During 2022, the pre-owned watch site Watchfinder & Company has been celebrating its 20th anniversary. And this fall the business, which is based outside London, officially opened another retail sales point in the Nordstrom on West 57th Street in New York City, right in the middle of the department store’s watch and jewelry section and next to its cafe.
The business, owned by Richemont since 2018, now has more than 20 boutiques and sales points around the world, and has plans for two seasonal pop-ups, in Nordstrom stores in La Jolla, Calif. and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Why does a digital operation want brick-and-mortar stores? In a phone interview, Arjen van de Vall, the company’s chief executive, talked about the strategy, Watchfinder’s move into the United States and plans for the future. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Decades ago, the topic of pre-owned watches was taboo. Now it’s booming in the digital world, so why go brick and mortar?
When Watchfinder started, it was a digital platform, but we knew as we grew that we needed to augment the digital portion. We experienced, especially in the past couple of years, exponential growth, but recognized that it was necessary to have proximity to our customers, develop an ambience and have a way to show product in person.
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Being a luxury product and being in an area where trust is so important, we needed a way to sell face-to-face. So very early on we developed a showroom where customers could come in by appointment to inspect a watch before purchasing it. We opened our first boutique in the U.K. in 2013, and there was a steep learning curve. It took us a good number of years to develop until we could roll it out into brick and mortar and become a real omnichannel company.
It is all about optimizing the journey for our customers and we find the omnichannel approach, where the first touch point is online and the sale is in person, works best. Luxury offline is still the biggest driver for sales, and while the pandemic helped drive a huge audience to digital, the majority of the sales happen offline in the store.
So going from digital to brick and mortar is really a seamless integration and the way to continue the business.
Why Nordstrom and the United States?
In Europe and especially England, you ask anyone about pre-owned watches, and they say “Watchfinder.” But we are not as well known in other locations, especially America, and it is a huge market.
So in fall 2021, as a test, we opened a shop in Nordstrom Seattle to see how it would work during the holidays. The results were significantly beyond what we were hoping for, and that allowed us to engage in conversation with Nordstrom about where to go next.
It is essential to be where our customers are located, and New York was perfect. It’s really about giving customers that sense of trust and confirmation that Watchfinder is the real deal. Being in such a premier store as Nordstrom gave us a great legitimacy.
Watchfinder also brings revenue to the store. Before the boom in the pre-owned market, most stores didn’t want to deal in pre-owned because the economics of pre-owned was less attractive than offering new watches. The margins weren’t as good.
But now, over the past few years, with the fact that certain pre-owned watches are selling at above retail prices, they recognize the value. Also, as more customers are interested in a circular economy, in watches, bags, and other luxury goods, there is a huge opportunity to bridge that gap and cater to people who want to buy pre-owned, so the retailer can now provide that service to their customers with our Watchfinder space.
What about the future?
The thing we recognized immediately with Nordstrom is that we need to have inventory closer to the stores, so we are already investing in a stocking and service center in Dallas.
We plan to really build up the U.S. market with more brick and mortar. Also, with 20 years committed to growing a leading online business, Watchfinder & Company is dedicated to expanding its brick-and-mortar network globally.
We have strategic global growth plans with current and new retail partners to further expand in existing markets like the U.S. and Europe, as well as open brick-and-mortar operations in new markets for Watchfinder — most notably, the Middle East.