Digitalization: working towards change in the watchmaking industry

More and more watch lovers are choosing to purchase their new timepiece online. What’s the explanation behind this movement towards the digitalization of watchmaking?

10 years ago, it was impossible for a watch lover to contemplate buying their dream watch on the Internet: limited choice, concerns about payment, delivery and the guarantee… But nowadays, the range of options available has blossomed, and buying online has become part of everyday life, especially with regards to clothing and accessories, spurred on by e-commerce sites like Zalando and Zappos.

In terms of watches, a recent study by the Deloitte agency shows that online retail is now the second priority of senior executives in the watchmaking industry, just behind the development of new products (The Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2017: It’s all about digital).

So what are the reasons for this change in consumer behavior, from buying almost exclusively in-store to higher and higher rates of online purchases, even in a sector as traditional as watchmaking?

Broader choice

Online retail allows consumers access to a substantial range of products, in comparison with traditional stores which offer a limited number of models. With just a few clicks, an online customer can discover a variety of brands, access thousands of opinions from fellow internet users giving them a very precise idea of the product they’re looking for, and complete their purchase of a watch model which they might never have been able to find in a store (or at least not within a few hundred kilometers of their house).

Quick, reliable delivery

The majority of online watch retailers now offer delivery within 2-5 days by recorded mail and signed for upon receipt. As a result, online customers are guaranteed to receive their watch promptly, and can track the movement of their package up to their own front door. What’s more, they don’t even have leave their house.

Better prices online

Due to reduced overhead costs and a much smaller distribution channel, by cutting out the middlemen, an online store can often afford to lower their retail prices, allowing their clients to make significant savings. Online customers therefore get their watch at a better price, without funding the various middlemen, and often with superior guarantees.

Ultra-secure payment

Thanks to heightened security requirements on the part of banks and the development of powerful encryption systems such as standard SSL, the security of online payments has reached a level comparable to or even higher than that of in-store transactions.

Flexible, reassuring returns policies

More often than not, online retailers offer a 30-day returns policy, generally free of charge. This allows the client to return their watch without further justification, if it has not met their expectations. The advantage over in-store purchases is indisputable: it’s always a bit tricky taking a watch back to the shop where the sales assistant advised us to buy it, a concept that we really don’t like upon reflection!

International guarantee

No matter where they live in the world, the client can easily return their watch to the online retailer by mail, in order to activate their guarantee. It’s more complicated when their purchase was made in-store while on a trip, or if they have moved far away from the watchmaker from which they bought their watch. The flexibility offered by online purchases is very attractive to consumers in a world where long-distance travel is becoming more and more common.

Digitalization of watchmaking: more than a trend

The many advantages offered by e-commerce sites (choice, flexibility, price, guarantee…) have led to a change in consumer behavior, and many customers are now turning to online retail to purchase their watch.

The digitilization of watchmaking has therefore become an unmissable opportunity for watchmaking brands to showcase their models and create an even closer relationship with their clients. Brands that haven’t yet taken the plunge into the digital world are now having to work twice as hard to try to climb back on the bandwagon! Unfortunately, a number of them are still locked into long-term contracts with their distributors.

For the others, the potential for growth is high, and you can bet your bottom dollar that this trend towards the digitalization of the watchmaking industry will become the norm in the years to come. Physical stores face significant challenges in their current form in reaction to the explosion of online watch sales.