Off-Site Watch Sales – The Next Big Thing?

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Ben Bridge Jewelers Domain - not off-site watch sales in Austin . . . yet
(courtesy Kurt Kaiser)

“We have chosen to close a number of stores that no longer make sense,” Ben Bridge CEO Lisa Bridge tells watchpro.com, “and our virtual appointments are increasing.” Off-site watch sales via video are an inexpensive way to set the hook. But customers still need touch-and-feel. So why not a home demo/delivery? It’s the beginning of the end of physical watch dealers. Or is it? . . .

The experiment is part of a rising trend of clienteling, where existing customers — often with a strong history of purchases with a jeweler — are contacted directly for a consultation that might take place in a cafe, home or garden.

The idea that “we come to you!” hard sell watch salesmen – sorry “consultants” are The Next Big Thing is deeply misguided.

The “push” to move the business to off-site sales is a sure sign of the traditional watch industry’s desperation to do something to turn a literal bug into a profitable feature.

4 Seasons hotel Austin - locale for off-site watch sales?

In fact, roving watch salesman are nothing new. Independent watch dealers have been taking high end watches to wealthy foreigners’ hotel rooms since ever.

These off-site watch sales aren’t reported in the country where they go down, the client “walks” the watch home (dodging sales tax and import duties) and everyone’s happy (save the government).

That’s not to say that all off-site watch sales are a scam. I’m certainly not suggesting that scrupulous dealers like Ben Bridge would ever engage in tax evasion.

But their salesman might. Who’s watching? What’s to stop a salesman quietly offering a customer a big discount in exchange for a little baksheesh?

Case for off-site watch sales

watchgpro.com says “clienteling” is aimed at “existing customers — often with a strong history of purchases with a jeweler.” Safety first! Yes well . . .

How would you feel schlepping a case full of expensive watches up hill and down dale with no guarantee that the client kept your travel plans on the DL? Even without worrying about a planned hijacking, shepherding pricey pieces around town carries a risk of robbery.

After all, home watch sales don’t make sense for timepieces below a certain price point. Five grand and up? Ten? Twenty?

And while it can be argued that a customer is more at home at home (or their favorite coffee shop or bar), sales psychology 001 tells us it’s easier to say “no” in your castle than someone else’s. If nothing else, distractions abound.

Vacheron boutique New York

Watch manufacturers and authorized dealers spend a fortune turning their stores into cash machines. Location, layout, furniture, flooring, lighting, coffee machines – it’s all designed to put the customer at ease (i.e., soften them up).

By the same token, a structured environment facilitates a structured sales process – that management can monitor, adjust and perfect.

A bricks-and-mortar watch store also increases sales by its simple existence. A building projects permanence. Creates a sense of trust. We’re right here if you need us. Literally.

I don’t know how many customers still believe they should “support their local business,” but those that do give their support to a place as well as a person. A physical store is a pillar of the community. So to speak.

$31m Patek Philippe (courtesy Christies)

Again, this home/coffee shop/office sales idea is a trend born of desperation. aBlogtoWatch’s Ariel Adam’s editorial What Will Be Responsible for the Next Watch Industry Boom? is another indication that the trad watch industry is running scared.

As well they should: the “next watch industry boom” is already here. It’s called the smartwatch and Switzerland doesn’t have an answer. Focusing on “clientelling” is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

6 COMMENTS

  1. “How would you feel schlepping a case full of expensive watches up hill and down dale with no guarantee that the client kept your travel plans on the DL?”

    This isn’t as much of a problem as you might think. Expensive jewelry is flown all over with people, the trick is to just stick it in a cruddy backpack or luggage, no one is the wiser. Ocean’s 12 was more accurate in jewelry travel then people think. I walked around NYC with millions of jewels once to get it back to Brinks in a cardboard box with an armed guard an no one was the wiser. Millions are moved on people you’d never notice.

  2. I would love it if brands beat a path to my front door to show me their wares under the awkward name of clienteling. Home entertainment without a another subscription! Real lighting as opposed to watch store lighting would be an added benefit. I was in Rolex yesterday and the array of fluted bezels bedazzled but also befuddled me.

  3. There is going to be so much sexual harassment and sexual assault liability risk coming out of this model.

    The model of jewelry stores selling watches with a 40 – 50% margin is dead.

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