Traffic has been down by 75% in Central London over the three weeks since non-essential stores were allowed to reopen on June 15 in England.
WoSG’s London portfolio includes its “Golden Triangle” of showrooms on Regent Street, Oxford Street and Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, plus a Rolex boutique on Bond Street and a Mappin & Webb on Regent Street.
At this time of year, London would normally be heaving with tourists, but the pandemic has all-but shut down global travel.
Compounding the challenge for The Watches of Switzerland Group is the fact that it has invested heavily in air-side boutiques at London Heathrow and Gatwick. The Heathrow stores will reopen only next week as restrictions on travel begin to ease, the group’s chief executive Brian Duffy said today.
Outside London the picture is slightly better, with traffic to stores down by around 50%, Mr Duffy revealed.
He also said that conversion rates — the proportion of people visiting stores who actually buy — has improved. That will include customers coming to stores to collect and pay for watches that were reserved during lock down, but a shift towards more pre-booked appointments is also having a significant impact.
“More than half of sales are being done by appointment,” Mr Duffy said.
In a Q&A session, a question asking how many stores have not and will not reopen as a result of the pandemic was not selected to answer.
In time, we will learn how many stores have been closed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the number could be substantial while at the same time boosting profitability for the group.
The massive surge in sales to people that have pre-booked appointments has the potential to reshape the future of retail for large groups like WoSG because the conversion rate is so much higher.
Rather than pay for dozens of sales associates to wait for people to drift in off the street, their time could be more effectively used hosting private appointments, and there is no reason why these should take place within places like 155 Regent Street where the rent per square foot is among the highest in the world.
High traffic locations like major shopping malls may be appropriate and needed for some brands, but others will be better sold in more intimate environments, as we see with the build out of AP Houses by Audemars Piguet.