You made your mind and decided to buy a new watch! So where do you start from? And where are you going to make the purchase? Buying a wristwatch might be a frustrating experience if not well planned… especially when “wristwatch” refers to a certain value item and not to the very affordable watch bought on an impulse.
This post is intended to help people navigating more effectively in the retailer landscape whether classic brick-and-mortar, internet or others when it comes to buying a new timepiece.
First thing first! The high-end watches might be sold in brand boutiques (e.g. Omega own stores), via third-party watch store or larger department store and some are also available for sales online – there is actually also the gray market channel but we will not cover it in this post. Those points of purchase offer different advantages; each has its own pros and cons and the buyer needs to carefully evaluate them before making a choice. However, the key factors that might drive your choice in terms of point of purchase are essentially two: your watch expertise and the kind of watch you are looking for. For the latter we assume that we talk about watches of a high value and for that we intend watches with a meaningful price for your specific pocket. Hence let’s look at the starting point for the two different cases based on level of watch expertise:
Limited Watch Expertise
If you have relatively low watch expertise and want to invest a meaningful amount of money on a watch then the best thing to do is to leverage the expertise of someone else. This can be your expert friend or even better a watch sales person. For this reason your starting point might be a brick-and-mortar store.
In the case you already made your mind and decided to buy a specific brand then go to the brand boutique and talk to the sales person to understand which specific model would best suit you. Conversely don’t go to a mono-brand boutique but rather talk to a sales person in charge of multiple brands and even better talk to multiple sales persons in multiple shops. Everyone has his/her own view and personal brand experience and not all of them have a long standing experience in the field hence it is good listening more than one sales person before making a choice. Once you have started framing your mind around one or a couple of brands then go and talk to the sales people in the mono-brand boutiques as those are the real brand experts (generally better trained by the watch manufacturer) and can give you further expert advice.
Obviously don’t forget internet – forums, blogs and similar are an incredible source of information but be careful as many people self claimed expert might lead you in the wrong direction. Always refer to the most renowned blogs (e.g. watchuseek, ablogwatch) and check bloggers references. However, a face to face conversation with a well trained sales person who has been doing that job for several years might be more effective.
Hence, going back to the sales people, there are a couple of questions you might ask in order to better understand their experience level (after you have done some homework on internet) and whether they have any special interest on selling a specific brand and/or model.
When the sales person starts presenting you a specific brand and or model, ask him/her a bit of background on the brand and also ask for the reason why they are advising that specific item to you. Those are simple questions but will immediately show the level of knowledge and passion of the sales person as well as clarify whether they understood what you are looking for or advising just the latest (or highest margin) item.
Ask about the movement of the watch – you might want to know whether the watch has a mechanical or quartz movement but ask for more. This is another simple test to validate the expert advice - a good sales person would know where the movement is manufactured and might be able to give you even more information if prompted. Then, if the watch offers more than just a time measure, ask how the watch works. Ask him/her to explain how to use the different features is another simple way to understand how much they know about the item they are trying to sell you.
Finally don’t get settled with the first proposal and ask for alternatives. The sales person should be familiar with other brands that play in the same category and at similar price point. Then ask to explain why they did not offer the alternatives in first place – advantages and disadvantages of all brands presented.
With the above questions you are able to assess the sales person while at the same time learning a lot about the wristwatch to potentially purchase. Note, however, that the above are only some of the questions you should ask. For example, you might also want to know whether there is a warranty on the watch and how it works or you might want to know whether the watch requires service and estimated timing and cost for it.
After having done your round of sales people and internet search you are then ready to make your purchase. The question is still valid though. You could go back to one of the store visited (whether mono-brand or not) or you could still buy online. Skip the following paragraph and see where it would be best for you to buy in the “where to purchase” section.
Medium/High Level of Expertise
If you have medium/high level of watch expertise then you most likely have already in mind THE watch to buy or at least have a couple of ideas to start from. Considering your level of expertise you don’t really need to talk to lots of people but you might still want to validate your thinking and you can do either via leveraging internet or the sales people (I would go for the mono-brand watch store if possible). You might also discover, for example, than the following month a new model is going to be released or that the specific model you want is going out of production. Those are all important information that might affect the decision for purchasing a very high end value wristwatch.
