How is the coronavirus affecting the watch industry?
After Watches and Wonders and Baselworld have been canceled, let's try and draw a scenario.
We decided to wait for the end of this week before sharing our thoughts on how the coronavirus (elsewhere known as Covid-19) is impacting the watch industry. One piece of news was still missing and broke yesterday, confirming that Baselworld 2020 has been officially canceled. Sadly, last week has reaffirmed we are facing the worst possible scenario, something we hoped wouldn't have happened: a few days after the FHH has canceled the 2020 edition of Watches and Wonders, Baselworld 2020 officials stated the fair wouldn't be held in late April too due to the coronavirus spreading across Europe.
The only difference between the two statements is that Baselworld's officials claim they have postponed the event to January 2021 rather than canceled the 2020 edition, which looks hilarious. That statement makes sense only if the exhibiting brands have moved their 2020 new product launches forward, an option that I disregard: do you think that Rolex, Patek, Chopard, TAG Heuer, or Zenith, to name the mainstream ones, have changed their product launch plan accordingly? And that the global retail network is involved too? I don't think so.
How the coronavirus might impact the watch industry and, as a consequence, how our editorial planning might change too: let's try and draw a possible scenario.
From a business perspective, most brands claim they're facing already a decline in sales in key markets, and it is hard to predict how the coronavirus will affect the full 2020 bottom line. We are amidst the Covid-19 virus spread: the brands whose business is heavily dependent on China have to face their hardest time ever, there's no doubt. From a media perspective, instead, we are as disappointed as you are, even though we have so many projects on-going (first and foremost, our newest one: Horbiter|Cafè) that we will offer plenty of content and options to current and new readers altogether. Regarding new product launches, our activity will be affected as our peers' will be too, since delays in new product launch and product availability are expected.
Regarding product launches, the implications are as follows, at first glance: with all the Swiss fairs stopping their activities, the exhibiting brands lose their chance to unveil their new timepieces globally and benefit from maximum exposure in one go, one place. So let's try and draw a scenario, taking as an example a luxury watch brand that usually exhibits in Geneva or at Baselworld: their samples production has to be virtually increased to such an extent to guarantee each market is supplied enough specimen to promote retail business and promotion activities equally.
This scenario is reasonable if the brand mentioned above has not performed any trade marketing and (or) press media presentation in the first quarter of 2020 (the only one to have it done so far was IWC) and is late in rolling the 2020 new timepieces out of the production line. Conversely, that brand is going to face a hard time, especially in those markets that account for the majority of their business. Those brands whose business is China-driven will suffer their toughest time ever due to the coronavirus.
How might the coronavirus affect media news? Less hands-on reviews?
I envision no significant changes if the scenario, as mentioned above, is right. With the coronavirus causing the two most relevant fairs to be canceled (let me add Swatch Group's Time to Move too) reviews will be postponed to the second half of the year, and expect digital press material reviews to replace hands-on reviews; I see no option.
Italy, as far as it concerns, is a country where the effects of coronavirus have affected the business more than anywhere else, with multiple press presentations being postponed or canceled at all, with no option of being re-planned anytime soon. Again, I see retailers as the most affected partners of the industry since most Swiss new 2020 timepieces' arrival might be delayed towards the end of 2020, and the associated trade marketing activities be too.
Which are the brands whose business is affected the most by Watches and Wonders, and Baselworld, being canceled?
It is hard to say, even harder to foresee, much will depend on what kind of agreement has each brand signed with the respective fair organization committee. And how much did these brands expect to return on their investment. If the Richemont Group has, in my opinion, an advantage, given it is the organizer of Watches and Wonders, I presume the coronavirus will impact the business of independent brands the most: if they finally opted for attending a fair, that means that formula guarantees them the favorite option from a Return on the Investment point of view.
To such brands, whose network of retailers and Capex possibilities are negligible in comparison to mainstream watch brands, Baselworld and Watches and Wonders are not-to-be-missed venues where they can sign new contracts and grow their business.
(Photo credit: Peter Tung for Horbiter®)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®