Watches of Switzerland making timely tech investments

Watches of Switzerland group CEO, Brian Duffy, said in May the company was anticipating a prolonged period of lower store traffic for some time due to Covid-19.

He suggested eCommerce, customer relationship management (CRM), and clienteling would grow in importance for the business, which runs luxury jewellers Goldsmiths, Mappin & Webb, and Watches of Switzerland, and some premium brand boutiques.

And almost two months since its stores reopened after the coronavirus lockdown that is proving to be the case.

Each of the group’s banners reopened in June and they were accompanied by the launch of a new online appointment tool. The platform gives customers a chance to book expert advice and consultations in store, on the phone, or via video conferencing platform Zoom – and it’s been a key driver of sales already.

By Personal Appointment

The ‘By Personal Appointment’ service is supported by scheduling software from Setmore, which integrates with the retailer’s SAP Hybris website and is also accessible by staff proactively seeking customer bookings. It sends email and text alerts to staff and shoppers to ensure meetings are not missed.

In the space of two weeks in July, 13,000 appointments – both virtual and in store – went through the system. One-fifth of those were made directly by customers through the new platform, according to Craig Bolton, executive director at the group.

The retailer has always arranged client meetings but a new system is driving more appointments (image credit: The Watches of Switzerland Group)
The retailer has always arranged client meetings but a new system is driving more appointments (image credit: The Watches of Switzerland Group)

He says it is a sign of consumers’ growing demand for certainty when visiting retailers in the aftermath of lockdown, and it’s a trend he doesn’t expect to stop any time soon.

“In most cases customers could just come in and receive advice, but they are choosing to book at a specific time,” he comments.

“I think a lot of that is to do with people not wanting to be out for a long time; they are out to do a job, buy what they need and then leave again. That trend was more prevalent before hospitality reopened.”

The expectation is for the Zoom meetings to grow in popularity – and all stores are going through a tech infrastructure upgrade to support additional web-based conferencing.

Whereas shops and the in-store experience, which often involved Champagne servings for high-spending customers, used to be the focus for the group, Bolton says attention is now “much more external to the stores”.

By Personal Appointment sales have a higher conversion rate than walk-ins, and he says there is naturally a desire to grow this part of the business.

Bolton also expects a centrally managed system of this nature will give Watches of Switzerland better information for targeted marketing. There are more than three million contactable clients in its CRM system.

“Now we have a bank of data at our disposal to broaden our understanding of it all,” Bolton remarks.

Virtual transactions are made through PayByLink, and Bolton says a £42,000 sale was recently completed through this method, proving virtual meetings are not a deterrent to premium sales.

Amid all this technological and operational change, the group is also in the process of replatforming to the latest version of Hybris, which is now known as SAP Commerce Cloud.

Bolton acknowledges there is a need to "join the dots" and more officially integrate all new systems such as Zoom, Setmore and the CRM. That is a task for the 12 months ahead.

The time is now

(image credit: The Watches of Switzerland Group)
(image credit: The Watches of Switzerland Group)

Although there are multiple examples of retailer innovation amid the adversity of the coronavirus crisis, industry positivity is in short supply. The raft of job losses, particularly across fashion in recent weeks, is one stark reason why.

However, at The Watches of Switzerland Group, there is an encouraging message filtering down from senior management.

Bolton says sales continued steadily in lockdown – over the phone and online. eCommerce sales were up by 45.8% year-on-year in the six weeks to 26 April, and they increased by 82.8% in April alone as all shops in the UK and US were closed.

In many cases, he notes, product fulfilment had to wait until stores reopened but plenty of customer deposits were secured, and that has contributed to a confident outlook among the team now shops are operating again.

“Lots of businesses are in survival mode, looking over their shoulder, but that’s not our view,” Bolton explains.

“As much as it’s been a terrible time for most, out of all of that comes a different way of working and a new opportunity for us all to take advantage of. We’re very positive about the future – we’re not negative in our thinking or sales expectations.”