Watchmakers at the industry’s major fair in Geneva this week said they are bringing themselves up to speed in the digital age following China’s economic recovery.
Through online stores, social networks, and brand new boutiques in China’s central cities, manufacturers at the international luxury watchmakers show SIHH are hoping to reach up-and-coming affluent shoppers now that financial signals are positive again in Asia.
“China was the good surprise of the past year with a sharp increase in our exports,” Swiss Watch Industry Federation President Jean-Daniel Pasche told AFP, adding the market still presents a “strong potential for growth”.
While statistics for the whole of 2017 are yet to be published, Swiss watch exports to China have returned to double-digit growth, rising by 19.6 percent between January and the end of November.
Watch sales grew spectacularly with the expansion of the Chinese economy until Beijing banned extravagant gifts in an anti-corruption drive at the end of 2013.
“There was a big dip,” said Pablo Mauron, a partner at Shanghai-based digital communications company DLG. “But the signals are once again very positive.”
“For a long time, the Chinese loved to buy their watches in Europe, in the shops on the Rue du Rhone in Geneva or in Paris. They liked to come back from their travels with an experience to tell,” he added.
But watch enthusiasts are now more inclined to buy directly in China — both because of a reduction in taxes on foreign purchases and a greater hesitation to travel following the wave of attacks in Europe.
Among the developments, Chinese consumers are now much quicker to make purchases online, notably through China’s main social network WeChat.
“Many brands have positioned themselves on this platform to reach a new clientele,” said Mauron, citing German manufacturer Montblanc, which led a social media campaign to launch its interactive watch in China.
Swiss brand H. Moser plans to unveil at the Geneva fair a partnership with JD.com, the Chinese online trading giant.
“A small factory like ours doesn’t necessarily have the means to launch a big advertising campaign throughout China,” its chief Edward Meylan told AFP, emphasising the effectiveness of online trade to gain a foothold in the market.
The brand, however, also plans to open its first high-street store in China because it believes buyers still want to see expensive products in the flesh before buying.
French company Hermes also plans to open an online store in China later this year, said one of its directors Guillaume de Seynes in an interview at SIHH.
He said Hermes will also open two new shops in the center of the country where a wealthy class is emerging, to strengthen its network beyond China’s megacities.
The Paris-based brand intends to set up in Changsha, in Hunan province, where Mao was born, and in Xi’an, a province of Shaanxi, known for its terracotta army.
“It remains a market on which we have a lot of hope,” said Guillaume de Seynes. AB
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