Embracing the digital revolution is a dominating topic in the world of retail, and it is one that has been tricky for watches.
While real watch fans are quite often the type to embrace new technology, the paranoia of watch houses about brand perception has made it a minefield with many limiting, or even banning, sales online.
When a distributor takes on a new watch brand the first port of call is usually to trawl the internet and pluck it from any suspect-looking websites – particularly those that are discount led – so that when the brand is presented to potential new retailers all the hard work and razzle dazzle isn’t ruined by a post-meeting Google.
But the demand for online watch retail is there, and confidence is growing; it is no longer just cheap and cheerful watches that are winning web sales.
In the November issue of WatchPro magazine we talk to two very different organisations that have both capitalised on the internet boom.
The first is WatchWarehouse, a watch e-tail site that started out in 2007 as an eBay shop and is now making an interesting move as it plans to open a chain of high street stores to support its growth.
The second is Fellows auction house in Birmingham, which has flourished in recent years as it has embraced the advance of digital spending and now takes 80% of its bids from online.
Both organisations have a clear vision of how the online arms of their businesses should proceed, with plans in place to support growth, but each is also still investing in dealing with real people; WatchWarehouse has opened it’s first store in London and in Birmingham Fellows continues to hold its adrenelin-pumping live auctions despite the dwindling importance of bids from within the room.
As the watch industry learns to love the internet and the retailers operating in that space become more slick – look at the recently launched Watches of Switzerland website for a fantastic example of a great watch retail site – consumer confidence is up and we often hear from retailers that shoppers are happy to buy luxury watches online from sites that offer expert advice at the click of a mouse.
It is possible to be a traditional, respected watch vendor and compete online; something that Wolverhampton’s T. A. Henn is just finding out, as part way through a two-phase £100,000 store revamp it is now turning its attentions to building a “cutting-edge” website that it hopes will help it to compete with the best global players.
The trick is simply, or not, finding a way to digitalise your service, expertise and trust.
This column originally appeared in the November issue of WatchPro magazine. To see a digital version of the magazine click here.