Piaget CEO Benjamin Comar On How China’s Consumers Are Shaping The Future Of Luxury Watches

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Benjamin Comar

Piaget’s timing is perfect. The Swiss-based watchmaker and jeweler opened its latest store in Hong Kong just ahead of cross-border travel restarting with mainland China.

Staff at the boutique on Hong Kong’s busy Canton Road are readying Piaget’s latest collections, videos of the 149-year-old company’s craftsmanship and QR codes to navigate Piaget’s online websites for an expected wave of Chinese tourists.    

In the storied world of Swiss horology, Piaget has a reputation for anticipating change and innovation, having created some of the world’s thinnest watches.

The Geneva-based Maison’s latest moves include localization during the pandemic and artfully combining physical and online stores for a new generation of digitally savvy Chinese shoppers.

“Between digital and physical channels, there will be deeper integration,” Piaget CEO Benjamin Comar told Alizila in an interview.

Piaget partners with Alibaba Group to reach more domestic Chinese consumers

Such omnichannel tactics in Hong Kong, at its recently opened store on Rodeo Drive and its souped-up flagship store on e-commerce giant Alibaba Group’s digital marketplace, allow Chinese consumers to shop where and when they choose.

“They can see a product in a boutique and buy it online, or vice versa. Or they can see and buy it entirely online or in a boutique. The important thing is to give them the same level of experience across all channels,” said Comar.

Nowadays, roughly a quarter of China’s consumers are likely to purchase timepieces online, a higher proportion than in other countries, according to consultancy Deloitte’s annual survey of the watch industry.

Mainland China and Hong Kong combine to make the largest market globally for Swiss watches, followed by the US and Japan. The blistering pace of export growth has slowed in recent months due to the pandemic, but most brands expect it to pick up again later this year.

While Piaget does not break out sales in China, Asia Pacific is its parent Richemont’s biggest regional market, and its mainland China sales are roughly on par with US sales.

“If [travel restrictions linked to China’s zero-Covid policy] are removed there will be less barriers to our business, less disruption, and it will ease the business,” said Richemont’s CEO Jérôme Lambert in a call with analysts in November.

Trend Setters

An omnichannel approach can also help brands stay abreast of Chinese consumers’ rapidly evolving shopping habits. For instance, consumers in China are comfortable wearing high-end luxury products in their daily lives, while those in the US and Europe generally reserve them for formal occasions.

“Chinese consumers used to buy what was popular elsewhere, but they now have their own unique preferences. They are more relaxed and casual in how they buy and wear luxury goods, and that trend is now spreading out to the rest of the world,” said Comar.

Brands worldwide look to China, the world’s most populous market, to learn how to modernize go-to-market activities.

Richemont signed a partnership in 2018 with China’s largest e-commerce platform, Alibaba, to provide consumers with a seamless online-to-offline shopping experience.

Richemont’s Piaget leans into Alibaba for insights into Chinese consumers’ behavior across its digital marketplace, Tmall. Piaget soft-launched in April 2020 on Tmall Luxury Pavilion.

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