Online Watch Sales – HoDinkee’s Doomed

Watch websites - Hodinkee Shop

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 shop menu

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.

Korman Fine Jewelers Austin, TX

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.

OMEGA online ad

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.

Jaeger-leCoultre collection

Jaeger-leCoultre, for example, offers customers an eight-year extended warranty in exchange for their deets. Panerai followed suit with PAM.GUARD.

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.

Breitling boutique

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 online watch sales - Apple

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.

Hodinkee travel clock buyer

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.

10 thoughts on “Online Watch Sales – HoDinkee’s Doomed”

      1. Tesla is still under a deathwatch (at least I think so). GAAP accounting tricks can only take you so far.

  1. Re:Data. It strikes me as partially a question about how loyal consumers are to a brand. Some enthusiasts like a single brand and want to go deep within it. However, many want to experience a bunch of different brands.

    It would be interesting to know the average Hodinkee cart size. Based on nothing I’d assume that Hodinkee is targeting an average spend of ~500-5k. If true, Hodinkee Shop collectors are jumping around between Seiko, Hamilton, Nomos, Oris, and maybe GS and Omega and most are not sticking to one brand or giant holding company (Richemont, Swatch).

    As an aside, if Hodinkee become irrelevant, it strikes me as hugely deflationary for watch values, which I partially mind and partially don’t.

    1. I wonder what percentage of watch buyers are brand faithful – and how important that is. I also wonder how many owners of, say, a Rolex or Panerai or JLC, would buy from the brand again if properly motivated. Which they aren’t at the moment. (When was the last time you got a personalized email, text or DM from the company that made your watch? When was the first time?)

      Remember that the top end of the market is dominated by three conglomerates: LVMH, Swatch and Richemont. All three have large brand portfolios. So cross-selling within a group is a no-brainer, and excellent way to make piles of money.

  2. Why all the hatin’ on Hodinkee? You can’t stand success? Ben is taking every one of these insecure dudes desperate to show off their means (and detract from their obese wives), on a ride. Under the brands noses. Ben deserves all he got and a round of applause with it.
    Luxury watches are f*cking joke (and yes I own more than a few – who’s immune to hilarity). Hating on the dude who gets all those buyers to the table, feels a little … weak.
    ThIs site is awesome. Hodinkee is a steaming pile of sh*t. Obviously. Just maybe try to be less on yourself about being a nothing watch blog while Ben gets his own special editions made.

    1. Forgive me for not applauding HoDinkee for hiding commercialism behind the veil of faux journalism. That said, as a first-generation American, I’m all about the free market – for watches and websites. Mr. Clymer has done an excellent job bilking watch buyers of their hard-earned money. Good for him. For those of us who care about honest, independent journalism, not so much.

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