Guide To Buying Watches Online Versus In Retail Stores Watch Buying Photo credit: Tourneau

Physical stores also have some advantages over the virtual stores. Many of them attract walk-by customers by carefully arranging their exterior displays, having a welcoming foyer, nicely dressed and friendly staff and a good collection from a variety of brands. I would hazard a guess that half of their sales are from people just walking into the store never having had the intention to make a watch purchase that day.


I’ve put together a little table for you here on the pros and cons of virtual versus physical stores and coming up shortly in this article, I’m going to provide tips and things to consider when making your next watch purchase. This will apply to both sellers and buyers.

On-line Store

Physical Store

Pros

  • Generally less expensive
  • Broad selection
  • Global presence
  • No pushy salespeople
  • Regular sales and markdowns
  • Get to try on
  • Easily compare models/brands
  • Quick answers to questions
  • Immediate gratification
  • Faster after-sales service
  • Personalized buying experience

Cons

  • Returns can be a hassle
  • May not be authorized
  • Answers to questions may take days
  • Popular models more likely to be sold out
  • Can’t inspect watch nor try on
  • Language barriers
  • Screen colours often not accurate
  • Hyperbole is prevalent – why is this a “professional” watch anyway?
  • Generally more expensive
  • Narrower selection
  • Watch may have been tried on by numerous people

I’m really not advocating one type of purchase over the other, it’s going to be a matter of preference, timing and convenience. Just keep in mind that given the choice, you are almost always going to have a more enjoyable post-purchase experience (and likely pre-purchase too) with a bricks and mortar store. Watches can be finicky, and you need to have someone there to take care of issues when they occur.

It is also important to say that we have no problem at all with on-line sales from stores that have an actual physical store location. There are lots of opportunities to buy on-line from an authorized dealer and have the same level of accountability and service – just remotely.


Of course, you may not have a choice. For example, Christopher Ward makes some fine timepieces at incredible prices. If you want one, you’re going to have to buy on-line. But, they are a bit of an exceptional on-line brand and others could learn from them. Their website is well designed, they have lots of high quality photos, ordering is quick and easy and shipping is very fast. When I received my CW C60 Trident, there was a personally signed note from the president, a note guaranteeing I would be pleased, a nice polishing cloth and an indication that the watch was inspected and tested before being shipped.

SevenFriday also tries to take some of the guesswork out of purchasing one of their watches. You can print out scale photos of one of their three models and try it on your wrist!

Guide To Buying Watches Online Versus In Retail Stores Watch Buying

Now, I’d like to give you some tips when buying from the two types of stores. Feel free to add your own tips or personal experiences in the comments section. I’ll try to respond quickly.

Buying from an On-line Retailer

  • If appropriate, make sure they are an authorized dealer (AD) for the brand. This will help protect your warranty.
  • Make sure you know the case diameter you want and ensure the measurements on the site give you diameter with and without the crown/pushers.
  • Ask them if they regulate the movements themselves or if they are a reseller/packager.
  • Ask them to inspect and test the watch before shipping.
  • Ask for an inspection checklist (day/date change works and is centered, chronograph and other complications work and pointers are set properly, no cosmetic damage, all paperwork is intact, timing is good (takes just a few minutes to test the watch on a timing machine), etc.
  • Ask what their return policy is if you don’t like the watch. Is there a restocking fee?
  • Ask about their warranty policy. Who pays for shipping, where does the watch need to be sent if there’s a problem?
  • Is the owner/brand active in the watch community? Do they seem to care about their product?
  • Check the community for reviews and impressions keeping in mind the possibility of bogus reviews.
  • Make sure you check this site for impressions and experiences with the brand/product.
  • If you end up paying import taxes and duties, keep the receipts. If you have to send the watch out of country, you may end up having to pay again – the receipts will get you your money back.

Buying from a Physical Retailer

  • Make sure they are an authorized dealer (AD) for the brand.
  • Luxury watch stock doesn’t turn over that quickly, your watch will have been tried on by many people. Check for scratches in the case, bracelet and crystal. In some cases, ask for safe stock (watches not on display but in the safe), they may have the same model that has never been out for the public to fondle.
  • Check that all functions work correctly and that on watches with complications, the pointers/hands line up with their markers correctly. It bugs me when I’m looking at a $10,000 watch and the chronograph seconds hand doesn’t reset precisely to zero.
  • Ensure you have a good idea of what you want before entering the store (i.e. dress watch, chronograph, material type, band or strap, preferred brand etc.). This will save you and the salesperson some frustration.
  • Show professionalism, take off your watch and jewellery before trying on their products.
  • If the salesperson bangs the watches against the case or other watches as they’re being removed to show to you, find another retailer. This one doesn’t care enough to make sure their staff are properly trained. I’ve left many a store for this exact reason.
  • Ask how long they’ve been in business and how long they’ve carried the brand you are interested in.
  • Know the prices available from on-line retailers and other competitors. This will give you some ability to negotiate. Even retailers that say they have fixed prices will negotiate if you’re ready to make the purchase.
  • Make sure you take everything with you including the right box, warranty materials, receipts, extra links (from resizing), and tags. May not seem like a big deal at the time but for servicing and resale, these items will make a large difference.
  • A lot of luxury watch stores have a no-return policy. Make sure you really, really like what you are buying. If it’s a gift, make sure that you can at least get a store credit if the watch is not the right one for him/her.

Retail (virtual or physical) Turn Offs:

  • Inaccurate descriptions – even larger brands aren’t immune to this. I purchased a Frederique Constant watch only to find it didn’t have a screw-down crown and, it was 42mm not 43. As of the date of this article, their website is still wrong in spite of having let them know of the errors.
  • No guest mode for purchases (not everyone wants to create an account)
  • Bored salespersons
  • Eager salespersons who came running up to serve you (you really wanted the older, relaxed gentleman or lady) but don’t know anything about the product and so they need the more experienced person who now is busy with a customer who came in after you.
  • No guest seating – why am I forced to stand at a counter?
  • Hidden price tags – let us see the damn prices
  • Shipments that happen weeks after you order a product when it said it was in stock
  • Only one photo or poor quality photos
  • Salespeople who don’t treat you as someone special. Believe or not, I was in the process of selecting a Rolex to buy at an AD when someone new came in. Without a word, the saleslady left me to go serve him. About ten minutes later, she came back (the older gentleman didn’t buy a thing). I thanked her for her time (brusquely I might add) and left.
  • Requests for surveys that ask you for feedback on the website when you’ve barely even landed on the home page
  • No shipping options other than the one they’ve decided is best for you – because you know, they’ve a better idea of what works in your city than you do.
  • No ability to create a wish list
  • Your special “limited edition” watch of 50 pieces never seems to sell out – tell us how many are left!
  • Add your own pet peeve here: ___________________________________

We’re at the end of what I hope was an interesting and useful article. We watch folks love many different brands and models and we’re sad when something doesn’t meet our expectations. Take the time to do a little bit of investigating before you buy and keep in mind the above tips. It may save you some disappointment and ensure that your new watch exceeds your expectations in every way.



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