“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.
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!
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that sense, expensive real estate, luxe surrounds and flesh-and-blood sales folk are a money-spinning feature, not an outdated bug.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.
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.
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.
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.