While it is by no means a complete discussion of the large topic that is the internet and the watch loving/selling community, there is an excellent article on Fratell0watches.com (linked to Watch Freaks) on the topic of “Web 2.0 and horology.” The idea seems to be that watch makers (of course not all of them as many flourish online) are out of touch with the modern approach to selling through the internet. With their limited presence, many watch companies merely passively view online discussions with caution, or actively seek to control them.
Dedicated watch forums for brands such as Rolex, Breiling, Omega, and Panerai are often closely monitored by their respective beloved brand owners. Careful when interacting if at all, companies listen to consumer sentiments (and hopefully react). There are also website forums such as Timezone.com, which are blatant marketing tools for advertisers to control consumer content, and place only positive information about their watches, while censoring anything negative. I discuss this practice here when I talked about Timezone.com.
A larger issue regards the traditional manner in which watches are sold; through “authorized dealers.” This has mostly to due with price setting, but it also reflects an inability to adapt to how people are purchasing goods online today, which include watches and luxury goods. People are going online to purchase cars and houses. They want to buy watches online too, but you’ll find that with many brands, you simply cannot find any of their watches online as they control their inventories like precious commodities. In fact the only way to get a large range of desirable watches is to find an authorized dealer, of which there may only be a handful in the world. This is remarkably stupid, unless the sole reason for doing this is that only a limited amount of watches can be made, and everyone single one is selling with incredible profit. Unlikely story, and resulting mistrust of internet sales continues.
Authorized dealers themselves are not to blame. For the most part, they have their hands tied because of agreements with distributors and watch companies. It is hard to determine the major reason that watch companies are not willing to focus online with greater attention, but I would say that is has to do with the traditional watch distribution channel.
The article by Robert on FratelloWatches illustrates this concept well, and attempts a few partial explanations. While the reasons are not all clear, the consumer knows about the status quo of many a watch company, and their timid relationship (or even outright aggression) when it comes to the internet and “authorized dealer” maintenance.
This is not to say that all watch companies are like this. Many newer or more progressive companies have embraced the power of the internet to spread word of their watches and reach ever wider audiences. Many watch companies even sell direct to the consumer, which is a practice that legacy makers would not dare to engage in. “Leave it to the sales people to sell watches, they should be lucky we grace their stores with out product.” This is seriously how I envision many watch companies’ feeling given their behavior and attitude toward Internet sales.
The moral of the story is that the watch enthusiast community must communicate to watch makers what it wants. More information online, a wider dealer network, more availability on watch details and pricing, along with available inventory that isn’t just sitting in a hob-nob boutique in New York or Geneva. Most watches available online from the more timid of watch companies flow from rogue dealers who take watches from the authorized market into that very scary place for watch makers – the gray market (insert spooky noises here). The unknown zone where prices can be anything, and they don’t know who is going to wear their watches. They need to just get over themselves and give a bit more credit to the consumer in knowing a good deal from a bad one, and valuing a product based on its market worth, not subjective pricing. With this I reiterate my metaphoric applause to those quality watch companies that have tread cyber-ground, offering watches, parts, and service online. Sometimes exclusively online. They enjoy the fruits of a responsive community, and the power of what cheap and truly global marketing can offer.