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Secret staying power of fashion watches

Fashion watches are helping consumers make powerful lifestyle statements in a market where subtle is in and brash statements are out. ANGELA TUFVESSON reports.

There’s no denying the love for fashion watches. Amidst the prominent fashion brands that have ventured into time-telling, like Michael Kors, Marc Jacobs and DKNY, there is now a growing group of smaller watch suppliers leveraging the public’s elevated demand for sleek, utilitarian designs – think of models like those from the ever-expanding Daniel Wellington and relative newcomer The Horse.

Unsurprisingly, the category is a mainstay for many jewellery retailers as sales of these affordable and on-trend accessories continue to remain robust. The staying power of the fashion watch is especially remarkable considering the intense competition it has faced from digital substitutes, more sophisticated timepieces, branded jewellery ranges and other discretionary goods.

So why are consumers drawn to these timepieces? It turns out the attraction may now have less to do with individual factors like price, status and look, which were arguably the main motives a few years ago.

The fashion watch taps into a growing consumer preference to use lifestyle cues to project identity. While consumers might have sought to rubber stamp themselves as purchasers of particular fashion brands as recently as five years ago, they’re much more focused on subtler forms of self-expression in the current market.

Lifestyle icon

Consumers have long used branded products to tell the world who they are but recent research suggests brands are now increasingly entwined with more complex ideas about identity. Brands are expected to help consumers project the lifestyle they desire, not necessarily the one they have.

Nike, The Body Shop, Apple and Virgin are especially good at showcasing their products within the context of a broader, aspirational lifestyle. Beyond functionality, these brands use a variety of marketing strategies to create communities of consumers who are youthful, environmentally aware, stylish and/or mobile.

According to consumer psychologist Dr Damian Cotchett, this means the relationship between product and identity is stronger than ever.

Dr Damian Cotchett, consumer psychologist
Dr Damian Cotchett, consumer psychologist

“The role of consumer goods, especially fashion products, and the advertiser telling the story around [them] is becoming even more important in terms of what people are identifying with,” Cotchett says. “There is a stronger sense of individual identity based on how consumers perceive themselves to be seen by others. It’s this interaction between the symbols, identity and consumer goods that is playing an increasingly important role.”

In the jewellery industry, lifestyle and fashion brands continue to challenge and even usurp traditional brands, especially when it comes to watches. Perhaps more than any other category, the fashion watch provides an accessible way for consumers to project a lifestyle statement.

“The traditional watch [for example] is a more enduring brand that people are using as a way of connecting with established social groups whereas a fashion watch is really tapping into lifestyle,” Cotchett says. “It’s about saying, ‘I know what the trend is. I’m up with the trend and I’m able to have more than one of them and mix-and-match in terms of how I want to be reflected.’”

Perhaps one of the biggest movements within the fashion watch category is a shift in customer demand. Consumers are now showing an increasing preference for understated and subtle fashion watch brands that reflect an authentic, grassroots lifestyle. This is different to five years ago when big fashion brands reigned supreme. 

“We’re finding that simple designs are coming back,” Brad Remmer, owner of Regency Jewellers in Cairns, Queensland, says. “Daniel Wellington is probably our biggest selling fashion watch brand and that sums it up – it’s a really simple design, it’s fashionable, it’s trendy and lots of people have it. Customers come in and ask for it by name, and they know which model they want because their friend has it.”

Social media and fancy watches

While it may seem like lower prices make fashion watches appealing to a larger segment of the watch-buying market, there are many more factors at play.

Diana Timmermans, owner of Rokoko jewellery store in New Zealand, says consumers are drawn to the on-trend look rather than the price.

Diana Timmermans, owner of Rokoko jewellery
Diana Timmermans, owner of Rokoko jewellery

“With more expensive Swiss brands like Longines and Tag Heuer, people buy them because the styles are timeless, whereas with fashion watches, it’s all about what’s in,” she says. “It might be a different colour that’s really fashionable or a lot of bling or no bling; it just depends what’s in fashion and that’s what the customers want.”

Cotchett agrees: “Price is probably one of the lower criteria. First and foremost, it’s about identity. How does a person want to be seen by others around them? This taps into the lifestyle that a person is trying to project.”

That’s not to say that high-end timepieces and fashion watches share nothing but a clock face. Jennifer Craik, a professor of fashion at the Queensland University of Technology, says three factors entice consumers in all watch categories: history, celebrity endorsements and conspicuous consumption.

“Although they’re usually spending less than $500, consumers are still going to be [strongly] influenced by those very expensive advertisements you see for those very expensive watches,” she says. “There’s still an emulation factor: you can’t afford to spend $34,000 but you can afford $450 for something that has the same sort of cache. The question is, how does an ordinary consumer translate the qualities they want in the expensive brands into one of the cheaper brands?”

For years, brands have turned to celebrity ambassadors to help consumers bridge this gap and promote all-important lifestyle elements. Now, fashion watch suppliers are turning to social media, especially Instagram, to connect directly with consumers.

According to Noah Gattea, owner of Gattea Jewellers in Campbelltown, NSW, social media nous is key to the success of up-and-coming fashion watch suppliers that lack the backing of large fashion houses.

