High-end watchmakers still rely heavily on physical store sales, but the success of online platforms for pre-owned watches like WatchBox or Richemont’s Watchfinder has shown that it is possible to sell luxury watches over the Internet.
Last year, due to the pandemic, factory and store closures hit Swiss watch sales and forced brands to grow their often tiny online businesses and reimagine digital activities in general.
Guillaume de Seines, executive vice president of the Hermes luxury group, told Reuters that one of the reasons Hermes’ watch business surpassed the industry last year is because its customers are already used to shopping at hermes.com.
Known for its leather goods, silk scarves and perfumes, Hermes has gone into e-commerce much earlier than watchmakers, launching its US transaction site nearly 20 years ago.
De Seines said he expects a strong recovery in the group’s watch sales this year, with current trends broadly in line with a 28% increase in the last quarter of 2020.
Rene Weber, an analyst at Vontobel, estimates that only about 2% of value sales of Swiss watches are currently sold online, with this proportion varying by brand. According to other analysts, the share of online sales in sales is between 7% and 9%.
Some Swiss luxury watch brands like Patek Philippe and Rolex prefer to use traditional brick and mortar shops to sell their products, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
President Thierry Stern told Reuters that online selling is still not an option for Patek, and a test run with retailers during the first lockdown confirmed this strategy.
“People don’t want to buy Patek on the Internet, watches are expensive, you lose beauty, magic.”
The family-owned luxury watchmaker expects to recover from a 20 percent decline in sales in 2020 this year, but does not yet expect a return to 2019 sales figures. “It could take a year or two,” Stern said.
Justin Reis, executive director of the second-hand WatchBox platform, said customers have become much more engaged with brands during the pandemic as they become accustomed to actively seeking information online, through webinars or social media.
In response to this trend, Patek Philippe has invested in its digital capabilities by hiring staff and opening a studio to deliver high-quality virtual product presentations.
Small independent brand H. Moser & Cie also invested in digital technology ahead of Watches & Wonders and expressed satisfaction that these costs were lower than at conventional watch fairs.
LVMH’s Bulgari said e-commerce was up “sharply” at Wednesday’s presentation. “We have expanded our technology and made ourselves more accessible to customers,” said Antoine Ping, head of Bulgari watchmaking.
The official Watches & Wonders platform https://www.watchesandwonders.com/en, which describes itself as “the largest watchmaking event ever hosted on the Internet,” provides media and retailers with access to presentations from 38 participating brands.
“It would be nice if consumers could also participate through the Watches & Wonders platform,” Oris co-CEO Rolf Studer told Reuters that the brand has developed campaigns to engage with customers more closely on Instagram and launched the watch directly on its online -store. community via Zoom.
(Reporting by Silke Coltrowitz. Editing by Jane Merriman)