric Bondoux © Grand Seiko

Proximity and trust

But David Sadigh, founder of the Digital Luxury Group, believes that’s not the only reason. “The most obvious factor is the high density of luxury retailers, largely watch retailers, in major cities. There’s no reason to buy online if you walk past a shop every day that has the watch you want.”

David Gouten, who has worked for many different brands and in many different price brackets (Manufacture Royale, DeLaneau, Harry Winston, Perrelet) believes that, in addition to proximity, “the trust factor is essential. And alongside that, credibility. Many clients are simply afraid of being cheated.”

Why it hasn’t (yet) taken off

David Gouten © Manufacture Royale

Is that why second-hand retailers are combining online shops with bricks-and-mortar? “Yes, that’s exactly it,” agrees Manuel Senecal, an expert for Chronext. “Authenticity is where the problem really lies. We address that by making it easy to buy online, and then you come and look at your watch and collect it from a shop. The two sides go hand-in-hand. Also, once trust has been established with an initial physical meeting, some clients are happy to go 100% online.” David Sadigh confirms that this role is essential, not only for the sale of second-hand watches, but also for new timepieces. “Second-hand sites can actually unlock online purchase behaviours,” he says. In other words, people who are used to buying their second-hand watches online will find it easier to do the same thing with new watches.

A connected generation

But if we dig a little deeper, it becomes clear that generation plays a big role. The idea that people are more likely to buy cheaper watches online than more expensive models is a red herring. It’s a generational issue. Accessible brands like Tissot or Hamilton sell better online than a Panerai Submersible GoldTech OroCarbo (€29,900) because they don’t have the same client base. The former are happy to buy online because they’ve always bought online. The latter probably earns more, is older, knows what it’s like to buy from a shop, and has no desire to abandon that experience completely. But this generation of mature collectors won’t be around forever. And when they’re gone, perhaps e-commerce in the watch market will finally be able to take off.

Why it hasn’t (yet) taken off

Submersible Goldtech™ © Panerai


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