The luxury watch industry is one that is reliant on tradition and heritage. The best timepieces, after all, are designed to last. A well-crafted model can be passed down from one generation to another.
So, what happens when watchmakers are forced to change? It is not business as usual in a Covid-19 world. The global lockdown in the past months had pretty much crippled the market.
While brands have somehow managed to pivot and change the way they launch their new timepieces, e-commerce remains a sticky subject. Efforts are ongoing, but will this be enough?
IWC Schaffhausen for example, launched a virtual boutique. It is modelled after the one in Ion Orchard, Singapore. Visitors can browse various collections and chat with a retail advisor live, but no, they can’t technically purchase online.
Tapping on navigational arrows or timepiece showcases opens up more information. When facing a display module, digital pinpoints appear, allowing for one to browse product technical specifications and pricing.
Piaget unveiled a similar platform. Designed as a space for living and for sharing special moments, the virtual salon takes guests on a visual architectural journey through exquisitely designed spaces.
Those interested to learn more about the timepieces on display can arrange to speak to a professional representative by making a private virtual appointment. Again, this does not allow a customer to make a purchase online.
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While Patek Philippe temporarily allowed some of its retailers to sell online at the height of the pandemic in March, it stopped the practice a month later, after the manufacture resumed operations in Geneva.
E-commerce is not a simple thing for luxury watchmakers. For most timepiece enthusiasts (read: singularly avid collectors), it is the look and feel of a particular design on their wrist that really matters.
Also, we’re talking about timepieces with prices that can go up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of the more hefty price tags can amount to millions. This certainly complicates things in terms of delivery.
It is also not a purchase you would make at whim. Compared to say, clicking “buy now” on a dress from your favourite fast-fashion label, deciding on your next big-ticket watch is something you would want to mull over first.
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This is not always the case though. Omega has successfully run “flash sales” in the past, unveiling online-only limited edition designs. The first, in January 2017, saw 2,012 pieces sell out within hours.
Other watchmakers have done the same, collaborating with watch fan sites to really help create buzz and drive the demand. The key is exclusivity – even if the timepieces come with super premium prices.