For over a hundred years, watch dealers owned their customers. They kept luxury watch customers’ personal details on file. They called watch-addicted buyers, sent out direct mail or simply waited for the money to walk through the door. Enter Al Gore’s internet, and the birth of a watch enthusiasts’ website named HoDinkee . . .
HoDinkee rose from relative obscurity to become a large, influential website. Its founder, finance guy turned blogger Benjamin Clymer, had an eye for the main chance. After four years online, he added a Shopify ecommerce plugin to sell watches, turning HoDinkee’s readership into an enormous herd of cash cows.
As HoDinkee’s success grew, Clymer convinced luxury watchmakers to make his brainchild an authorized dealer. With 27 major brands signed on and over a million unique visitors a month, HoDinkee’s online shop is a force to be reckoned with.
That said, bricks-and-mortar watch dealers are far from dead. They still have their legacy clientele, built over generations. “Look and feel” remains a thing. And they still dominate the market. Richemont recently reported that online sales accounted for just eight percent of last quarter’s sales. During Coronageddon, no less.
The status is not destined to remain quo. For one thing, bricks and mortar dealers have figured out how to use the Internet to set the proverbial hook, to reel customers into their store. More importantly, luxury watchmakers are realizing the game has changed.
It’s no longer about shoveling as much product as possible down the pipeline to wholesalers and dealers. It’s about ongoing customer contact. Winning and keeping customers. Selling and re-selling product.
It’s about “owning” the customer. And it all comes down to customer data. He (or she) who owns the data owns the customer.
HoDinkee must think it’s sitting pretty. It has a record of every customer sale and their online visits. I’d bet dollars to donuts Clymer’s company only shares metadata with manufacturers: how many people bought what, when and where (generally). You want customers’ names, email and addresses? Fuck off.
Luxury watch manufacturers aren’t going to fuck off. They’re going to do whatever it takes to get the customer data.
Every luxury watch brand – save the toniest of the tony (e.g., Rolex and Patek) – has launched online sales. Some with live operators standing by, some with chatbots, all programmed to gather customer data destined to eat HoDinkee’s lunch.
At the same time, Breitling, Hublot, Panerai, Lange, Grand Seiko and the rest are busy opening single-brand boutiques. These ritzy stores combine “look and feel” and focused messaging. They’re all feeding the database destined to eat HoDinkee’s lunch. And here’s why . . .
Watchmakers can make a far more compelling online sales pitch than HoDinkee; they can capitalize on an existing buyer’s financial and psychological investment in the brand. They also have a lot more money. They can craft a come-on that knock HoDinkee’s advertorial for six.
At the moment, the luxury watch industry is still wary of sending “spam.” But it’s gradually becoming hip to the fact that their customers want to hear from the them. They want to become a “valued member” of the Rolex, Panerai, Patek Philippe, NOMOS, OMEGA or whatever “family.”
HoDinkee can’t do that. They can’t be loyal to any one watch brand. They’re the brand above the brands.
While that’s a source of pride for Hodinkee and its founder (“the high priest of horology“), the website feels free to push whatever watch they can, every watch they can, regardless of the customer’s brand affiliation.
Ultimately, the success of that endeavor depends on one thing: HoDinkee’s reputation. Not as a trusted watch dealer. As the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t desirable in the world of luxury watches.
People buying from HoDinkee are buying into a “lifestyle.” A club. An ethos based on an appreciation of fine watchmaking. It’s an illusion, of course. HoDinkee is no less a commercial enterprise than a cocaine dealer.
Judging from the number of fanboy comments defending HoDinkee’s Eight-Day Travel Clock, the delusional dam is holding. But the ground is shifting beneath Hodinkee, as their suppliers gather the customer data needed to cut them out of the loop.
HoDinkee’s reckoning day is on its way.