As a journalist, I often get asked: “do you think print is dying?” While my answer a few years ago might have been a reluctant nod, I now respond with a vehement “no”. As editorial content becomes key in all manners of industries, it’s no longer about the platform, but about quality and engagement value. By that virtue, there’s a reason why e-commerce platform Yoox Net-a-Porter still continues to publish its print magazine, Porter, as does Business of Fashion with its annual newspaper-style publication. The reality is that online and offline are not competitors, but unlikely bedfellows that are dependent one another.
It’s the same case with the retail industry. Pundits who predicted the death of the shopping mall are now eating their words as the likes of Amazon are building physical spaces. Closer to home in Singapore, we’ve seen “blogshops” such as Love Bonito and MDS set up retail spaces on Orchard Road. Let’s also not forget the social media phenomenon that is Habitat by Honest Bee.
The physical retail experience is certainly not on its last legs. The reality is that it is morphing. Astute retailers recognise that e-commerce is not a competitor. In fact, the co-existence and co-dependence of both digital and physical spaces simply serve to strengthen the brand proposition.
Luxury in the offline space
As is the languid nature of luxury, high-end brands have been slower to recognise this potential. Watch brands, in particular, have taken their time to find their footing online. It was only in 2016 when the likes of Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, IWC and more joined Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter.
But while having a presence on e-commerce sites is tantamount in today’s day and age, it’s simply not enough. Savvy retailers are bridging the gap between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar with experiences that leverage on technological advances. They’re doing so by relying on external parties that have conquered this niche. One of the platforms is Inspify, which was set up by former footballer and technopreneur Thorsten Walther. Inspify is an app that serves to enhance the shopping experience. The approach is multi-pronged: users set up an account and can browse through highly curated Instagram posts and editorial content to find shopping inspiration. They can tag items, find out the price, and even reserve their size and colour at a store registered to the service.
Should you be shopping offline, the app uses NFC (near field communication) technology to track the products in your vicinity. It will allow you to click on the product, check its availability and colours, and will also direct you to editorial content written about it.
In the watch industry, Inspify is currently working with IWC Schaffhausen, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, Omega, Patek Philippe and more. It’s a win-win situation, as the brands are guaranteed exposure to Inspify users, and customers are offered intangible additional value to their shopping experience.
How consumer behaviour has changed
The reality is that the way we shop has changed: we research online before we make big-ticket purchases, and read customer reviews. When it comes to big ticket items, we are also likely to check it out IRL before taking the plunge. A report by Deloitte in 2016 revealed only 30 per cent of consumers would buy a watch online, while 60 per cent would research online first. Inspify serves to bridge that gap by being a one-stop shop for the customer.
This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. As technology moves at breakneck speed, there are many experiences that watch retailers can potentially utilise. For instance, beauty brands are utilising the augmented reality mirror of Modiface to try different make-up shades. Augmented reality offers a whole world of possibilities to luxury buyers. For instance, with AR, apps can project three-dimensional images of the product so the consumer can “try” on the watch, and see how it looks on the wrist. Useful for limited edition novelties that might not be available in the customer's country.
Uniqlo, for instance, launched UMood in Australia, where the algorithm determines the neurological reaction of the person, and suggests t-shirts accordingly. We don’t buy watches as impulsively as we do t-shirts, but it would be interesting to explore the potential uses of this neurological science when it comes to determining what luxury customers want.
The possibilities are endless, and this is just the beginning of what watch retailers can explore. Ultimately, though, they will soon have to close the gap between online and offline experiences, and the sooner they do it, the faster they will reap rewards.