It’s time for luxury watch brands to go online in China


Key points to remember:

  • China remains the only favorable market for the export of luxury watches amid the pandemic, showing great future potential for this market.

  • Thanks to the refined demand for a premium customer experience, luxury watch brands are embracing a unique path to digitalization, integrating more disruptive digital tools for an unprecedented online experience.

  • Online platforms should have more implications for luxury watch brands than just acting like markets. This is only part of the whole game.

The luxury watch industry is the epitome of refinement and class, as it highlights craftsmanship, heritage, exclusivity and a touch of mystery. But, according to data from the Swiss watch industry, mainland China was the only positive export destination in 2020 (24%), making it the most relevant market in the world for the growth of this industry. Yet China is ruthless and ever-changing – a place where consumers want to communicate, belong and be the brands they buy, especially millennials and millennials.

In this country of dynamic digital innovation, companies see digital as a crucial battleground to be won, and luxury watchmaking players are no exception. Until now, luxury watch brands still relied heavily on their offline store chains where consumers could happily watch, linger and savor one-on-one service. But the industry is gradually jumping on the digital train and taking a different path towards digitalization as it has distinct dynamics and very high demands to create unprecedented luxury experiences.

Watch brands are flocking to open flagship stores as online shopping destinations, hoping to take a slice of the big e-commerce pie. But, online platforms have more implications for luxury watch brands than simply acting as marketplaces. This is only part of the whole game.

Live broadcast

Experience and know-how are probably more important in this sector than in any other industry. What size should I wear? What bracelet color goes best with my skin tone? As such, many brands have capitalized on live streaming, the ‘has it all’ tool, by highlighting two-way conversations rather than sales conversions. In addition, they cater to different groups of consumers, transmit their brand heritage and reveal the invisible art and craftsmanship behind every delicate timepiece.

New technologies

Another big question for brands that are tackling the digital wave is how to build the same premium atmosphere and the same prestigious service while adding more value to their overall communication strategies. To help answer this question, disruptive digital tools like AR, VR, and 3D technology are gaining momentum. VR technology offers consumers an immersive experience, such as a tour of the brand’s virtual store, where 3D product displays allow consumers to experience products from 360-degree perspectives. Relying on big data, brands now have better visibility on the behaviors and preferences of their consumers and can constantly optimize their marketing strategies. Meanwhile, AR technology allows consumers to test products through direct virtual trial.

IWC Schaffhausen launched an app with a virtual watch trial function ahead of this year’s Watches and Wonders digital exhibition. Photo: Courtesy


For the luxury watch industry, it would be profoundly beneficial for online channels – whether social platforms or e-commerce – to act as broadcasters on a larger arena where brands can amplify their influence and intensify their social buzz. We have to admit that the Internet has a clear advantage over the Outline in some ways, such as the use of a more transparent price, better access for consumers to compare and a more complete assortment of products. In addition, it offers a more dynamic approach to tell the story of the brand and present products that resonate with the younger generations of China.

Looking at these latest innovations, it’s curious to find that many important players have implemented tools like the Tmall 2nd loft minigame and Douyin challenges into their digital wallets. These and other refreshing approaches to providing brand culture and education engaged audiences in entertaining and interactive ways.

Unique online mechanism to drive sales

In addition to the three approaches that the luxury watch industry has taken to its digital transformation, it also has the advantage of incorporating various methods to facilitate sales, including installment payment services, special offers for festivals and insurance. scope of brand or platform, to name but a few.

Therefore, actors who can see the big picture and extend digitization beyond online stores while integrating a full carrier of products, services and experiences will have the most tangible benefits and reap the most rewards and minimize more risk in the long run. There is no room for opacity in luxury.

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