Porsche Design’s launched an online configurator for their Chronotimer Series 1 watch. Choose the case, bezel, hands, rotor and stitching from dozens of options, and then go “Wait. It costs that much?” In that sense, building a watch with the Porsche Design watch configurator is exactly like speccing-up a 911. Is this the future of watch retail? . . .
For Porsche owners who want a matching car and watch, yes! In fact, Porsche has configured their configurator to automatically configure you a watch based on your new car’s configuration.
For anyone else, no. One reason: overchoice. Think McDonald’s.
Once upon a time, McDonalds sold one product: hamburgers. You could have it your way as long as your way was their way. But boy did they serve it fast.
At last count, McDonald’s sells 145 items (not including condiment variations). The number of potential order combinations is above a billion, and the service sucks.
The number of ways to spec-up a Chronotimer Series 1 watch is nowhere near that. By Porsche Design’s calculations, there are only 1.5m possible combinations.
“Service” isn’t much of an issue – PD promises to build and ship your watch in eight to twelve weeks. Choosing from the menu items is the real challenge, and not just because they’re in German (English language version due September 1).
For one thing, if you build a Chronotimer Series 1 and don’t like it – or change the spec on your Porker – tough luck. If you want to sell or trade the watch, there’s no standard value. And there’s zero “look and feel.”
In an interview with Sky News, Breitling chief executive Georges Kern said the brand has seen an uptick in online sales, but “people want the 360 degree experience of coming into stores.”
True story. Which is why high end watchmakers spend a fortune tarting-up their boutiques and training sales associates how to make the perfect cappuccino.
But it’s not just the upmarket atmosphere and caffeine that convinces customers to ding their Apple card. It’s about touch and feel with the product and reduced selection.
Porsche Design’s website serves-up no less than 17 Chronotimer Series 1 variations (called SKU’s in the biz). While three of the models are obviously different from the rest (stainless steel cases), the majority are all pretty much of a muchness.
The Porsche Design configurator is supposed to shorten/eliminate the selection process – but using it online is like wandering around a maze with a lot of dead ends. Which bezel DO I want? Back up. How does it look with that case? Wait. What about that case with the red bezel?
To overcome the overchoice issue in-store, Porsche Design created a real world configurator: a 3D analog briefcase filled with most (but definitely not all) of the Chronotimer Series 1’s bits: case, bezel, dial, rotor, strap. Guided by the salesperson, the customer plays Barbie (or AR-15) with Chronotimer Series 1 options.
While I reckon the suitcase only postpones the pain point – “Wait. It costs that much?” – at least it’s an acknowledgement of the overchoice issue. Which is a lot bigger than one watch.
Porsche Design sell three different Monoblock Actuator 24H Chronotimers, 21 1919 Collection models, 11 special/limited editions and seven different car-model-specific watches. If they go mass customization on all of them, they’re going to need a lot of briefcases.
These days, larger Porsche Design stores have a watch wall. I count 30 timepieces lingering behind glass – which is significantly less than 1.5m but still a large selection.
The wall eliminates the customer paralysis that their online selection creates. It adheres to The First Rule of Sales: make it easy to buy.
But the PD watch wall violates the Tiffany display window principle: the more items you put in the window, the less precious any one of them seems. While the display hardly projects a “pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap” vibe, I remember how much more attention I gave the four watches in their small Miami store . . .
Overchoice is a watch industry-wide failing. I blame corporate culture. Developing a new watch is far more exciting, more high profile within a company than trying to move units of old faithful. The “just because we can” and “we have all these people” syndromes are also a thing.
The end result: death by SKU.
You can see its victims on websites like authenticwatches.com, where abandoned models from mainstream brands (e.g., Montblanc, Longines, TAG Heuer) routinely shed 60 percent of their value. Or, in Porsche Design’s case, on Chrono24, where current boxfresh models sell for heavy discounts.
Don’t get me wrong. After a disastrous detour, Porsche Design is making some fantastic watches. My most valuable timepiece is a vintage Porsche Design Titanium Chronograph. I’d gladly buy a modern example.
The question is, which one? It may seem strange, but the new Porsche Design configurator makes the job harder, not easier. I’ll let you know how it goes after I do the Lego thing in their Houston store – when it’s safe to do so. Yes, there is that.