This is the fourth in my series on the Apple Watch. Read the rest:
The Apple Watch we saw this week is not a transformative product. It’s simply a very well-executed smart watch, and like every other option in this category seems lost as to what it’s supposed to be used for. And the physical design is a serious miss for Jony Ive and company, a tasteless rectangular blob. So how can Apple sell these things?
The fashion industry is large and dynamic, and Apple already plays there with the iPhone. But the watch needs to go way beyond this. More than anything, Apple needs to make the Watch a crucial fashion accessory. This will seed the market before it sours a-la Google Glass, and will give the company time to address the shortcomings in function and design.
Apple desperately needs to get Watches on the wrists of trend-setters outside the tech world, and this can be maddeningly difficult. Luxury watch companies woo athletes and entertainers constantly, typically with mixed success. LeBron James has sold plenty of Hublot watches to be sure, but the knock-offs are even more popular. And how much sales success is really driven by red-carpet appearances?
Read Here’s How Apple Will Convince You to Buy a Smartwatch by Kevin Rose
The best marketing would be local. If Apple can get a Watch on the wrists of thousands of unknown trend-setters around the world then this thing could really fly. This is how the iPhone succeeded: A few adventurers replaced their BlackBerry or Razor with a candy bar slab and the rest piled on after seeing it. It’s also a reasonably realistic idea, since the very people Apple wants wearing Watches are already their best iPhone, iPad, and Mac customers.
The Boutique Option
One surprising element left out of all the discussion of the Apple Watch is the critical importance of boutiques for selling high-end jewelry and accessories. While department stores and large jewelry stores still move a great deal of merchandise, the real luxury market is driven by small specialty boutiques that cater to an exclusive clientele.
Let’s consider the luxury watch market. For years, most luxury watches were sold in large department stores and multi-line jewelry stores. But as the market changed with the introduction of cheaper Japanese and quartz watches, brands began to suffer. The mechanical watch market contracted and the remaining brands moved upscale, transforming into jewelry brands. Those without good name recognition faltered and failed because salespeople were unable to help customers differentiate between them.
Today, most manufacturers are focusing on a boutique model. A few smaller stores with specialist staff cater to enthusiasts and collectors, with most luxury brands rapidly pulling out of large stores. Many of these boutiques are owned by the manufacturers and focus on full-price exclusive merchandise, but specialist independent stores continue to thrive as well. Omega and Patek Philippe require an “inside boutique” for multi-brand stores.
Apple Stores already copy many aspects of the watch boutique. They are bright and uncluttered, with merchandise displayed openly rather than inside packaging. They focus on training their staff to connect with customers and talk about applications rather than specifications. And they are located where moneyed customers will see them.
Undoubtedly the Apple Watch will get a table of its own in the existing Apple Stores. And undoubtedly the majority of Watch and Sport Watch buyers will purchase their device and accessories in these stores. But the Apple Watch will need a different sales environment to succeed in the luxury market.
I expect that Apple will begin opening Watch boutiques in the most high-end locales. These will be special stores focused only on the Watch and its accessories. They will be even more uncluttered and will be designed to keep out the multitudes that typically crowd the Apple Store, especially children. This is where the Apple Watch Edition will be sold, perhaps exclusively.
Apple Watch Boutiques could really seal the deal, leading to broad take-up among the fashionista and kicking off an avalanche of mass-market sales. Although the current Watch is deeply flawed in terms of design and software, it will undoubtedly improve if Apple can have time to refine the concept.
Shanghai Apple Store image by Photo Giddy