The internet is the new frontier for watch retailers

Timothy Barber
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Here’s an interesting thing: people are now buying seriously expensive new watches online. I know one internet retailer who regularly makes sales of watches over £10,000 and upwards (sometimes a long way upwards). His business is up over 100 per cent year on year.

A couple of years ago that simply wouldn’t have been possible: high-end brands didn’t allow retailers to sell their products on the internet, because they reckoned it besmirched their luxury status. Now they’re falling over themselves to get their products up on retailer websites. The net is no longer declasse – it’s right at the heart of the strategy.

What’s changed? The sites themselves have got better, realising that sophisticated online interaction with a customer is not about flashy website bells and whistles, but good old fashioned contact and information.

More importantly, the slow-on-the-uptake powerhouse luxury groups are finally realising how people now do their purchasing: research, research online, then perhaps head to a boutique to try watches on in the metal, then home again to research some more and finally summoning up the courage to click “buy”. An awful lot of online watch transactions occur on a Friday night, after someone has spent days or weeks researching and finally gets home, opens a beer and decides to go through with the big purchase.

Having said all that, the bricks & mortar boutiques are going nowhere – in fact they’re springing up in numbers. This spring sees new shops from Breitling and Vacheron Constantin arriving on Bond Street (no doubt complete with special edition watches only available in the brands’ own boutiques), while Parmigiani only recently opened on Mount Street.

Meanwhile, here in the City, the Royal Exchange remains one of the finest hubs for watch buying in the UK. In February it saw a new arrival in the form of the Watchfinder & Co boutique, a specialist in vintage and pre-owned pieces. Next month the Exchange is hosting a week of watch-related activity, including workshops, displays and talks (see page 32 for more details). I’d encourage anyone with even half an interest in watches to attend.

Timothy Barber is the editor of 00/24 WatchWorld magazine and managing editor of