Don’t get me wrong, my experience on day one at Geneva Watch Days was an overwhelmingly positive one.
My flight was half empty, the train into Geneva was dirt cheap and on time, while the novelty of actually seeing watch brands and picking up timepieces in my hands didn’t wane at all throughout the day.
There was, however, a conflict in my mind that only grew as the day went on. On the one hand, compulsory wearing of face masks in some European countries in certain indoor environments (mainly shops and public transport) has liberated politicians and leaders to allow society to get back to some level of normality post-Covid. In this sense, I am very much a pro-masker, as I am so ideological about people and businesses getting their lives back in order as quickly and safely as possible.
On the other hand, when I was having appointments with various watch brands and had to put a mask on my face, it made the whole experience impersonal, uncomfortable and slightly dehumanizing. For companies trying to persuade consumers to part with thousands of pounds for one of their products, this will represent a major stumbling block. Not for all, but for many.
So what’s the solution? How do you make people feel like it’s safe to shop (something masks hopefully help with) without making them feel like they’re being greeted by dentists on the door as soon as they walk into a store, thus destroying any sense of ‘luxury’ almost immediately?
The answer to this is the Holy Grail of answers for the luxury watch sector right now, and it’s not one that I claim to know myself. From what I saw in Geneva, brands are doing a fine job of making the best of the situation that they find themselves in and the confines that go with it.
I will mention one exception to the rule, which was Maurice Lacroix. They have spent a significant amount of money hiring exclusively a hotel in the heart of Geneva. Whatever the financial outlay, this was/is a genius decision.
It allowed them to take complete control of their environment, which reeked of luxury as soon as I walked in. Yes, they made me sanitize my hands upon arrival, and yes, I wore a mask in the public area, but before long I was whisked into their branded private bar area, given a drink to quench my thirst, before having my pre-booked appointment from a slightly greater distance (maybe two and a half metres from the brand representative) and, crucially, without masks on.
It felt extremely safe without undermining the ‘mise en scène’ of the wonderful visual merchandising that they’d created around the product displays.
People have always bought into people. It’s as true now as it’s ever been. Through no fault of others I met on day one of Geneva Watch Days, my fondest memories are from my Maurice Lacroix appointment, where I really bonded with the person showing me the new launches and enjoyed a drink or two on the house as well.
Who knows what the future holds? I’m certainly not deluding myself that masks won’t be compulsory in most stores for at least the next few weeks/months. But every drop of energy spent trying to work out how to keep customers feeling comfortable while also enhancing the face-to-face experience is well worth it. It could literally be the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity with every single customer.