Conversely if you have medium / high level of expertise and don’t have yet made your mind in terms of brand and / or model then you might get inspired in different ways. If you have the possibility to travel and visit Basel World then “bingo”! this is the place to be to discover all the novelties and best luxury brands and models. Conversely you might investigate whether there is any similar event close to you – in most of the big cities there is always a kind of jewelry & watches show – or you can screen all the famous blogs about watches.
Where to Purchase
As mentioned, every point of purchase has its own advantages and disadvantages. Here below, we summarize the key ones for both a generic physical watch store (mono-brand or not) and online shop:
Physical Retailer - The first top of mind advantage of a physical retailer is the “Consumer Experience”. This is something that internet will never be able to compete with. We are talking about the experience of getting into a luxury store to buy a luxury item (not about getting into a low end shopping mall). At the end you are looking for a luxury watch because you want to live a “luxurious” life or make a statement. Hence why not enjoying a great treatment in a mono-brand boutique? Obviously this has a price! Every brand will offer a different kind of experience and will try to make you live the brand values during that relatively short time frame.
The other key advantage, as mentioned before, is the expert consultation – in the physical watch store you can generally get great insights and advices about the watches especially in the mono-brand ones. In the physical watch store you also have the opportunity to immediately try the watches; to assess the weight and the look and feel of the watch. You’ll immediately see whether that specific size fits and suit you well or whether a different brand/model is better. If you purchase there you’ll also get the immediate gratification (i.e. watch at your wrist as soon as you pay!) and will be easier to manage any after sales service if needed.
On the other hand, the stock of watches in the physical watch store generally doesn’t turn over quickly. This means that your watch might have been tried on by many people and might have few years of life at his back. For this reason always inspect the watch carefully and make sure that it has not been damaged over time. Another disadvantage is the fact that, watch stores generally have very limited assortment of both brands and specific model so you might need to choose from what is available instead of what you might like the most.
Internet Retailer - Generally watches sold online have lower price. This is often driven by the fact that brands that sell (uniquely) on internet don’t have to cover overhead and real estate costs or third party margins. However, the high end brands tend to have harmonized pricing and there should not be any price difference between what is offered in store vs what is offered on authorized online retailers.
The real key advantage of internet retailers over the physical one is, however, the ability to offer you a much broader choice of brands and models. In fact, many high end (less commercial) brands of watches have very limited number of mono-brand watch store and only few approved third parties retailers. So if you are looking for a specific watch, let’s say a A. Lange & Söhne and you live in UK then you might need to travel to visit one of the only 4 watch stores in the country (3 of which are in London) or if you want a Christopher Ward than be aware they are available only online.
Also, not to neglect, is the fact that some people are not comfortable with “pushy” sales people and enjoys the possibility to buy from a computer comfortably sitting at home rather than having to go to a boutique.
On the other hand, you always need to make sure the online site is an authorized dealer for the brand (if not the brand specific site). Notably only about 55% of Luxury watches currently have any sort of e-commerce or e-concierge capability. Also, as you cannot try the watch first make sure to have the chance to either try (in physical store or via paper sample as SevenFriday and Todd&Marlon do) or return the watch if it does not suit you. Another disadvantage is that when buying on internet you might have to pay for shipment costs (though about 80% of Luxury brands offer it) and/or for import and duty fees (this is generally the case). Lastly, remember that what you see on screen is not necessarily what you’ll see on your wrist especially in terms of colors. Photos are magic and colors on screen might not perfectly reflect reality – in this context, you might look for “no filter” images next to common objects to better understand the color shades (instagram is great for that!).
We would not advise one point of purchase over the other. It will be your ultimate choice to decide where to make the purchase – assuming you have a choice. In fact, as mentioned, some brands are available (to you) only on internet and others might be available only on physical stores. However, if you have the choice then you can take in consideration the above advantages and disadvantages and make a conscious choice. Ultimately, take the time to investigate before to make a purchase decision for a luxury / high value wristwatch. It may save you some disappointment and ensure that your new watch exceeds your expectations in every single way.