“A lot of the up-and-coming brands that are doing well for us like Daniel Wellington and newcomer Christian Paul have been fantastic on Instagram and that’s what’s giving them an edge over the other watches,” he says. “Social media has been the biggest difference with the new up-and-comers and how fast they’ve gone in, what they’ve developed and how quickly they’ve developed. It’s about continuously bombarding customers with inspirational images, so they think, ‘I want that lifestyle.’ That’s why these brands do so well.”

Chris Telley, head of retail and digital and social innovation at watch supplier Kapten and Son, agrees that social media support helps smaller brands build brand equity.

“There is a reason why the smaller players are popping up every day on social media and Instagram,” he says. “It’s because the big players are spending millions on TVCs [television commercials] and magazine ads, whereas social media can gain more traction with a better and succinct return on investment for a fraction of the cost. For us, Facebook is a huge driver.”

Coming back for more

Fashion watches are obviously less expensive than their more traditional counterparts so the challenge – and opportunity – for jewellers is to encourage repeat purchases.

Vanja Stace, director of fashion marketing consultancy Stace+Co, explains that consumers approach fashion watches in much the same way they approach other accessories like handbags and shoes. As such, they will often own four or five different watches.

Stace believes jewellers can maximise repeat purchases by providing clear rationale for why consumers need to purchase multiple watches.

Vanja Stace, director of Stace+Co
Vanja Stace, director of Stace+Co

“You need to tell her why she needs to keep purchasing in order to remain trendy,” she says. “Make sure you hit the right values. As fashion-conscious females, we fear we’re going to be irrelevant or that there’s a hot watch out there in the market we need to know about.”

Timmermans explains fashion watches are especially appealing to men as they have fewer socially acceptable opportunities to wear jewellery. Jewellers who stock men’s fashion watch brandscan also take advantage of a gap in supply.

“A lot more men would be buying a lot more fashion watches if they were available to them,” Timmermans says. “There just aren’t as many fashion watches for men – at least not to the same extent as women. Most guys don’t wear jewellery but they will wear a watch; the watch is their thing.”

Given consumers can often afford to buy more than one fashion watch, brand loyalty is not as strong compared to the more expensive timepieces.

“Often people may have two or three watches from a particular brand,” Neil Watson, owner of Watson’s Showcase Jewellers in Launceston, Tasmania, says, “but brand loyalty only lasts so long. So while consumers are somewhat loyal, it’s not long-term loyalty like the old days where you wear the same brand for 20 years because now, the next ‘it’ brand is only around the corner.”

Gattea adds that even though newer, ‘preppy’ styles of fashion watches offer simple, classic designs, they can be customised to suit different lifestyles, outfits and moods.

“Customers will buy different straps to create different looks,” he says. “If the watch brand has an extensive range, it’s possible they could buy multiple watches from the same brand.”
Who to stock and how

With a growing number of brands offering fashion watches, it can be difficult for jewellers to decide which brands to stock and how to retain customers when most brands are widely available online and in other bricks-and-mortar stores.

Cotchett says the key lies in creating a coherent narrative that marries the lifestyle values of stocked brands with the needs of target consumers.

“See which themes brands are projecting and whether this fits in with what you’re trying to market to your customers,” he advises. “With fashion watches there are some key themes that tend to come through around a sense of individualism, independence and a sense of ‘I know who I am.’ It has little to do with the features associated with the watch and more to do with the story that’s connecting with lifestyle and people’s identity.”

From a broader fashion perspective, Stace says it’s important for jewellers to show they’re up with the latest trends in order to maximise sales of fashion watches.

“It’s about the way that you [jewellers] market the pieces you have season to season, giving us a break from what was popular last season and really demonstrating that you understand the way fashion is going,” she says.

“A fashion watch is an accessory within the fashion field; if you show you understand that part, you’re telling the consumer you understand their desires as well, and that’s another way you can build a relationship.”

Stace believes retailers should use social media to keep up with current trends and communicate directly with consumers.

“Social media influences are such a huge and important part of the fashion industry for discovering new brands, what trends are happening and new pieces consumers want to have. Using social media is hugely important to build that desirability. It’s not about up-selling people in the store; it’s about building that desirability, which sends the customer to you.”

Trends come and go but Cotchett believes Australian consumers will continue to yearn for fashion watches regardless of price.

As such, jewellers who can successfully create the right brand, consumer and lifestyle mix are well placed for long-term success in the sector.

All that remains is the ever-changing question of style.

FASHION WATCH BREAKDOWN

The fashion watch scene never stays stagnant for long. Here’s what retailers need to know about the current market:

Daniel Wellington
Daniel Wellington

The fashion watch scene never stays stagnant for long. Here’s what retailers need to know about the current market:

  • Subtle is in and brash is out;
  • Consumers may have once sought to rubber stamp themselves as purchasers of particular fashion brands but now they’re much more focused on subtler forms of self-expression;
  • Price, status and look aren’t driving sales to the degree that they were a few years ago;
  • In addition to well-known brands, there is a growing group of smaller watch suppliers banking in on the consumer’s demand for sleek, utilitarian designs;
  • Social media, particularly Instagram, is being credited as key to the success of up-and-coming fashion watch suppliers;
  • Retailers can also use social media to track current trends and communicate directly with style-conscious watch consumers.

 










ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angela Tufvesson

Angela Tufvesson is a journalist with 10 years’ experience writing for many of Australia’s well-known consumer and trade magazines. She is a freelance contributor to Jeweller reporting on various aspects of the jewellery industry.

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