Are Educated Watch Buyers More Valuable Customers?

Are Educated Watch Buyers More Valuable Customers?

Are Educated Watch Buyers More Valuable Customers? Feature Articles

Like all industries, the world of timepieces is an ecosystem. Watches are designed, produced, and eventually purchased. That latter part of the necessary cycle is one that is complex and difficult to understand - especially for watch writers and enthusiasts who typically have only their own experiences to reference. Most of the time, the relationship that brands have with journalists and consumers is very different and separate than the relationship that watch retailers have with journalists and consumers.

This separation isn't always a good idea and often causes a large gap between the perceptions people buying watches have and those that the people responsible for communicating about watches have. An overall goal of mine is to better integrate the business of the watch industry with media on the watch industry. As part of this larger goal I recently conducted a series of surveys designed to learn more about the watch retail environment, experiences that retailers have on a daily basis, and what role consumer education plays in the sales of high-end timepieces.

One result of the surveys was the discovery of an important fact that I cannot stress enough. Whether it is surprising or not, the overwhelming consensus among everyone I interviewed was that watch-educated consumers not only buy more watches, but buy more expensive watches. Education in this context really means how much information and knowledge a specific consumer has about timepieces in general, mechanical movements, and brand history/values. We are not talking about book smarts or IQ.

To best present the findings of the survey, I will list a series of questions or statements and show you what key retailers had to say in regards to them. I want to thank the following people and businesses for their time and input. Thank you to Roberto Chiapelloni at Manfredi in Greenwich, Connecticut, Rob Caplan at Topper Jewelers in Burlingame, California, Greg Simonian at Westime in Los Angeles, California, Jasmine Bapic at Audemars Piguet in Miami, Florida, and Larry Barkley at Tourneau in New York, New York.

Are Educated Watch Buyers More Valuable Customers? Feature Articles

The Importance Of Educated Watch Sales People

The above watch retailers were chosen by me for a range of reasons. They are either very large stores or have a reputation for having quality sales people. Each of them responded as proudly having highly educated watch sales people or at the least have policies that make efforts to educate their sales people. Stores like Manfredi ensure their staff take part in learning activities as offered from representatives of the brands, and most have senior salespeople who travel to the brand's headquarters and visit the large watch shows.

Each of the stores explained that being able to talk on the same level with consumers about watches is very important. Manfredi for example even has a watchmaker in the store who can discuss movement complications directly with the consumers. They explain that knowledgeable salespeople help consumers "feel more confident about their purchases."

All the stores explained that even when a salesperson isn't as educated as they could be, passion and enthusiasm is an essential part of increasing consumer confidence. Topper explains how enthusiasm helps consumers want to hear more about the details of watches and the brands. Audemars Piguet explains how more and more customers are coming into their brand boutiques with high levels of information - which raises the education bar for the staff inside of retail stores.

Westime agrees, indicating that especially in the US, more and more customers each year "are showing interest in the history and inner workings of watches." It is therefore necessary to meet the level of expectations from repeat and potential customers. At Tourneau, "a major part of the [sales] ceremony depends on [the salesperson] selling the client on the passion of the brand and their DNA." The overall message here is that salespeople who are educated about watches in general and the product in particular seem to be a highly important part of the sales process for educated and non-educated consumers a like.

Are Educated Watch Buyers More Valuable Customers? Feature Articles

Educated Consumers Buy More Watches Overall

"Absolutely" was a very common response to the question of whether educated consumers are more valuable and buy more watches. Each of the retailers also stated that consumers are interested in the inner workings of watches - especially those looking at higher-end pieces. Tourneau claims that "over 90% of [consumers] are very interested in [the history, function, and technical specifications of watches]." They explain that for customers, "one of the joys of owning a complicated timepiece is being able to communicate about it to their friends and family."

Audemars Piguet suggests that "an educated customer is even more valuable when they are able to share their knowledge and appreciation with others." This would effectively make all educated brand enthusiasts mini brand ambassadors. Audemars Piguet also shares that education "is one of the most critical factors" in making a decision to buy an expensive watch.

