Luxury Watch Sales Suck

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Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 collection

“Now you got it, you don’t want it,” Devo lamented in the title song of their album Freedom of Choice. When it comes to luxury watch sales, it’s not that buyers don’t want freedom of choice. There’s just too much of it . . .

Researching yesterday’s post on Audemars Piguet, I marveled at the in-house video showing the size of AP’s ever-growing Code 11.59 collection (above). And then I counted the number of Royal Oaks on AP’s website.

The Swiss watchmaker offers more than 179 different RO’s for their customers’ dining and dancing pleasure. If you spent one minute visiting every product page, it would take 2.98 hours to see them all. Let’s say it together: I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak luxury watch sales

Finding “your” RO online means selecting/eliminating options: price, complications, materials, movement, dial color, size and thickness; etc. This is no simple process – even for someone who a) knows the advantages and disadvantages of various options and b) has a firm opinion on all of them and c) can decide between them.

Of course, this assumes the buyer wants a Royal Oak. What about a Code 11.59? Hang on. Back up. We’re also assuming the buyer wants an Audemars Piguet.

What about a watch from Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Breguet, Grand Seiko, Hublot or Piaget? There are well over 20 “top” luxury watch brands. All of the major players sell dozens of models. So we’re talking about tens of thousands of luxury watch sales options. Good grief!

APHouse showroom

The luxury watch industry believes their customers’ preference for bricks and mortar purchases is all about “look and feel.” While that’s certainly a major factor, the predominance of real world luxury watch sales is just as much about not drowning in a sea of possibilities. In that sense, expensive real estate, luxe surrounds and flesh-and-blood sales folk are a money-spinning feature, not an outdated bug.

The mind-numbing surfeit of products is a huge problem for the luxury watch biz, but not the main problem. The missing ingredient that makes it so hard to buy a luxury watch? Branding.

Rolex luxury watch sales branding

A strong brand creates mental shorthand for people who don’t have the time, energy or expertise to go deep diving into relative value. In the car world, Porsche stands for performance, Mercedes for quality, Lexus for luxury. Rolex – whose motto is “A Crown For Every Achievement” – stands for status. Other than that, I’ve got nothing.

Did you – watch enthusiast that you are – know that IWC’s motto is Probus Scafusia, Latin for “good, solid craftsmanship from Schaffhausen”? How great is that? Almost as instantly appealing as the tagline Audemars Piguet introduced in 2012: “To Break the Rules, You Must First Master Them.” Good to know.

JLC ad

When they’re not actively promoting overchoice, Jaeger-LeCoultre labors under the slogan “Have you ever worn a real watch?” Breguet attempts to temp buyers with “In every woman there is a queen.” Vacheron Constantin’s motto is “Faire mieux si possible, ce qui est toujours possible (Do better if possible, and that is always possible)”. Not to coin a phrase, I’d buy that for a dollar!

Have these luxury watch companies considered hiring someone who understands marketing? Who groks the simple principle that all a brand’s watches should embody a single, over-arching, easily communicated selling point? There are plenty available: sexiest, best made, toughest, most beautiful, most water resistant and most accurate, for example.

Luxury watch sales here

But then all the brand’s luxury watches would have to live up to the brand promise. That means fewer watches. No chasing the latest trend with endless variations (e.g., tying a watch to a social cause). The company’s advertising and marketing would also have to remain on point . . . forever.

As far as I can tell, only Rolex and Patek Philippe (heirloom quality) get it. Which is one reason why neither brand sells watches online. (Note: Patek allowed dealers to sell watches online during the height of the pandemic.) R&PP know their dealers make choosing a luxury watch a painless process (excluding money, assuming inventory). They adhere to the first rule of sales: “make it easy to buy.”

That’s a fundamental principle the other luxury watchmakers can’t or won’t address, even as they open upscale mono-brand boutiques. They’re leaving the majority of luxury watch buyers dazed, confused and brand agnostic. Except for Rolex and Patek Philippe customers, of course.

6 COMMENTS

  1. That message “Make it easy to buy” and R+PP don’t really go well hand in hand. Something is mixed up here.

  2. To me, “make it easy to buy” means that they know the value in having a straight forward model lineup. One that’s easy to understand and easy to find your favorite. The company I work for (not a watch company, one far less interesting) learned this years ago when we drastically simplified our product line up. Sales subsequently increased and customer feedback was that they greatly appreciated how much easier it was to understand our offering. They liked working with us again.

    I don’t even bother looking at Omega’s offerings, plus those from many of the brands mentioned here. There are just. Too. Many. How does that meme go… “ain’t nobody got time for this!”

  3. That’s right. Which is why this clueless dude’s $100k+ watch collection consists entirely of Rolex (yawn, that’s right).

    Love watches, would love to own something a little less mass manufactured and more … personal. But that whole industry, their attitudes, and nevermind the ridiculous attitude towards ongoing servicing and long term viability, just not worth trying to figure out.

    It all just doesn’t make sense for a simple person without the urge to add lots more headaches.

  4. I replied to Mr. Brown’s Omega article with the analogy of custom ordering every option on a car,and how most profitable car manufacturers (at least in the US) have done away with that and greatly homogenized the product, leading to quicker purchases and almost no unsellable oddballs.

    Today I realize this is also similar to the modern online dating situation as described in Aziz Ansari’s book “Modern Romance” which makes the case that excessive options lead to decision paralysis. Traditionally, you had around a half dozen options, not all of which were truly available. Choosing was simpler and achievable in a very finite time.

    Virtually limitless options means eternal decisions, but even worse the fear of missing out on the best selection expands by many magnitudes. The overload is unprocessable. The search changes from merely picking the most satisfactory at hand to a global search for the absolutely very best around.

    Needless to say, this leads to a problem analogous to female hypergamy. Most people find the same prospects most appealing. The Chads or alpha males (forgive me, I’ve read a couple MRO/incel type articles) of dating are the core “iconic” of grail models of watches. Demand greatly exceeds supply. And a disdain for practically everything else.

    Actually, the eternal limited edition nonsense parallels (I had to look these terms up) the pickup artist trick called peacocking. AFAIK the classic example was to wear some ridiculous hat or other outrageous item at a bar as both a beacon and potential icebreaker. It’s a short-term move, and LE’s accomplish both goals, garnering buzz and ephemeral hype with the distinctiveness. Of course the more this is done, the less it works. You end up with a reality show full of insincere jackasses. And this is what we have today.

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