In popular culture, the future is often portrayed as swift, sleek, and high-tech – qualities not typically associated with the Swiss watch industry, which prides itself on making sleek analog devices using painstaking techniques, often secular.
Nevertheless, many watchmakers are finally ready to greet the future. To explore what this might mean for them over the next decade, The New York Times asked three experts – a consumer psychologist, a retail futurist, and the publisher of a watch publication. luxury – how buying and owning a beautiful watch will change, and the issues that will concern watch consumers. Their responses have been edited and condensed.
Peter Noel Murray
Director of a New York-based company research and consulting practice specializing in emotional and behavior change.
How has the pandemic affected the psyche of consumers?
The consumer’s mind has been focused on uncertainty, vulnerability, the need for stability – that’s what drives every conversation I have now.
People are asking – driven largely by the pandemic, but made worse by the ongoing social unrest – where are we going? The economic future raises concerns. People are upset by what is happening to jobs, to local businesses. They yearn for less disruptive and more predictive situations, so that they can begin to take back control of their lives.
From a strategic standpoint, you’d better be talking about factors like authenticity, truth, and timelessness – these types of constructions have always been an important part of the luxury mindset, and never more than now.
How should brands woo customers?
Customer experience is essential. There has to be recognition of how the consumer feels. It would be useless to say, âIt’s over, let’s go out and party. The strategy should be to adopt a tone of understanding and comfort. Hard to explain, but you get the idea. It’s more a question of tone than words.
What other product qualities are consumers interested in?
Design and features are important. But in this environment, the value of the investment, i.e. buying a product that retains its value, is another important element. One of the lessons people talk about in my interviews is that they aspire to be in charge. We realize how uncertain the world is. All of this changes our mindset about how safe we ââfeel, where we buy, and what we buy. It’s about making a responsible choice, rather than saying, âThis is the last color. “
Does this mean that the desire for classic vintage-inspired watches will continue at the expense of more avant-garde or contemporary styles?
The contemporary can always seduce as long as it positions itself in a context of trust, authenticity and, often, timelessness. There needs to be a tribute to core values, because authenticity and truth are an antidote to uncertainty and chaos.
President of Research and Strategy, New York-based trend consulting firm PSFK.
We know the pandemic has accelerated the digital switchover. What are the less talked about changes in retail that are here to stay?
Scheduling one-on-one appointments is very relevant in a luxury context, whether it’s a style consultation or learning how to use a product. It can happen in a store, but it can also happen in people online; we’re all on Zoom and FaceTime.
One of the great things is that you suddenly have this very intimate experience with a client who is at their house and you can say, âShow me what’s in your closetâ. Many retailers use store staff to do this. They have a product on hand and use the store as a backdrop, and they can start using the information they have about a customer to make smarter recommendations, and use that experience to complete a purchase or lure them into. the shop.
At PSFK, you do a lot of research on next-generation omnichannel concepts in which customers have a seamless experience across different âchannels,â like social media, phone, and in a physical store. What’s the last one?
There’s this idea in the manufacturing space called âdigital twinsâ. This is a digital version [of a product] which sits in line with all the data, so if there are any issues or a part breaks, you can proactively fix or adjust things. We envision a future where every product has a digital twin that sits in a cloud. You own it and if the item changes hands it just becomes another way of thinking about ownership.
Theoretically, this creates a relationship with a brand or manufacturer so that they have the ability to monitor performance. If they notice there’s a problem with a watch, let’s say it’s wasting time, they can proactively say, âLet’s make an appointment for a repair at a nearby dealer. We can order the part you need and save you from being left without a working timepiece for a while. Solving this problem early on, being proactive about it, is another way to add value to that customer relationship.
How far is this kind of service?
The technology is being used at some level on a larger scale, in the manufacturing space, where you have these big industrial machines and all these different parts are working in concert with each other and there is a centralized sensor that is able to to capture all this information and translate it into AI or a machine learning element capable of checking anomalies.
Having a sensor small enough to fit into something like a watch and then having some sort of platform to facilitate that, I guess I could imagine that happening in the next 15-20 years.
What other changes do you see?
One of the other cool things we paid attention to is luxury as an investment class or products as asset classes. More nascent are these new platforms which allow the progressive ownership of luxury items.
One is called Otis, started by Michael Karnjanaprakorn, who founded [the online learning community] Sharing of skills. As a business, Otis buys items like artwork or crazy sneakers, and you as an individual can buy shares in those items. It’s the same way the stock market works: assets either rise in value or fall in value.
Why would someone want to buy a part of a watch?
At the most basic level, people invest in this stuff because they think it’s going to generate value and it’s related to their passions and interests. If you are an avid or ambitious watch fan, but can’t afford to buy a Patek Philippe Nautilus, there’s this idea that your acquaintances – in the same way someone might know about the market. scholarship – could benefit you financially. It also registers you in this community. You can wear the watch once a year or something like that. Or you have access to insider content shared by the brand.
What do you think of things like digital-only luxury goods and non-fungible token, or NFT, watches?
The idea of ââthe metaverse [shared virtual space] has become a must-see thanks to the Fortnites and Robloxes of the world, where people come together not only to play, but also to attend Lil Nas X concerts and socialize.
Companies are now creating versions of a product that exist in both physical and digital form. Imagine that you love Gucci, but you are 14 years old, you cannot buy the handbag. But you can buy it for your digital avatar, where you spend four hours a day hanging out with your friends. As a way to create an affinity and ambitious quality in a consumer, this is quite interesting.
Editor-in-chief of WorldTempus, a Geneva-based watch publication.
The Swiss watch industry has been painfully slow to adopt online. Is this still the case?
Pre-pandemic, many brands got married with the idea that online is incompatible with the values ââof luxury watchmaking. âWe are not going to expose ourselves online because you are not able to fully experience this mechanical beautyâ – this is a philosophy best suited to an artisan watchmaker who is happy and eager to stay small. If you care about your customers, in doing business, you cannot not have a digital presence.
What’s your boldest prediction for the industry over the next decade?
All of the trend analyzes I have encountered point to greater polarization and shrinking of the market, which essentially means that brands that are already strong will continue to strengthen and more expensive watches will become a larger share of sales – since consumers tend to shy away from adventurous shopping in uncertain times, and demand in the high end of the market is quite inelastic due to the economic isolation enjoyed by the ultra-rich.
I do, however, have some bold hopes. From a consumer perspective, I believe that the level of awareness, knowledge and appreciation of watches will increase, due to the continued effects of media digitization and the rise of a consumer audience that has access to more information than ever.
Do you consider that some watchmakers are avant-garde?
An interesting example is Jacob & Co. Jacob Arabo stepped down from running the day-to-day business and his son, Benjamin, stepped in. He’s 28 or something unbelievably young. Benjamin has not always been in the family business. He was developing his own career in the tech sphere, but he also consulted for Jacob & Co. As a result, they were one of the first brands to do this intensive online customer outreach which took much longer to develop. ‘other brands to boot. What really comes into play is how they cater to the younger generation. Jacob & Co. is by far the most active luxury watch brand on TikTok.
Do you think the debate around the value of beauty (Swiss watchmaking) vs. utility (Apple Watch) has changed? How do you see these categories coexisting?
It is a false dichotomy. We should not force consumers to choose between pleasure and convenience.
Why do we think that a utilitarian object cannot be simultaneously beautiful? Montblanc had the right idea a few years ago when they launched their e-Strap, an electronic module that can be mounted on a mechanical watch. Never force people to choose between A, B, C or D when the best answer is truly âAll of the aboveâ.