All retailers mentioned increasingly educated watch consumers showing up in stores over the last few years. Manfredi and Topper both shared that they are extremely impressed by the knowledge and information many consumers have before they walk into their stores. While Audemars Piguet stresses that "there is no such thing as an easy sale," Westime explains that knowledgeable customers make for more simple transactions. These "customers know exactly what they are looking for, and once they find it, they buy it." Topper welcomes brands with large promotional campaigns that often drive customers into the store ("watches with enormous marketing machines behind them sell themselves"), but also finds joy in teaching customers about less well-known or niche brands.

The overall picture given by the retailers seems to be that customers are overwhelmingly interested in both the inner workings of watches and brand stories and histories. This would contradict statements that many consumers (at least in the US) buy just for looks or brand names. Customers expect a high level of knowledge from retailers, but often because they have a high-level of knowledge themselves. Being able to connect mentally with a retailer who has a product that a consumer wants is a key factor in purchases.

A further interesting finding is that all the retailers reported an increase in sales when customers are offered brand or product education in the store. Topper for example warns that sales people must carefully gauge what customers are interested in, but everyone suggested that after being intelligently presented with a product and thus educated on that product - customers are more likely to make purchases. This means that consumers who have knowledge on products either before or after coming into a store are more likely to make purchases. Audemars Piguet says it well when stating that "these days, higher-priced watches are not sold to those who do not understand what they are buying."

Most Higher-End Watches Are Purchased By Educated Consumers

Westime reminds us that most people buying very high-end watches are not first time watch customers - "they usually own at least one other fine timepiece before they are interested in obtaining a very exclusive watch." Once again, the resounding response from all retailers was "absolutely" when asked whether it was educated consumers who purchased the most expensive product.

Manfredi explains that "once a client understands what has gone into the making of an exquisite timepiece and the value that it translates into - it helps with the 'sticker shock' some clients may experience." They further suggest that "for us, the sale of high-end timepieces is frequently to clients who are educated about watches, the more high-end [the watch], the more education [is found in clients]."

Tourneau shares that higher-priced watches are "sold more to clients with a high watch eduction." The consensus among all the retailers is that high watch education is strongly linked to buying the most expensive watches. Tourneau among others suggests that much of this is due to those consumers understanding the value involved in the time and effort required to make the best watches. It seems to really come down to educating people about the value proposition of those watches and having a very good understanding of what their money is buying.

Are Educated Watch Buyers More Valuable Customers? Feature Articles

Retailers Can Make Or Break The Sales Experience

Tourneau states that for them, "the largest majority [of customers] have an idea of what they want, but not what watch brand can meet their needs." Topper mentions how their goal is to understand and connect with everyone who comes into their store or contacts them. Each customer has different interests, but not being able to give them the right information can turn off even someone who wants to buy something. "The salesperson's job isn't to sell the product to them, but instead to learn about how they feel about the thing they came in to see."

Sometimes a consumer will enter a store interested in one product, but this may not be the one that actually meets their needs. There is a difference between an informed and educated consumer. The best retailers will be able to accurately identify what a consumer wants and match them with the right watch. This not only can help match a customer with the right timepiece, but will also increase their level of education. Failing to do this can prevent someone from buying a watch.

Manfredi amongst others explains how at other times customers come into stores with incorrect information about watches saying that "there are clients who can develop ideas about brands that can be hard to overcome." Topper explains that success for them is in helping a customer find the product they want versus selling them a specific watch. Education can only take a consumer so far and neglectful sales staff can hamper good business.

Watch consumers who visit retailers with knowledge about watches are often being educated by the watch media - these days mostly online. Watch retailers are an essential part of offering consumers hands-on experiences and offering answers to questions that consumers have. Though more often than not, watch retailers are purchase stops rather than destinations for watch consumers - and they must be given good reasons to enter watch stores in the first place. Retailers, brands, and the watch media should work together more closely to better understand what the customer experience is like, and how to better improve consumer education and interest in watches.

  • Wei Yang

    Very nicely written and insightful. I thoroughly agree too.

    The most pleasant experiences at an AD is when the sales staff are able to hold a prolonged conversation with you on watches, and well as the pros and cons of it versus other brands’ models.

