Trend watch: Affordable fashion
In a sign of these tough economic times, fashion-savvy shoppers are snapping up affordable timepieces. James Knowles finds out how you could boost your profits by targeting this market.
In today’s post-recessionary economic climate consumers have had to become much more savvy about what they spend their money on. While many are cutting back on non-essential items, robust watch sales have shown that no matter how tough things get people still want to spend. Consumers have largely split into two camps, with some spending less frequently but splashing out on a high-end timepiece when they do, while a significant proportion are investing in fashion watches as a way of refreshing their wardrobes without breaking the bank.
Interestingly, figures from market research company GfK reveal that the consumers buying into affordable watch brands are doing so through the department store and multiple jeweller sales channels. The results show that year-on-year sales of watches priced below £150 rose by 3.2% at multiple jewellers in June, while sales at department stores rose by 27.5% in
the same period. GfK product manager of watches and jewellery Jonathan Hedges notes that department stores selling watches with an average price of £80 are doing well.
“In my view, department stores have grown volume share by simply stepping up their activity,” he says.
Despite an overall decline in sales of watches under £150 of 3.12%, negatively impacted by a sales dip of 9.76% at mass merchandisers, sales of affordable timepieces are bucking the trend as consumers embrace cheaper alternatives to middle-market and higher-end models.
Affordable is en vogue
Retailers that want to boost their profits should be stocking up on affordable and fashion watch brands in order to meet this growing demand. Philip Wolkind, general sales manager at Casio Electronics Co, which produces watch brand Casio, says: “People are still conscious about not giving in to frivolous spending, but one of the things we are not prepared to forgo is our appearance. We all still want to look the part and accessories are a key way that people can achieve this.”
Timex marketing manager Dan Calvert agrees. “The consumer is being cautious in this current climate and focusing heavily on brands that are able to deliver quality, innovation and style at affordable price points,” he says.
Mondaine and Luminox UK brand director Derek Salter also agrees that affordability has become a key concern for consumers. He says: “There will always be consumers that desire the latest styles and fashions. Those that swap and change their watches with the seasons will be more inclined to purchase from the affordable end of the market and will see their watch as a fashion accessory, which can be updated as trends come and go.”
Distributor Unique Jewelry launched affordable Swiss-made Spanish watch brand Festina at trade fair The Jewellery Show in February and since then the brand has gained 40 accounts nationwide. Unique Jewelry sales manager Daniel Ozel says that affordable brands are doing well because customers operating on reduced budgets still want quality timepieces and good designs. “In particular, young people want to change their look quickly and easily, and adapt to new fashions.
They don’t want to spend thousands of pounds on one watch, which they will then wear for years. They prefer to buy something cheaper and change the style more often,” he says.
Zoe Uhrmacher, brand head of Guess watches at distributor Sequel UK, says that consumers are now buying into watches in the same way that they shop for clothes. “Watches are now also seen as a fashion accessory that people buy to coordinate with their wardrobe,” she says. “Also, due to the current economic climate, people are much more price savvy. They want to be able to buy the perfect accessory and remain on trend but not break the bank in doing so.”
Eight-store chain Hugh Rice the Jewellers stocks fashion brands including DKNY, Armani and Juicy Couture, and managing director Michael Rice believes that the rise in fashion brands is boosting sales of these watches. “I think that today’s consumers want to own more than one timepiece and I believe that the rise of fashion labels has a lot to do with it. Consumers aspire to these brands and want to buy into the lifestyle that they convey,” he says.
Maidstone jeweller Head & Hart stocks affordable brands such as Ice-Watch, BCBGMaxAzria, Issey Miyake, Swatch and Ted Baker, and co-owner Andrew Marshall agrees that watch buyers are becoming more fashion-led. “Customers normally self-purchase fashion watches, and I do agree that people are shopping for them in the same way that they shop for clothes.
They want different looks for different outfits of the week,” he says.
Style and substance
Marshall adds that consumers are also more focused on quality and watch specifications, and that they do not see their fashion timepieces as throwaway purchases.
Salter agrees: “Consumers have realised that affordability doesn’t necessarily have to mean poor quality. The trend for buying cheap and cheerful fast fashion is over.
If consumers are parting with their hard-earned money, no matter how small the amount, they want to know that what they are buying has some longevity,” he says.
Wolkind also thinks quality is key. “Ultimately, in addition to searching for affordability, consumers’ main search criteria is product quality,” he says.
