n terms of the e-commerce of watches, no one has yet found the magic formula. This is to be expected, though, as we are still in the infancy of the web, in which we are seeing the gradual digitization of all of our daily acts. The digital Big Bang has burst, but solar systems and planets have not yet formed. As a result, the e-commerce of watches resembles a great hotchpotch, between brand platforms, second-hand sites, authorized third parties and the mass of networks with obscure origins. A real nebula!
Fred Levin, arguably one of the greatest living experts of the watch distribution chains in the United States*, proposes to put some order in this digital anarchy, via the new Troverie online sales platform, bringing together brands and their retailers in the United States.
E-commerce: dream and reality
He started with one basic observation: watchmakers and their representatives have not yet managed to agree on how to proceed online. The former have massively launched their own e-commerce platforms, while the latter, who legitimately demand a form of exclusivity in the territory they cover, are often prevented from switching to online sales.
Another observation nourished the reflection around Troverie: that of the current mismatch between the expectations of the final customers, who, according to the study carried out by Fred Levin (see the following graph), would favour an “official” system of online sales, and the reality of sales, which remains dominated by the “brick-and-mortar” and where the official online circuits represent barely 1% of the total, compared to 18% for unauthorized platforms.
Troverie, which has just been launched, aims to reconcile brands with their retailers and customers’ new expectations. The sales platform intends to create online opportunity, in particular for regional or local retailers which constitute the basic element of the watch distribution chain in the United States. Often in family hands, many have had to close their doors in recent years, faced with the takeover by brands of their distribution channels and competition from the web.
Troverie, which has just been launched, aims to reconcile brands with their retailers and customers’ new expectations.
The omnichannel model
Those which have resisted this wave of reorganization nevertheless appear solid. Troverie is therefore addressed at this local and regional “elite” of the American watchmaking network (see the list of partner retailers here), and not at large national chains like Tourneau or Tiffany & Co, which generally already have their e-business platforms.
- The American retailers united under the banner of the e-commerce site Troverie
Troverie functions as an “omnichannel” networking of retailers’ resources, all the while being authorized by the partner brands (see the list of watchmakers which have joined the platform in the following chart). The customer will first look for the model of their choice among the watches offered on the platform. Then they decide whether they want to receive it online or pick it up at a partner retailer’s boutique. Only then do they enter their address and the partner in question is displayed.
- The partner brands of the new American e-commerce platform Troverie
Obviously, the network is still under construction. For example, when testing on the platform, it is currently impossible to find a Nomos Club Campus model in Miami - but in New York, yes. Over time, the offer will grow. Troverie currently works with 16 brands in all price ranges – from Hamilton to Breguet – and retailers in over 50 cities.
Fred Levin states: "Our platform will offer a solution to a number of current problems: the grey market, the lack of online connection with the new end-customer and the situation of many independent retailers who, for the most part, do not have the authorization of the brands they represent to develop e-commerce.”
- Example of an online query on Troverie
Solving several complex equations
The expert continues: “As far as brands are concerned, they seek to reproduce online a form of luxury experience that can be found in their stores; but they are not sure how to proceed. As far as retailers are concerned, they are in a situation where they have exclusivities in given territories, while e-commerce is global. As for the customers, they wish to have the possibility to buy on their own terms, in store or online.”
Orders are not allocated solely according to geographical criteria. Indeed, the allocation system works on the basis of an algorithm that also takes into account factors such as service level or stock availability. “We evaluate what retailers are doing, including through consumer surveys. It’s all about the quality of the data we collect – new technologies allow us to analyse and use it very efficiently, but we also need the trust of our partners to access the data.”
“New technologies allow us to analyse and use it very efficiently, but we also need the trust of our partners to access the data.”
- Fred Levin, founder of Troverie
Towards more transparency?
The word is out: restore confidence where, until now, suspicion has reigned supreme. This implies a new level of transparency between brands and retailers. In this sense, the Troverie project is disruptive, as it rests on the goodwill of all its actors, involving a real change of culture. In particular, technology makes it possible to track the location of inventories very precisely – perhaps the most important stumbling block, up to now, between watchmakers and their retailers. They often end up feeding the famous “parallel markets”. The system requires more transparency, hence, for better stock management.
“We give retailers the opportunity to join our system via their e-commerce which they can extend, via our platform or via both channels. Once implemented, the system can integrate with any retailer or brand site. What is really important is that when a customer searches on Google, they immediately come across sales platforms authorized by the brands, instead of players operating on the grey market."
A critical mass
The official Troverie site is thus only the visible part of the system... However, brands are rather capricious when it comes to preserving their image and their “universe” online. How can they be kept satisfied? “That is an important point, indeed. We have tried to design a platform that meets the design requirements of brands, in order to offer a true luxury online experience. Of course, brands have their own graphic environment. We work closely with them to find the best possible balance." The Troverie business model is based on a fixed and variable commission.
The start-up needs now to convince more brands and retailers to join the network in order to offer the most complete coverage possible both of the American territory and of the watch landscape.
This is the great strength of giants like Amazon, which have so far taken advantage of a form of “universal digital coverage” to swallow any competition... but which, by buying up supermarket chains, are now also speaking in favour of the omnichannel model, seeking the best balance between presence in the physical and virtual worlds. We could also call it omnipresence!
*Before launching Troverie, Fred Levin founded LGI Network, a company specialized in market research on the jewellery and watch industries in the United States. In 2010, he sold the company to the NPD Group and continued to lead it until his departure this year to start Troverie.