Exclusivity, authenticity, personalisation: the keys to the luxury customer experience are changing. How can a brand reach even a captive audience when shops are shuttered, airports empty and resorts under curfew? “Digital took a back seat at most luxury brands. The pandemic has been a wake-up call,” says Henri Foucaud, founder of Hapticmedia which develops brand-specific 3D configurators for e-commerce. “They’ve realised they have to offer an online experience that recreates as closely as possible the boutique experience.” Existing initiatives were clearly no longer sufficient. In a world under digital rule, watch brands had to migrate online.
Building a bond
As the coronavirus outbreak put consumption on hold, the more intrepid watchmakers began to look beyond the traditional communication channels while seeking alternative ways to engage the end customer. And the results aren’t lacking in interest. Having stayed out of the digital arena, considered a jungle of counterfeits and pale imitations, brands saw how the world wide web offers a unique opportunity to communicate directly with watch lovers in need of some horological TLC, and recreate a rapport with the customer that can be even more personal than over the counter of a boutique, judged elitist by many. Which is how Zenith boss Julien Tornare came to deliver news from the Covid-19 front in a series of video messages. “We have to stay in contact, keep an open mind and adapt to a greater level of uncertainty,” commented Patrick Pruniaux, chief executive of Ulysse Nardin.
Watches and Wonders has reinvented itself for digital and is lining up a range of new features for this year’s edition.
Brands set about testing new formats – and not just the watch fairs such as Watches and Wonders, reinvented as an online event with a range of new features lined up for this year’s edition in April. An in-person event in Shanghai immediately after the online Salon makes Watches and Wonders 2021 the first truly phygital watch fair. There have been other new ideas, too. Since last summer, IWC has hosted “an exciting new virtual experience” that lets visitors take a customised tour of the brand’s museum and manufacturing facilities in Schaffhausen thanks to a live stream. IWC’s innovative Cyberloupe technology even lets them peek over a watchmaker’s shoulder as they work.
Bringing in blockchain
Augmented reality is also making an appearance. When Bvlgari launched its Man Glacial Essence fragrance last September, it did so with the help of Oculus immersive reality. Oculus Quest® owners can download the experience on their home headset. At a past Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie, Roger Dubuis was already equipping visitors with a headset so they could explore the meanders of its skeleton movements. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s recently introduced On Your Wrist app uses a virtual reality filter so that customers can “try on” selected Jaeger-LeCoultre watches at home. The brand is currently testing, with Google, a mobile app that will enable users to click on search results and see their chosen watch in three dimensions.
All these initiatives use functionalities that break with traditional “white glove” luxury and make use of technologies that are already a familiar part of customers’ ordinary lives, particularly younger consumers. Having lagged behind, watch brands are catching up with digital technology… which is how, in the space of a few weeks last autumn, Breitling, Vacheron Constantin and Hublot all announced they were incorporating blockchain technology into their production. “We are happy to foster the creation of an open innovation ecosystem around blockchain for luxury,” Vacheron Constantin’s CEO Louis Ferla declared. “Digital identities will transform the way one owns valuable assets, enabling owners to track the product lifecycle, share or prove ownership, and benefit from tailored services attached to each timepiece. On top of proof of ownership, our clients will benefit from blockchain’s ability to store all information about a timepiece, including technical information, user guides, certifications, and product history. Our clients will benefit from a new galaxy of services, such as seamless resell on Watchfinder and online repair requests.” Welcome to the virtual customer experience!