If you are like most high end jewelers around the country you are probably receiving agreements restricting you from showing various watch brands products on your website. Let me be the first to say that I can truly respect and understand the luxury watch companies desires of protecting their “brand image” when it comes to the internet. However, I think the restriction of authorized dealers showing product on the web will actually have the exact opposite effect and ultimately devalue many brands, especially those who aren’t extremely vigilant in controlling their distribution.
I think we all can agree more and more affluent shoppers are using the web to research and buy luxury products. Statistics show this number is growing by leaps and bounds every day. Just ask the people around you; your co-workers, your friends and even your family if they have shopped online recently. I guarantee the answer is yes and they probably used Google to find what they are looking for. And when you “Google” most watch brands only unauthorized retailers and discount sites are coming up on the first page of the natural search results. When you click on these sites you see watches ranging on average 20-60% off and this is not just on discontinued pieces.
In my opinion this is very destructive to any watch brand’s image and there is nothing these new authorized dealer agreements will do to stop any of this. In fact, the restrictions will actually give grey market and discount sites an even greater competitive edge because they handicap the ability of authorized watch retailers to rank well in the eyes of the search engines. No quality content equals no rankings. I would think the ultimate goal of a prestigious watch brand would be the exact opposite. The brands should help their authorized dealers rank higher in the search results than the EBay’s, Overstocks and the Amazons of the world.
Pursuing this strategy would ensure that when the luxury consumers “Googles” a watch brand they get used to seeing that brands watches at full retail across multiple authorized storefronts on the first page of Google’s natural search. With the watch brands assistance it actually would be possible for the top authorized retailers to outrank the grey market sites and truly enhance the value of the brand. Repeatedly seeing a brand’s watches at suggested retail would go a long way of erasing the thought of it being a heavily discounted brand. This will ultimately serve the customers interest as well by protecting the value of their watch in terms of resale.
The Next Steps
In my humble opinion the first thing the watch brands should do is to have their creative teams work with each authorized retailer to develop an approved landing page for the jeweler’s website. The page would include the brands history, current advertising campaign, the best photography (watermarked to prevent stealing), consistent backgrounds, correct descriptions and full retail pricing on any product shown. There should be a seal or a logo displayed online identifying the jeweler as an “Authorized Jeweler” to build and protect consumers confidence. I think today’s laws even allow for the brands to mandate that authorized retailers sign a no discount policy on the internet.
Now I realize these steps alone won’t guarantee that authorized retailers will occupy most of the positions on the front page for every brand but this is just the beginning. The brands could work with each retailer who is interested and make sure their page is search engine friendly giving them the best chance to rank. The next step would be to link from the watch brands website to the authorized retailers sites further giving them a boost. The brands could also create a separate blog with events and news with more links to the retailers. If the watch brands embark on this strategy the best retailers will outrank the grey marketers hands down. Google would give sites like Tourneau’s tremendous clout and everybody’s clients would get used to seeing whatever watch brand at the correct retail and not expect a huge discount at the store level. This will truly build the prestige of the brand.
What needs to be stressed is that the retailers themselves need to be encouraged to host the content (verbiage, product pictures, videos etc.) on their own websites for each brand. The goal of multiple authorized retailers occupying the first 8 or 9 search results with their own url’s for the search term “Brand X” will not be possible if the content is hosted on Brand X’s website or a third party site with the retailers linking to it. I have heard of this “third party site” idea as a “one size fits all” solution. Sure this will be the easiest to manage initially, but all this will do is to prevent the authorized retailers from ranking on the first page. Google won’t give any weight to a site that doesn’t have quality content on its own domain and all authorized dealers sites will be buried when a consumer Googles Brand X. The search results will guide the customer to the discount sites over and over again thus cementing the fate of the Brand X as a discount brand.
In closing, I truly hope that the brands will strongly consider this alternative strategy to the internet instead of the one they are currently pursuing. All brands and their authorized retailers stand the chance to have an extremely bright future. The internet can lift all ships and enhance the value of any brand if it’s done the right way. I look forward to discussing this further with my peers and all of our valued suppliers.