Swiss luxury watchmakers anxious about their stores in China

audemars-piguet Chinese customersSwiss luxury watchmakers predict the market will grow this year, expecting rising demand from North America and Europe to more than offset slowing sales to China.

Independent watchmakers Audemars Piguet, Parmigiani, Greubel Forsey and Richard Mille, told Reuters at an industry show they were expecting higher sales in 2014 than last year.

The Chinese government’s crackdown on the use of luxury goods as bribes and illegitimate gifts has hurt sales of luxury watches in mainland China, the third largest market for Swiss watch exports.

“The biggest dark cloud on the horizon is a potential Chinese bubble, we don’t know if it’s going to burst or not,” Jean-Marc Jacot, head of independent high-end watch brand Parmigiani told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

“We’ll all be hit terribly if something happens in China, let’s hope the Chinese government keeps things in check,” he said at the SIHH watch fair that unites Richemont brands and a handful of independents in Geneva this week.

Hong Kong and mainland China together accounted for about a quarter of Swiss watch exports. In the eleven months to November the total market was worth 20 billion Swiss francs ($22 billion). Exports to these two markets fell 6 and 15 percent, respectively, in that period.

Exane BNP Paribas analyst Luca Solca said he estimated that the luxury watchmakers were vulnerable to a slowdown because sales in China, as well as to Chinese tourists overseas, generated half of their revenue.

Richemont, which owns the Cartier brand, said last week that its sales in China were still in negative territory in the three months to December, while Swatch Group was more optimistic, saying its Omega brand was about to recover in China.

“Chinese consumers prefer to buy Swiss luxury watches over US$20,000 in overseas stores” said Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus and Publisher of the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine. “It’s clear that the most expensive timepieces have no interest to be purchased in China because of taxes. Chinese watch collectors are familiar with trips to Paris and Geneva to purchase their new watches and have no intention to buy again in Mainland China’s stores. This is an issue for watchmakers who did not fully understood this trend”, Gervois added.

Vacheron Constantin’s CEO, Juan-Carlos Torres, said many watchmakers took buoyant Chinese growth for granted.

“You have to go slowly in China and work for the long term. We did not only go to first-tier cities, but also to second- and third-tier cities with local retail partners,” Torres said, adding this would help the brand grow sales in China this year.

Watchmakers said the second biggest market for Swiss watches, the United States, should see a tepid recovery gather momentum this year. Exports rose 2.4 percent between January and November last year.

Jasmine Audemars, chairwoman of Audemars Piguet, the biggest independent watchmaker at the fair, said the brand was doing well in the U.S. market and things should get better.

Parmigiani’s Jacot said: “The United States (is) coming back, this year we’ll see the real rebound.”

Overall, Audemars Piguet is expecting single-digit growth this year, while Parmigiani expects to grow about 15 percent after 17 percent last year. Richard Mille, another high-end player, is aiming for 150 million Swiss francs ($165 million) in 2014 sales after 132 million in 2013. ($1 = 0.9094 Swiss francs)

Source: Reuters

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Luxury retailers must re-think their strategies with wealthy Chinese shoppers

A report from the Beijing-based World Luxury Association found that luxury spending in China last month fell to its lowest level in five years. Affluent Chinese spent $830 million on luxury goods in China — half of what they spend last year. The month included the important Chinese New Year holiday, which is critical for Chinese tourism and spending.
The report predicts the Chinese luxury market is slowing from double-digit growth to single-digit growth.
But that doesn’t mean the Chinese weren’t spending. While spending on luxury at home was down, the Chinese spent big on luxury abroad.
They spent $8.5 billion on luxury goods overseas during the month — an 18 percent gain over last year. The report said the Chinese accounted for half of all the global luxury products’ consumption during the period and remain far and away the largest luxury consumers in the world.
Such a huge share of the market may not be sustainable over the longer term, of course. Most luxury experts say Chinese consumers will account for about a third of the global market by 2015.
shanghai-travelers-club-audemars-piguet-ad-chinese-touristsAnd the overseas spending will drive much of that growth. The Chinese are buying more luxury goods overseas primarily because they’re cheaper. The Chinese are also traeling more and they prefer buying luxury brands overseas because there is less likelihood of fakes (presumably they’re buying more on Fifth Avenue and the Champs Elysees than along Manhattan’s knock-off row, on Canal Street.)
Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are still the most popular markets for Chinese luxury shoppers but about one in five Chinese consumers are now buying luxury goods in Europe (mainly Paris) – a share that’s doubled over the past two years, according to reports from McKinsey & Co. and KPMG.
A smaller but growing share of Chinese consumers is buying goods in the U.S., including New York and Los Angeles, the reports show. According to the Shanghai Travelers’ Club, the Chinese luxury travel magazine for very affluent Chinese travelers, the average spending in New York City  for affluent Chinese tourists is between $15,000 and $50,000, mostly in jewelry and watches.  “This new generation of affluent Chinese customers has a purchasing behavior that has not been predicted by any traditional economic models, and the retail industry must innovate to attract these customers” said Pierre Gervois, Publisher of the Shanghai Travelers’ Club magazine. He added “Audemars Piguet, for instance, has worked with us to target specifically wealthy Chinese tourists in New York City, that is a smart move”
The high costs of luxury goods in China is due mainly to stiff government taxes, which can range between 20 percent and 70 percent on some luxury goods. A designer bag can cost 40 percent less in Paris, for instance, than in Shanghai. While the government may be considering a reduction in those taxes, a report from McKinsey called “Luxury Without Borders” predicts that the Chinese appetite for luxury abroad will continue.
“The price gap is likely to remain substantial in the next two to three years,” the report said, “and assuming it does, Chinese spending on luxury goods will grow about as fast overseas as it will domestically.”
McKinsey said the migration of Chinese luxury spending makes it even more important for luxury retailers to maintain a consistent image in China and abroad.
Marc-Andre Kamel, a retail and luxury expert at Bain & Co. said luxury companies are also installing special payment systems for Chinese consumers and adding more salespeople who speak Mandarin.
He cautioned, however, that the big flagship luxury stores in Paris and other Western cities need to be careful of the long lines and crowd problems associated with an influx of Chinese tourists.
“They need to be mindful of their other customers, as well,” he said.