Forbes India – Luxury watch market in India: a story of transformation
IInnovation, transformation, and in some ways even disruption is what drives any business to success.
The luxury watch industry is built around heritage, traditions, innovations, high prices and, above all, exclusivity. But do millennials and so-called Gen Z see value in these attributes? How does a traditional watch brand that boasts a 200-year heritage connect with today’s consumers without compromising its DNA? An industry that was dominated by a certain older group of affluent buyers is now seeing a strong surge of younger buyers.
Believe it or not, we saw a relatively obvious effort in this direction post-pandemic. Today, most luxury watch brands have understood the importance of creating a deeper relationship with their customers and are slowly but gradually overcoming the transactional mindset. Spread awareness of social values through the power of knowledge and work towards a customer communication strategy. Does this mean that brands have stopped all traditional marketing strategies? It wouldn’t make logical sense. The key here is to add human value even to your marketing campaigns. Although working with celebrities, luxury sports activities such as Formula 1, tennis, golf, etc. proved to be quite successful, brands are now also working with real-life heroes, a more relevant approach.
In recent years, we have also seen the birth of several watchmaking communities, some of which are directly supported by the brand. A good example here is the Paneristi tribe. A community of over 30,000 Panerai owners with over 30 local hubs around the world. Each Panerista brings their own experience and history to the community, helping to nurture this great global family. A family where every Panerista can find common ground for their passion and mutual support in happy and difficult times.
Another example here is the MB&F tribe. The name spells it all: Max Busser & Friends. If you own an MB&F machine, you are more than just a friend. You are part of ‘The Tribe’ which comes with its own set of benefits.
Then there are communities that are for the people, by the people. A group of collectors invested in a hobby regardless of the nature of the business. India has seen the emergence in recent years of some of these credible communities, which certainly does not go unnoticed by prestigious watch manufacturers.
Tribes and communities
One such group is the RedBar crew. RedBar Group is the official organization of an international collective of watch collectors. Founded by Adam Craniotes and Kathleen McGivney, the objectives of the RedBar Group are to foster the growth of existing collector communities around the world, to help other enthusiasts start new encounters in their area and to encourage collectors to give back to local communities. In India we have RedBar Bombay.
“Luxury watches are an amalgamation of ingenious engineering, exquisite design and an aspiration to be part of history or a story. Brands are now beginning to recognize that these are in fact the deciding factors for watch collectors and not just aesthetic or (discount) pricing policies,” says Punit Mehta, Chapter Leader – RedBar Bombay.
“Knowledge is passed from the watchmaker’s desk to retailers and collectors through different mediums such as digital media, over-the-counter experience and organized events for watch connoisseurs. More attention is being paid to experiences curated and personalized by brands, which in turn helps us understand and builds our trust in the brand. Today, brands are not only receptive, but local brand representatives are also very intellectually invested,” says Mehta.
Brands go social
Another small tool, yet a goldmine for any brand, is social media. We have seen a visible change in the communication strategies of most luxury watch brands on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Clubhouse, etc. They are much more communicative and react directly to their consumers. It’s one thing to respond with “thanks for your feedback,” but it’s another thing to respond with a helpful solution. This superficial facade seems to fade gradually. Tiny as it may seem, it has been a huge tool to add human value and emotions to the wristwatch industry.
In addition to directly engaging with communities and gathering consumer insights from social media platforms, another shift we’ve seen is the rise of e-commerce in the world of luxury watch brands. In my opinion, e-commerce is one of the most underutilized platforms for selling luxury watches. Initially quite skeptical of the idea of selling online in India, luxury watch brands have now embraced the concept of e-commerce.
While it’s still a lot of product and buying experiences and relationship building, does the customer today have the time and patience?
E-commerce and luxury watch brands
“We strongly activated the e-commerce part of the business and saw the interest of having these platforms offering our products to customers who could not physically visit our stores. We also saw the importance of the relationship that our call centers have brought to these purchases over the past year,” says Catherine Rénier, CEO of JaegerLe-Coultre. “Customers were browsing online and calling our team for more information and advice, then buying We’ve seen that dynamic come together pretty well.
“That being said, I don’t think the stores are going to disappear. The physical experiences and expectations when visiting a store are very different. I think even when stores and boutiques open up, this existing ecosystem will blend together really well. Our customers can visit us, discover the brand and the watches, and then have the option of buying online at their convenience. Shops and boutiques will certainly continue to play a very important role. The physical store experience is different, of course, but the future will also have digital elements,” explains Rénier.
In India, well-known luxury watch retailers have now branched out into the e-commerce platform and are most certainly capitalizing on this hybrid format. One such example would be the Art of Time luxury watch chain in India.
Bharat Kapoor, Director, Art Of Time, says a strong digital presence for any brand, especially in the luxury sector, is the new normal. “The e-commerce boom started a few years ago and accelerated with the pandemic. Art of Time responded to the need of the hour and launched its e-commerce not only to fight blockages but also to expand its reach across India. We have made brands like Cartier, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger LeCoultre, Panerai, Roger Dubuis and Ulysse Nardin easily accessible to our customers while providing the same great shopping experience with our e-commerce site,” says Kapoor.
“The market has responded very well to this ‘new normal’ and our website has, as we hoped, gained momentum,” says Gaurav Bhatia, Director, Art Of Time India. “The 6 years of trust and relationships we have built through our physical stores have also allowed our customers to trust the Art of Time brand to deliver the same level of service and after-sales service, even when they transact with us online.To add to this there is a paradigm shift in customer buying behaviors and the way of thinking when it comes to buying luxury online. ‘a 24/7 online store without geographical borders is not missing for our customers. Luxury sales on e-commerce platforms are expected to break records in the near future and we have ensured that Art of Time is ready for this boom,” says Bhatia.
Given the traditional Indian mindset, are we there yet? Well, maybe not. But it is clear that the luxury watch market in India is going through a period of transition. With emphasis on customer orientation and proactive communication, nothing can stop the vertical growth of the luxury watch market in India.
Karishma Karer is a writer, journalist and founder of The Hour Markers.
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