WatchBox, the eCommerce site best known for being the leading global platform for pre-loved luxury watches, has announced that it is forming a partnership with high-end Swiss retailer Les Ambassadeurs, expanding on the company’s current strategy to move their services from an exclusively digital realm into the physical world. This agreement follows the launch of WatchBox’s authorized dealer network in the United States in partnership with California-based Hing Wa Lee Jewelers in December 2018.
The system allows potential customers to bring their watches into a Les Ambassadeurs store for a price evaluation. The staff in the store use WatchBox’s evaluation tool and propose a trade-in price to the customer. The customer can use this credit note against a new purchase; the watch is then sent to WatchBox, who will sell it through separate channels. This not only saves the customers time (and provides them with face-to-face reassurance) but also offers both retail models a couple of valuable benefits.
This is a significant step for the next phase of online/brick-and-mortar business relations. For many years, the online market has been accelerating by leaps and bounds (Financial consultancy Kepler Cheuvreux estimates the current global market for pre-owned watches, alone, to be worth upward of $15 billion annually). It has, especially in the entry-level luxury segment (around $1000-$5,000), been tearing chunks out of the more traditional model.
While very high-end purchases remain the preserve of physical retailers, it is nearly impossible to envisage a long-term future for brick-and-mortar retailers based solely on this level of trade. It is surely feasible that a very small number of “concierge” stores could sustain themselves, feeding from these six-figure scraps as they would have to, but for a widespread network of stockists to exist in such a world seems unconscionable. In fact, WatchBox itself already owns and operates several such private showrooms and buying offices in Philadelphia, Hong Kong, Switzerland, and South Africa.
This partnership with Les Ambassadeurs will see WatchBox establish a physical presence in Zurich, Geneva, Lucerne, and Lugano. Furthermore, WatchBox’s product range will also be offered on the Les Ambassadeurs website, creating a fully integrated service platform.
WatchBox Global President and Chief Operating Officer, Amanda Ellison, says, “The vision for WatchBox is to create a truly connected global marketplace, instituting a standard of excellence for both product and service within the pre-owned category. By bringing WatchBox to a global stage, we can offer a broader inventory to a greater network of consumers, while hiring and partnering with the most talented traders and retailers in the industry, and achieving economies of scale. We are delighted to forge ahead with Les Ambassadeurs as a strong, forward-thinking partner.”
The move by WatchBox is clever (and timely) because it has instigated a mutually beneficial transition period. Les Ambassadeurs benefits from getting customers through the door and by selling their watches. Of course, there may well be an agreement in place for WatchBox to take a small percentage of every sale for their involvement with this scheme, but the retailer is far more likely to be able to sell their watches at full retail rather than having to offer a discount due to the trade-in deal, thus negating any potential fee.
This personal experience offers the customer a feeling of security and the added luxury experience of being in the store. Meanwhile, WatchBox’s operations are given a reputational boost by their association with a real-world store (there’s nothing untoward about WatchBox’s practices, to begin with, but many would-be consumers of high-value products are reticent about dealing with a purely digital enterprise).
Doubling down on the comments of the WatchBox CEO, Joachim Ziegler, CEO of Les Ambassadeurs, said, “It was very important for us to not just be a first mover in Switzerland in the pre-owned market, but to also offer an unparalleled service for our clients. They will be able to buy, sell, and trade pre-owned watches in our boutiques, as well as online, all backed by a 15-month warranty and the trusted expertise of two industry leaders.”
The knock-on effect of a digital/physical retailer collaboration could be huge for the industry. At the very least, whether this particular model takes off or not, it has further broken down barriers between the two sides and reignited the discussion of how creative and entrepreneurial leaders in both retail segments might better work together going forward. Learn more at thewatchbox.com.