Why it's so much better to shop for watches offline
The world has Net-a-Porter to thank for democratising luxury. Today, not just fashion apparel and accessories but even fine watches and jewellery can be yours at a click. It is no longer the case where each time you're looking for new fine jewellery or a watch that you've got to get all dressed up, hike your way into town, and make small talk with a sales associate who's probably more interested in upselling you a product you don't really want. But is this really the best way forward?
It wasn't so long ago that luxury watches and jewellery were the epitome of high luxury. Inhabiting the same realm as supercars, mega yachts, and prime real estate, companies like Cartier, De Beers, Tiffany & Co, and Piaget were reserved for society's crème de la crème. People actually had a go-to sales associate whom they could trust to bring them the updates on the newest launches and most exclusive creations. This was how VIP clients called dibs on the world's rarest watches and high jewellery. Countless friendships were forged over time as well — yes, this was when making new friends was something that happens offline.
"Going to the [watch] store was like going to the library or bookshop," says watch collector Timmy Tan. "It would be 30 minutes or even an hour just to browse. When I bought my first serious watch, I spent six hours in the shop." Tan went into the store after lunch and came out in time for dinner. For a watch priced at $45,000, it was time well spent but was it really necessary?
Says Tan, "I really wanted to know what the watch could offer me and the sales manager took great pains to explain the complications. It was a helpful experience and it's really great to be able to understand your watch. He was willing to share. Till today, whenever I pass the shop, I'll go in and have a chat with him." Not only has he acquired a watch but also made a friend with a shared passion for watches.
If this is not enough to motivate you, know that there are other real benefits to buying a watch or jewellery piece from a brick-and-mortar store. It's the same reason why the world's best chefs personally go to the markets every day, instead of ordering their produce online. Tan gives us eight good reasons to walk into a boutique instead of buying online.
1. There's always an element of surprise
Different stores carry different products. Sometimes there'll be surprise finds like a new brand or some old stocks available. Many special pieces are also kept in the safe and brought out only upon inquiry.
"Sometimes you find surprises locally as well as overseas. I've bought pieces that were kept in safes, only brought out when you ask. There are surprises in store, literally."
2. To get an insider's perspective
Talking to an in-store sales associate can give you invaluable trade information, which may not be so freely shared online. A good sales associate is exposed to a wide variety of brands and know the industry intimately. He or she will be able to offer insights that you may not have considered.
"There's such a diversity of information online making it hard to filter. In many cases, brands that have the strongest exposure with the bloggers will have biggest brand awareness. But there are lot of other brands which also deserve attention so you might be missing out on them."
3. For a mutual learning experience
Brands today understand the importance of training, so retailers are mostly well prepared to answer any questions on their products. You can test your knowledge of watches with them and start a discussion on any topic. Over time, don't be surprised to find your knowledge of watches greatly increased.
"When I first saw an FP Journe, I was not attracted to it. I didn't understand why it had to be done this way. But each time I went to the store and chatted with the sales team about it, every time they explain something new to me, and over time, I learned to appreciate the watch, and finally decided to buy it."
4. To get a sense of market sentiments
Sometimes what you read online can be quite biased and it's often not easy to discern between real opinion and commercially-driven messages. Heading down to the store, as you would the bookshop or library, gives you the opportunity to meet fellow enthusiasts with whom you can exchange information or learn something new.
"From time to time, a brand would have issues on after-sales, for example, or quality control. This is where your interaction with the retailer is important. They can tell you these things. Buying online is like buying blind, unless you already know everything."
"I really wanted to know what the watch could offer me and the sales manager took great pains to explain the complications. It's really great to be able to understand your watch."
5. For a little respite from the Internet
When everything these days can be done through your smart phone, it's nice to keep doing something the same way it's been done for decades. Part of the pleasure is in keeping up with the ritual of stepping into the store, enjoying the ambiance, and walking out with a spiffy shopping bag.
"There's a lot of emotion online, and emotion is not controlled, so objectivity is lost somehow."
6. There's the option to try on the pieces
This is probably the most compelling reason why anyone would step into a store. Watches and jewellery can sometimes look very different onscreen versus instore. Many also look very different in the showcase versus the wrist. The 'feel' of the watch is also important. If you're spending thousands on a watch, the 'feel' has to be there. Who knows, it may help you buy online in future.
"I know of people who've bought really good collectible watches like Royal Oaks and Nautiluses but they regret and hardly wear them because the watch doesn't fit their lifestyle and taste."
7. You can develop a relationship
Going into the store regularly makes you a familiar face to the sales associates. They will get to know you, your tastes and preferences, what you already have... In time you will be given preferential treatment whenever new stocks arrive.
"An advantage of having a trusted retailer comes into play especially with limited editions or special pieces. If you have a relationship and are a valued customer, they may be in a position to reserve something for you."
8. Keep abreast of what brands are up to
Another reason for frequenting the stores is that you'll be able to observe brands as they improve and evolve. Brand X may be facing issues in the past but maybe today it has resolved them. If you don't see that, you might still be carrying that bias.
"The role of retailers is changing. Today they are better trained and versed with the brands and their offerings, so talk more to the retailers. It's like an educational thing. Go in, see new things, and walk away having learned something new."