  • Kris C

    I often find that when I try to spread the education, I end up with eyes being rolled and heavy sighs. Is it a good or bad thing that true watch aficionados are so few and far between in the grand scheme? The internet makes me feel like I am surrounded by knowledable watch people, but thats not the case. I could see very real pro and cons to a sudden saturation of true watch folk.

    • nateb123

      @Kris C Is this in a shop or are you just talking about watches out of thin air to random people? I’ve got my friends I talk about watches with and friends that I don’t. They’re pretty clear cut groups.

      • Kris C

        @nateb123 I generally stand on a busy street corner, usually with pants on, and ramble on about watches, but I really don;t get many people joinuing in. Why?

  • Ulysses31

    An interesting read. The first thing to turn me off from a purchase of anything is if the sales-person knows less about the product they’re selling than I do. Another thing – and this may just be me – is that I and a lot of people work in new-media type jobs where the suit and tie died a death years ago. I understand that high-end watches are about prestige and heritage but some sales guys look like they’re part of a gentleman’s club. Certain stores make you feel like you should be wearing a top-hat, monocle and carry a cane before entering. This might vary from country to country but either way, it can be a little off-putting.

    • A larger message I wanted to assert is less about retailers and more about buyers. The more educated they are by the time they walk into a store the better in terms of sales. So brands and media alike should take note of that. The older business model suggests that retailers are the ones giving the education.

  • MichaelG

    This article is pretty much spot on and an interesting subject to ponder on. I could tell a thousand tales about AD’s and boutique’s and I bet they’d be similar to that of fellow aBtRers. I find most sales people in the watch/jewellery business can fall into a number of categories and types, much the same way there are different types of customers. I’ll do a summary of my perception of these sales people and post it later. It would be interesting to hear others experiences and how they compare with Ariel’s article.

  • JohnnyJohnnyJohnny

    Too long, did not read.

    • There are services that will read it out loud for you… and blind people.

  • PNWTony

    I agree and am spreading the word. A few weeks ago I blogged about a similar topic, as relates to Invicta/Swiss Legend/Android Red Line, etc. Those brands that claim a $750 MSRP but sell for a tenth that on ChronoShark, and have probably not honestly sold any at list… a price equivalent of well made swiss components, sapphire anti-reflection crystal and an automatic mechanism, but more typically featuring cheap stamped faces, mineral glass and either japanese quartz or a Seagull automatic.

    Not that the watches aren’t fine; they’re a good deal at $70, but a lie at $750. They are functional costume jewelry. Again, fine thing, just don’t lie with a false price tag.

    Meanwhile, I have about 12 watches, four purchased in the last 15 months, at an average of $600 or so. The cheapest was, I suspect, my Christopher Ward C5 MkII, a nice automatic with sapphire crystal and a man behind the watch.

    Who I emailed this past weekend, just a day or two before this ABlogToRead entry came out, asking him to do something different rather than the same-old-same-old motorsports theme – maybe add tritium or a mechanical alarm (or both), because otherwise it’s harder to differentiate to the masses.

    And, in the same email, I suggested he get more exposure on ABlogToRead. No lie!

    It’s not just that educated watch buyers purchase more watches, but that we purchase more EXPENSIVE watches. Because we understand what they are. Analogous to buying an Audi S4 rather than a Honda Civic; both are 4-door sedans, but knowledge explains the difference.

    • Thanks for thinking of the site! 🙂

  • Eric S

    Thanks as always for yet another fascinating read, Ariel. I think it would be interesting to replicate your study in various countries around the world and see if the results are the same or not. If you need any help with that kind of project here in Japan, feel free to ask.

  • This makes sense. The more educated you are about watches, the more you understand about their workings, their craftsmanship the more you will appreciate them and thus the more you will pay for them.

  • nateb123

    I hate to be negative as I’m sure it was a lot of work to survey various dealers but this is all a bit fluffy. It’s like when mens magazines tell guys to put on deodorant before a date. Kind of obvious. There are many more interesting aspects of the salesperson-client relationship that are HUGE and yet were totally ignored.