Jonathan Hughes-Lewis, partner at Jonathan David Jewellers in Cardiff, which stocks affordable brands Mondaine and Seksy by Sekonda, says that an increasing number of his customers are asking more in-depth questions about the watches on offer. “We’ve been stocking Mondaine for about four or five months and the watches have been really popular with customers.
“We’ve found that customers are really knowledgeable about, and appreciate, the brand’s heritage. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about watches and more demanding of the quality, so it’s important to stock brands that offer this,” he says.
Uhrmacher agrees that consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and demanding about the watches that they buy. “Consumers are expecting more and more from watch brands due to the volume and competition within this sector. I believe that the brand name is still a significant element along with on-trend product and price,” she says.
Retailers looking to cash in on the affordable and fashion end of the market need to be aware of the trends. Stores such as Urban Outfitters have been showcasing 1980s-style accessories for a couple of seasons now. As a result, one of the era’s iconic watches, Casio, can now be seen adorning many a wrist.
“Retro is very ‘now’ and that’s why our collection is doing well - it allows people to show off their stylish eye without breaking the bank,” says Wolkind.
“Every consumer is looking for something different but, as an overview, modern affordable watches have to tap into a very current look. Retro watches are traditionally solid, bold examples of colour-blocking and this is hugely fashionable.
A watch needs to look interesting enough to get complimented and yet still fit in with a range of outfits - the retro watch offers both of these,” he says.
Wolkind recognises the impact of the recent trend for all-things 1980s on Casio’s popularity. “Casio has one of the most established retro watches around, the F-91W. This is a piece
of watch history that has seen a resurgence in recent months given its simplicity and its traditional look. It can be worn under a shirt in the office or down at the beach,” he says.
Colour remains a key trend and consumers are snapping up rainbow-bright timepieces from brands such as Ice-Watch, ToyWatch and Guess. “Coloured watches are a big look
and there are some fantastic ones to complement these trends at affordable prices,” says Uhrmacher.
Marshall has seen this first hand at his store, where the Ice-Watch range has been popular with customers. “We’re amazed by the range of people that take an interest in the brightly coloured models, and it’s not unusual to see a pensioner snapping up a bright green watch,” he says.
Hedges says that multiple jewellers have been making the most of consumer demand for coloured watches, offering a selection of brightly coloured timepieces retailing around the £60 mark.
The popularity of ceramic watches refuses to die down and Armani and Festina are prime examples of watch brands cashing in on this trend with affordable timepieces. Ozel confirms that Festina’s ceramic models are one of the most popular designs with watch buyers. “At the moment the ceramic collection is very strong and fashionable,” he says. Ozel believes this is because people want ceramic but at a reasonable price.
The high level of competition at the affordable end of the market means that watch brands need to find new ways of making their product relevant to the modern consumer.
Watch brand Swatch is a prime example of this, constantly revamping itself since the 1980s. The Swiss brand is known for its daring artistic collaborations with the likes of fashion photographer Rankin and, most recently, with Japanese artist Hiroyuki Matsuura, producing a selection of eye-catching, colourful designs. This constantly evolving approach to design has been a hit with retailers and consumers alike.
“We’re a 21st century jeweller and we want the brands that we stock to fit that image. Swatch is a great example because it’s an established brand that is constantly doing something new,” says Marshall.
In order to stand out from the competition, brands must strive to develop their own USP. “This is very important, because there is a lot of competition in this market and in particular from all of the fashion brands. Often a lot of brands are very similar and if you take the logo from the dial it’s difficult to say which brand it is,” says Ozel.
Salter agrees that it is imperative for brands to offer something different.
“It’s very important. If your brand is just a ‘me-too’, then there is very little chance that you will gain any loyalty or repeat purchases in the future,” he says.
Uhrmacher echoes this, and says that by offering something new and interesting, brands are able to remain popular. “Each brand needs to differentiate itself in the market and create demand and desirability. It’s all about creating that next ‘must have’ watch,” she says.
Reports of buoyant watch sales at department stores, multiples and independent jewellers show that, despite a reduced consumer purse, people are still willing to spend on non-essential items, providing the price is right.
“Fashion is a fantastic sales driver, and even in tough times consumers want to keep up with the looks gracing the catwalks and fashion magazines. Accessories like watches are a great way of creating a nod to a certain style, but without taking too much of a risk,” says Salter.
So the next time you are deciding which watch brands to stock in your store make sure you have something for every budget, because that kid buying a fashion watch today could be well be a City banker buying his Rolex from you in years to come.