January 17, 2015
by Ariel Adams
Did you know that there are valuable benefits to buying watches at authorized dealers and brand boutiques that aren’t typically advertised, and that you very well might not know about? It’s true, and while our goal isn’t to tell people where to buy their watches, there is an infrequently discussed story here to share with watch lovers.
As a consumer, your job is to get the most value for your money. Smart consumers spend less to get more, and when people overpay, we look down upon them. These natural tendencies of consumer behavior aren’t abandoned when it comes to buying luxury goods such as watches. The point of this article is to show certain “hidden areas of value” that might very well change why and where people make their watch purchase decisions. I first want to put this whole article into context, because people without a lot of experience buying watches might not understand all the places where watches are available, and their various pluses and minuses.
There are official and unofficial ways of getting a watch. Official places to purchase new watches include authorized dealers who carry a range of brands, as well as brand boutiques that carry products from just one brand. Some watch companies make their timepieces “officially available” for purchase online (either directly on their site or via third-party authorized dealers) and some don’t. Unofficial ways of buying watches include a host of “gray market” dealers who aren’t authorized dealers but acquire timepieces in a range of ways.
A discussion of the gray market and why it exists is really for another article. However, we do discuss the basics of buying timepieces in the aBlogtoWatch Watch Buying Guide. Because gray market dealers aren’t bound by pricing policy rules from brands, they can discount a lot. It should be noted that gray market dealers are different from pre-owned watches dealers, who specialize in re-selling used watches. The common sentiment among many watch buyers is that gray market dealers have two main benefits. One is making it easier to purchase watches because they operate mostly via websites, and thus people can buy from anywhere. Second is price. Gray market dealers often offer prices that authorized dealers cannot beat.
Price discounting at authorized dealers does often exist, but it isn’t very deep. Further, at most brand boutiques, no price discounting is allowed by the brand. So, assuming products are available at gray market dealers and all things being even, it makes a lot of sense why consumers often want to purchase their watches at gray market watch stores. In fact, one of the only “published” reasons watch brands offer to encourage people to purchase at authorized dealers and boutiques is warranties. Watches purchased at gray market dealers do not come with official warranties, meaning that if there are issues with the watches the consumer will be forced to pay for repairs that would otherwise fall within warranty coverage – or, in some instances, the grey market dealer will offer their own warranty.
To be honest, most watch warranties aren’t that great to begin with. They can “save” you in many instances, but customer satisfaction when it comes to watch brand warranties and servicing isn’t that high – but of course, that also depends on the brand… and things are getting better. Nevertheless, if you have a good relationship with an authorized retailer that you purchased a watch from, and you have a legitimate mechanical issue with your watch, then you will be “taken care of” properly.
Are warranties the only benefit of paying full or close to full price for a watch? No. Over the years, I’ve learned of a lot of other interesting benefits that watch customers get from buying timepieces at authorized dealers and/or single brand boutiques. These are benefits that vary by store, city, and brand… as well as the consumer. So I can’t really promise that any of these benefits will apply to you if you buy a watch directly from a brand or at a brand boutique, but there is a good chance at least some of what I am about to discuss will be a welcome surprise when buying a watch through an “official channel.”
In preparing this article, I sent out questions and interviewed a lot of people. I wanted to offer specific examples of the unexpected benefits people might get from buying watches at authorized dealers or at brand boutiques. A lot of brands, while happy to discuss the matter with me off the record, didn’t really want to be specifically mentioned or to have me share what they do for their consumers in this article. That seems strange at first, but it really has to do with protecting the exclusivity of their events and services, as well as not wanting to step on the feet of their authorized dealers. You see, some benefits only exist when you purchase a watch from a brand boutique, while others exist whether you purchase the watch from a brand boutique or an authorized dealer.
That brings me to the second major reason why the brands aren’t willing to be too public about these benefits – they don’t apply to all consumers or at all stores. So, while we can’t make promises, I’d like to discuss some of the likely things you can expect if you decide to purchase watches at authorized dealers or at brand boutiques. The value of these things vary, but are not insignificant – and added up, might very well make up for paying full retail in a lot of instances.
In addition to getting the basic 1-3 year warranty most timepieces come with, buying watches from authorized dealers as well as particular brand boutiques can come with extended warranties. It isn’t uncommon for buyers of watches from high-end brand boutiques to receive warranties as long as 5 years in length. These warranties often cover just the movement or major defects, but depending on your relationship with the retailers, warranties can be extremely valuable. In the worst case scenario, a faulty timepiece can be completely replaced with a brand new one. Compare that with no warranties at gray market retailers, who also often have “no return” policies that can infuriate purchasers who receive problematic watches. Most brands further offer zero recourse to consumers who complain to them after having issues with gray market dealers.
Looking forward to buying that hot new watch as soon as possible? Interested in getting your hands on a hard-to-get limited production timepiece? Retailers tend to keep track of what their customers like and also keep waiting lists. They can also make specific requests from a brand headquarters when one of their customers makes it clear they want a particular model ASAP. This doesn’t just apply to when an impatient customer wants a new model, but also in instances when limited production or limited edition models are going to be very difficult to get. Brands like Patek Philippe are famously picky with who they sell their “Grand Complication” models to – and in many instances, they must “know” who their customers are. Other brands simply want to reward their frequent customers that they sell directly to or via authorized dealers. So if you are in the market for a hard-to-get new watch or want to be among the first to get something right out of production, you’ll want to purchase watches the official way.