Something occurred to me the other day with regards to the watch business. Much like the oil industry which continues to pump out millions of barrels of oil, despite the price falling, in order to fend off or weaken the burgeoning fracking industry, (it’s a lost cause, btw, but what other options are there?) the watch industry is doing much the same thing: pumping out large volumes of product at all different price levels trying to keep themselves desirable and relevant.
Left - Are luxury watches sinking for good?
The smartwatch was a catalyst, and while it hasn’t really dented the traditional watch market, it was already under threat from people using their phones to tell the time and the slightly old-fashioned, pompous and alienating approach many Swiss brands/makers have.
Global Blue’s latest data for the third quarter of 2016 show global spending on watches is down -32%. The UK aside, which is experiencing a blip due to the weakness of the pound, Global Blue’s latest year-to-date data shows that the W&J (Watches & Jewellery) category has been hardest hit by the global luxury spending slowdown.
The reasons they give are: Chinese are buying fewer watches due to the conspicuous consumption crackdown, higher import duties are a major deterrent, as is the dual effect of less attractive product and lack of price differentials. Plus the landscape is dramatically different now that global shoppers are deterred from visiting Europe due to the persistent perception of reduced safety and threat of terrorism.
Like all industries that experience rapid growth it will inevitably lose momentum and stall. They are trying to offer something special, but in volume, which is an oxymoron. They are also not very transparent at helping consumers know what they are buying and paying big bucks for.
They’ve opened huge flagships to showcase their brands in insulation, so as not to be contaminated by any others, but it’s not sustainable. Recently, Mike France, co-founder of internet watch retailer Christopher Ward, said, when talking about mono-brand watch stores, the “Regent Street model cannot be economically viable”. He said: “Ultimately they will die. Some of them will remain, but most of them will die. At the moment stores are flags for the brands; most of them lose a fortune.”
The volumes the industry are churning out are unsustainable too and has taken the 'luxury' halo off the industry. They are in a damned if they do and damned if they don’t situation.
Lots of consumers are turned off by the prices and are turning towards the ‘pre owned watches’ or 'second hand watches' market for something different or if they still want a status symbol-type brand at a price that they can afford and justify.
I’ve also heard branded/licensed watches in the mid-market are struggling and many brands and fashion companies which don’t specialise in this area are leaving the category all together.
Luxury watches are at a crossroads. Will we look back in a few years and find it funny that people used to wear lumps of mechanical metal on their wrists? Only time will tell.