Why Zenith, Hublot and other Swiss watch brands are now offering online shopping – Robb Report

Earlier this month, Ulysse Nardin unveiled something that many luxury watchmakers have been painfully slow to embrace: an e-commerce site.

“I see the website as a continuation of what we do brick and mortar,” says CEO Patrick Pruniaux, adding that, for now, the site is operational in the US and UK. “When someone puts a watch in a shopping cart, they may not go to checkout and that’s fine. If the e-commerce experience is good, it may continue in-store.

Ulysse Nardin Diver X Pointe Nemo and Cape Horn

Courtesy of Ulysse Nardin

However, many of Mr. Pruniaux’s competitors have turned away from direct-to-consumer online sales as they are reluctant to disrupt established distribution channels and disrupt longstanding relationships with multi-brand partners. Although that dynamic, like many things in the age of Covid-19, is changing. Though few executives said so, the pandemic has clearly accelerated verticalization efforts as brands come to terms with the consequences of global lockdowns.

Hublot Big Bang and

Hublot Big Bang and

Courtesy of Hublot

Hublot launched an e-commerce site earlier this month when it launched the Big Bang and, the brand’s interpretation of a luxury smartwatch. CEO Ricardo Guadalupe reportedly said that with retail stores closed during the crisis, the brand has been forced to ramp up its digital platform.

Maximilian Büsser, founder and creative director of independent Geneva brand MB&F, has taken a measured approach to e-commerce. The company’s sister brand, MAD Gallery, has been offering online sales for years. In 2019, MB&F launched into e-commerce by offering some of its co-created table clocks via the gallery’s site. Then, the brand uploaded selected pieces from its wristwatch collection, such as the HM10 Bulldog or its latest co-creation, the LM101 MB&F X H. Moser.

MB&F x H.Moser LM101

MB&F x H.Moser LM101

Allen Farmelo

“The third step is to include selected parts from the inventory of our retail partners around the world, usually the last remaining part of a series, available only at one of our retailers,” explains Charris Yadigaroglou, Head of communications at MB&F. “We are now talking to our partners about parts, but expect to have them live around mid-June.”

Zenith also got the e-commerce memo. The brand is set to introduce an e-commerce site on July 2.

“As far as the commercial validity of e-commerce is concerned, that remains to be seen,” explains Thierry Collot, director of the Zenith USA brand. “It’s important to have it. Since we only have 30 doors in the whole country, we have customers who say, “I’m 60 miles from this city, where do you want me to get my watch?”

Zenith Chronometer Revival Shadow

Zenith Chronometer Revival Shadow

Courtesy of Zenith

In stark contrast, the watch industry’s three most sought-after brands – Audemars Piguet, Rolex and Patek Philippe – remain true to their commitment to physical retail. None offer direct e-commerce or allow their authorized resellers to sell online. (Patek Philippe briefly allowed its retailers to engage in e-commerce after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic in March, but reversed that decision once the factory reopened on April 27.)

“Honestly, they don’t need to do anything new to grow their business,” says Brian Duffy, Group CEO of Watches of Switzerland, which has many multi-brand stores in the US and UK. “They’re of the view that you really should walk into the store and try the product. And I really respect that view. But if one day they decide they can transact, we’ll do a huge deal online.

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