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Should You Buy A Watch Online?

Five watch CEOs weigh in.

"WHO AM I TO SAY NO?" - Jean-Claude Biver, head of watchmaking, LVMH
Jean-Claude Biver

I believe it is the way forward. But not for all brands, perhaps a brand like TAG Heuer is more suited.

The luxury watch retail experience can be intimidating. This is true especially for the young. They get uncomfortable. They don't know where to sit. They don't know how much the watches cost and feel scared to ask. They wonder if people are sizing them up.

Eighty per cent of luxury watch retailers are catered for a more mature clientele. But those in their 20s, our target audience, are the ones we want to reach out to. They are used to buying stuff online.

Of course there are challenges. People wonder if watches bought online are fake, or are second hand, stuff like that. But if a brand assures them and sells directly to them, there are guarantees in terms of quality and service.

We are driven by today's customers, not 18th century rules. Customer is king. If my king tells me that he wants to buy my watches online, who am I to say no?

"PEOPLE MUST FEEL EXCITED ABOUT A STORE" - Thomas Meier, CEO, Glashütte Original
Thomas Meier

We prefer the old-school way of selling our beautiful products. We want to explain our products to our customers in order for them to fully appreciate the creations – this is not something that can be done via online retail. There is also the matter of creating an ambience, and relationship with the customers.

It is up to us to make it great. People must feel excited to walk into a store, and experience the world of Glashütte Original. We want to give them the best recommendations and advice.

And we have proof it works. At the Berlinale Film Festival, we premiered a limited edition of our iconic Chrono Square watches, which was sold out in two days. That was done via our traditional means of retail.

But that is not to say that we are not open. There are just no plans for us to jump into online distribution at the moment yet.

I believe the sales experience doesn't end after a purchase. That is only the beginning of the relationship between the brand and the customer. It is something that you cannot do via the Internet.


'WHAT IS YOUR THRESHOLD?' - Nayla Hayek, chair of board of directors, Swatch Group
Nayla Hayek

Online retail will become an important component. Simply because it may not be as easy, for geographical reasons, for a watch lover to walk into a physical store to buy a watch.

Inventory is also an important consideration. Retailers themselves may not like to carry too much inventory.

Competition from e-commerce is good. Online watch retail will take business away from retailers who don’t provide good service, or don’t have good relations with their customers.

But what is your threshold? Look, there are brands selling high jewellery online. But would you consider buying an expensive diamond ring for your fiancee from the Internet? I bet you would want to see the ring and how it looks and feels.

Don't get me wrong, I buy stuff online. But they are things like the shoes or dresses that I bought before, and I want them now in a different colour. Expensive luxury watches? I think they are something I have to touch, to experience, to learn about. Maybe it will work with entry-level quartz watches, the kind where you like the dial design or colour, or the style of bracelet.

'YOU CAN COUNT US IN" - Matthias Breschan, CEO, Rado
 Matthias Breschan
There is a huge opportunity out there, but we need to learn what they are exactly. I think we are still at a stage where brands are making mistakes when trying to grapple with the digital space.

We cannot simply transplant. It's not enough to take what we know of traditional means and convert it to an online strategy. There is a need to understand the way of communicating online.

You can count us in. We just started e-commerce in the US, and will consider implementing it in other markets, pending the results.

It is not about substituting one for the other. I believe it is possible to establish a link between traditional retail and e-commerce. Imagine if you are shopping online, and you have three or four watches that you are really interested in. You keep them in your cart. The store gets notified of your interest, prepares your choices, and sets up a time where you can go in to try them on and make the decision.

'PEOPLE STILL WANT TO TRY ON WATCHES" - Francois Thiébaud, CEO, Tissot
Francois Thiebaud

Watches are personal objects. When you buy a watch, you might check on the price and specifications online, but most of the time, people still want to go to the point-of-sale and try them on or get more information.

After-sales service is an important part of retail. Let’s say you don't know how to adjust the bracelet when the watch arrives. How do you do the customer care online?

I might buy books online but not a watch. The sense of risk-taking increases with the price. You would buy an Hermès bag in the store but would you buy it online?

Fake watches sold online is also a problem. I can tell you for Tissot, we believe there are one to two million fake watches floating around online. That's a lot. We are trying to find a way to catch the fakes but it's difficult. We're working on that and trying to make some special laser engravings to trace. That’s why we only sell online with partners that have a physical store. For now, our e-commerce is active in eight countries.


Ex Editor-In Chief

Alvin promises not to be a douche when talking about watches. He may have scoured the Basel and Geneva watch fairs for the past 15 years, and played an instrumental role to the growth of Singapore's pioneering horological and men's lifestyle publications, but the intrepid scribe seeks to learn something new with each story he writes.

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