When London-based Mr. Porter’s Toby Bateman first traveled to Baselworld several years ago, the watch brands he was excited to showcase on the growing internet department store didn’t seem to mirror his enthusiasm. Today just a few years later in 2017, Mr. Porter (the men’s “brother” company of Net-A-Porter) is an authorized dealer of 16 fine watch brands, with more being added soon.
Bateman, like myself, shared anecdotes about how the conservative watch industry initially reacted to the notion of “online sales” with distrust and skepticism. Common sentiments from many of the world’s finest watchmakers included remarks such as “people don’t buy expensive watches online,” “luxury watch consumers are really mainly interested in the high-end, in-store boutique experience,” or more direct feelings such as “we aren’t an internet brand.” While misunderstandings about the full power of online sales for luxury goods persist, the traditional watch industry has come a very long way in their adoption of internet sales. Today I am confident that with innovative retail minds such as Mr. Porter, the watch industry has all the support it needs for a very effective transition to doing business equally in the material and digital world.
Mr. Porter developed as a spin-off from Net-A-Porter in 2011, which itself was founded in 2000. Parent company of many fine watchmakers, the Richemont Group, actually owned Net-A-Porter and Mr. Porter for a few years. Interestingly enough, during its time fully owning the “Porter brands,” Richemont did not use it as an online sales destination for its brands.
In 2015 Net-A-Porter and Mr. Porter were partially sold by Richemont to Italian fashion retailer Yoox, who has a 50% ownership and 75% decision making authority in the two Porter-brand online department stores. Mr. Porter is a quickly growing company, and watches are among its fastest growing segments. Mr. Porter began in response to the need by otherwise style-conscious men to have a more curated and consultative shopping environment. This is in contrast to the more open-ended and varied shopping and browsing experience that is typically preferred by female shoppers.
One of the more innovative elements of Mr. Porter is an editorial-style journal on the website, whose mission is to put the various products Mr. Porter sells in real life context situations. Mr. Porter likes to claim that they “don’t use models” in their photo shoots, but rather “real men.” Real as in authentic business leaders and celebrities, who are showcased in their natural lifestyle settings, wearing items you can buy on Mr. Porter. The concept, mixed with Mr. Porter’s famed attention to detail in their customer service experience has helped Mr. Porter earn surprising loyalty with their clients.
As one would expect from any high-end online shopping experience, Mr. Porter is not only an authorized dealer of the watches it carries, but also fully services warranty needs and accepts returns. Shipping is guaranteed to be secure, and if you are in cities such as London or New York, Mr. Porter will arrange for same day delivery of many items.
Mr. Porter’s curated selection of fashion and lifestyle products aren’t cheap, but not everything they carry is meant to be for “1%er budgets.” Toby Bateman asserts that for him it is important that Mr. Porter have good watches starting from a few hundred dollars to over $100,000. Such product pricing diversity has traditionally not sat well with luxury watchmakers (always nervous about the perceived positioned of their items), but they need to face the reality and a true luxury good will remain one even if presented alongside a more democratically-price item.
Mr. Porter’s big break with high-end watches came in 2013 when they launched also London-based Bremont watches on their platform as an authorized dealer. Bremont took a “risk” that brands from big groups would not, and it paid off very well for all involved. After Bremont came aboard with Mr. Porter as an authorized dealer, the next watchmakers included independents and companies like Junghans and Ressence.
More recently Mr. Porter has been able to convince popular watchmakers from the major groups to join their platform. Big names from LVMH and Richemont Group brands are already on board such as TAG Heuer, Zenith, IWC, Baume Mercier, Montblanc, and more. The most recent new addition to the Mr. Porter watch brand family has been Panerai.
One of the most important benefits of Mr. Porter compared to many traditional retail outlets is that they only choose specific watches they feel will perform well on their platform. This is important to mention because traditionally watch brands have required authorized dealers to carry both products they want, and those that the brand wants them to have. This created not only a conflict of interest, but a situation where many unsold watches remain on the market – and in most instances, transition to the gray market. Mr. Porter thus has the ability to finely curate its watch collection, ensuring that only the models it feels will perform are on the website at any given time. This is important news for the watch industry, who in my opinion will need to pay extra deference to retailer needs moving forward, and no longer require retailers to carry products they don’t want.
According to Mr. Porter, 60% of luxury spending by their customers happens online. They, like aBlogtoWatch, continue to assert the reality that luxury buyers are increasingly moving more and more of their spending to the internet. The watch brands finally seem to understand, but a lot of work still needs to be done so that watches can be sold online and offline in a fluid, harmonious economic ecosystem. Disparities in pricing continue to exist from retailer to retailer, and especially on the internet, “price is king.” The implications of this are that consumers, presented with the option to buy the same watch at different prices, will tend to go with the lowest price option. The good news is that the watch industry is finally starting to do something about this, and in my opinion consumers will be greeted with a lot more price consistency in the years to come.
Companies like Mr. Porter will continue to innovate, providing consumers with assurances indicating that Mr. Porter is not only authorized to carry the watches they offer, but that care and attention is put into the selection of products. One example of this is that Mr. Porter only uses their own original photography on their watch product listing pages.
Mr. Porter also likes to remind watch brands that according to their research, 80% of their customers do online research prior to making any luxury item or watch purchases. aBlogtoWatch’s own data mirrors this finding – especially since it is a major resource used by many people prior to making luxury watch purchase decisions. Armed with this intelligence and a deep understanding of how their customers like to make purchase decisions and discover new products, Mr. Porter is among the few online retailers that in our opinion is positioned to serve the needs of watch brands and customers equally.
This is important to mention because the current state of luxury watch retail distribution is (according to many people) a chaotic mess. The result is a situation where consumers are left with too many and seemingly different or opposing purchase options available to them for many of the luxury timepieces they want. It will not be the watch industry that innovates in this regard, but smart, modern retailers like Mr. Porter that continue to set a gold standard for what real luxury shopping online should be like.
To the reader, we invite you to share your positive experiences buying watches online, and the types of services, features, and selections you consider when making plans to further embrace authorized online watch sales. mrporter.com