Retailers in the digital era

March 2011

Like the brands that promote and sell watches, most retailers also have a place in cyberspace. This digital presence reflects the inevitable evolution in the behaviour of watch buyers and, as a consequence, that of retailers.

The Internet plays an increasingly important role today in the purchase of a watch. As Danny Govberg, President of Govberg Jewelers, stated in the 2010 edition of the WorldWatchReport study, edited by IC-Agency, “more than 70 per cent of clients do research online before coming through the doors of our store.” Generally, potential buyers begin by clicking on a search engine, where they type in the name of the brand, the collection, or the model they are considering for purchase. The searches will lead them to the brand’s official site, where they can consult detailed descriptions and photos of each product of interest. Many watch aficionados, however, will be tempted to purchase their dream timepiece each time they turn the page of a catalogue. To narrow down their search, they will look at the price of the models as a more rational criteria of choice. Yet, unfortunately for them, the great majority of official sites don’t list the prices of their watches.

Retailers in the digital era Photo: Hamilton & Inches

Desperately seeking prices
The buyer will then click on the ‘Store Locator’ section of the official watch site, looking for stores that are near to him. He will then contact the store to find the cost of that special timekeeper that fills his dreams since he discovered it on the web. With increasing frequency, retailers are receiving emails from prospective buyers inquiring about the prices of the models they sell.
The price is obviously not the only concern of the online buyer. He will also consult various blogs and chat rooms, such as Timezone, where watch aficionados share their experiences and offer lots of informed advice to the buyer, whose heart waivers between two complications.
The recommendations offered on these communal sites can also influence the choice of retailer and make or break a store’s reputation. The buying experience, whether abominable or excellent, may become the subject of conversations in focused chat rooms and may even end up on sites such as Yelp or various social networks, depending on the location of its members, such as Foursquare. This results in a public evaluation of the quality of the welcome and the service offered by the retailer.

Internet, the best enemy of the retailer?
Armed with all the information and opinions that he could glean online, the buyer that crosses the threshold of a retail store is often better informed than he was in the past. He is also more demanding in terms of quality of service and the advice he expects from the salesperson. His better understanding of the products also gives him the advantage of being in a better pos-ition to negotiate the price. Sometimes, the watch purchaser goes to a store only when he cannot do something online such as touching the product, holding it in his hand, comparing it to other products, and trying it on. Then, he will return to the Internet to buy it for a better price or better conditions. For retailers, then, the competition may come directly from those brands that sell online directly to the final consumer.
Confronted with the changes in behaviour of their clientele, retailers must adapt. They must develop new types of services with added value. The Internet can, in fact, help them to do this.

Retailers in the digital era Photo: Wempe

Cyberspace, the land of opportunity for retailers
Most retailers today have a website, where they generally present photos of their store, its location, the list of brands they sell, and their contact information. These elements are still not, however, enough to guarantee the necessary visibility on the Internet to meet the expectations of their clientele. The website is an ideal platform to promote various types of services, such as having the prospective purchaser make an appointment with a salesperson, chatting with the buyer online, signing up potential clients for exclusive store events, and listing guarantee information and after-sales service benefits. Maier, a retailer located in Lyon, France, carries several brands including Baume & Mercier, Blancpain, Omega, Rolex, and IWC. On their website, they display the prices of watches and offer the buyer the possibility of ordering certain models online.

Beyond the website of the store, the Internet also offers retailers the opportunity to multiply their points of contact with their clientele, such as being visible in the search engines and online map sites, which is useful when the Internet users are looking for stores in their area. They can also create a Facebook page to have discussions with the store’s clients, start a blog, email a newsletter, and have a presence on sites such as Twitter, Youtube, etc.

All these various opportunities merit an evaluation, but the best way for a retailer to guarantee his visibility on the Internet is to ensure that his site is clearly listed in the ‘Store Locator’ section of the official site of the brands he sells. The WorldWatchReport study shows that of all the Internet users who look for watch products online, less than 2 per cent will specifically research the stores or the sales points that sell them. Online sales can also represent an opportunity for retailers to strengthen their partnership with the brands. Last year, for example, TAG Heuer opened an online store with the Parisian retailer, Bry & Cie.
Even if behaviours have changed and one part of the relationship with the client has evaporated today, there are still sure values that persist, including: a retailer’s warm welcome; his passion for watches; sharing his clients’ joy when they purchase their dream watch; and irreproachable quality service. The retailers that take these values to heart will certainly benefit from the virtual word-of-mouth amplifier.

Source:Europa Star February - March 2011 Magazine Issue