    Most importantly, clients tend to be a lot more emotionally motivated than logically motivated. Even if you meet a customer’s list of requirements for their watch, you often find that what they have in the checklist in their mind and what causes them to get excited about a watch are entirely separate. We’re just not all that rational. Generally salespeople accept that customers don’t know what they want but then most customers aren’t buying watches. They’re buying feelings. If a watch significantly affects how they view themselves (or how they want to be) they’ll shell out a lot more for it. The logical bits are often rationalized after the fact. After all, there’s a reason people say they “love” their nice watch, not just that “it satisfied my list of requirements”. This goes for even the most knowledgeable clients. A lot of up sales are made, and many other sales that would otherwise have been lost are recovered, because of salespeople who understand this.

  • mrhavis

    “AN EDUCATED CONSUMER IS OUR BEST CUSTOMER” was the tag line for the (ironically) now closed Syms clothing stores. I certainly agree with the saying. And I think that product education gets even more important as the product price goes up.

    The manufacturers spend a great deal of money to educate the consumer regarding their products. But, of course this education is one-sided. Your posts do a great deal to help educate the consumer by providing an outside opinion.

    Having been in the business for some time though (as a watch rep), I have always considered the education of the retail sales associates to be of the highest order. As it is those associates who are the final transmission link from the manufacturer to the end customer.

    Not only can those sales associates provide the consumer with the wealth of product knowledge about a brand and its competitors (all in context) – they can also provide the consumer with a sense of the watch company itself.

    Is the company rightly focused on the consumer? Are they a good company to work with – from the retailers’ point of view? The retail sales associate will know if the watch company is good when it comes to handling consumers’ problems with their watches – or if they are difficult. And so forth.

    Today, the consumer has more choices than ever before. And mega-information is just a computer-click away – on anything, including watches.

    So, in my opinion, education regarding a watch purchase is necessary, and easy to obtain. But, there can be an overload of information. So, after everything is said and done –

    The watch company designs a watch

    The company engineers the watch

    Parts are machined

    Other parts are ordered in and inventoried, and allotted

    Dozens or more people are involved in the putting the watch together

    The watch is advertised and promoted in the media

    Ariel Adams writes a blog about the watch

    The watch is shipped to the distributor

    The distributor inventories the watch

    The rep goes out and calls on the retailer, and obtains an order for the watch

    The retailer orders the watch in

    The watch gets delivered to the retailer

    The rep educates the retailers’ sales associates

    Then –

    After everything is said and done – it all comes down to this – it is the retail sales associate that finally puts that watch into the hands of the consumer. Nothing from the above list matters until the sales associate finally does his/her job.

    I don’t know if they get the respect that they deserve.

    Mike

    • Thanks for the detailed insight Mike.

  • Interesting write-up Ariel, and I can fully relate to what you and the persons from the dealerships are saying. Once one knows more, respect for the craftsmanship and skills, grows. And usually the desire to acquire more interesting timepieces grows as well. The whole chain of communication from manufacturer, through media channels (like our blogs), to dealers is essential in this.

    Great read, thanx!

  • Jef_in

    Totally agree.  Educated consumers buys more expensive branded watches since they know what they want.  If the educated consumer walks into a watch store and the merchant does not know where the movement came from, and cannot answer questions from the consumer,  the consumer just walks away.  Feelings about the product might get the consumer in the door, but what makes the consumer buy the product is the engagement with the merchant.  The more knowledgeable the consumer is,  the  more demanding his questions to the merchant would be.
    As an example,  a watch store in a mall near me has placed Seven Friday watches on display with the wooden carrying case and all.  The watch got noticed,  I have not seen a unique piece and it was not yet on A BLOG to WATCH at the time.  I went in, asked the merchant about the watch i.e.  what is the movement,  how much reserve power, where is it manufactured etc,  initially the merchant said, “oh it’s a swiss movement sir,  and it’s made in Switzerland”.   I asked;  “why is there no ‘swiss made’ markings’,  then she can’t answer and have to ask other staff members. At the end of the day,  NO SALE,  and no intent from me of going back to the store to buy Seven Friday.  Just because the merchant does not know the product.  Kinda turned me off.
    But it got me searching the net for the brand.   I still wish to own one Seven Friday,  maybe the M1, someday.  But not through that store.