Citizen Watch Group accelerates change into digital-first company

Mark Robinson, Group Managing Director Citizen Watch UK Ltd.

Citizen Watch America is accelerating a corporate restructuring strategy designed to address the rapidly changing face of watch retail in the United States. The UK office for Citizen Watch Company, the umbrella organisation for Citizen, Bulova, Frederique Constant and Alpina, is part of CWA’s territory and aligns with its programmes.

The plan includes increasing the number of executives with multi-brand positions who will provide account management with retailers for the whole portfolio of CWA brands comprising of Citizen, Alpina, Frederique Constant and Bulova.


The business will also be smarter, with the introduction of a company-wide Business Intelligence & Analytics Center of Excellence that will crunch data from retail partners and customers to speed up and improve decision-making across design, sales, service and marketing.

Citizen Watch America President, Jeffrey Cohen, says the current Covid-19 lock down has allowed the business to push forward with the business transformation, but the process had begun late last year because the retail landscape and consumer behavior had been changing so fast.

“Even before Coronavirus there were changes happening at retail. We were seeing the aftereffects that store closures were having on our business as more consumers were shopping online and realized we needed to make some changes,” Mr Cohen describes.

The headline shift in strategy is to become a “digital-first company” that masters ecommerce through its brands’ own dotcom sites and those of its retail partners, all the while processing transactional and behavioral data to improve decision-making.

“The current crisis has proven over and over how we cannot be solely reliant on brick and mortar retail and that we need to find ways digitally to re-create the in-store experience online. We had seen a significant increase on our own and on our retailer partner’s dotcom businesses and realized that we needed to make changes to our organizational structure to react to those changes. Our organization was originally built to only support a wholesale brick and mortar business model. The resources and requirements needed to support growing online sales regardless if it is our own site or our retailers requires a different skill set than what we had in place,” describes Mr Cohen.

“For a company to truly be digital-first they need to have in place the right corporate structure and the right teams. For us to make the changes necessary we needed to restructure,” he adds.

Another fundamental element of the restructuring is to give retailers a far smaller number of people they need to speak to at CWA offices for sales, service and marketing support. National accounts sales and the support teams are becoming be multi-branded so one account director will represent Citizen, Bulova, Frederique Constant and Alpina. “This will benefit us as well as the retailer to optimize the business across our brand portfolio without overlapping and competing amongst ourselves. There will also be some cost savings to retailers by bundling orders and consolidating shipments,”

Mr Cohen believes. “Marketing and the creative will remain mono-branded as to not lose the unique DNA of each brand,” he clarifies.

Mark Robinson (pictured top), group managing director for Citizen Watch UK, says his team constantly shares ideas and knowledge in a collaborative way with colleagues in the CWA group. “We are constantly on Zoom calls to keep us all connected,” he tells WatchPro.

The headline strategy to become a digitally-focused business has been underway for many years, according to Mr Robinson. “We have worked with our major retailers to enhance their online stores and seen sales grow substantially for all our brands. Taking a partnership approach with our retailers is at the core of what we do. This is not only evident through our GfK ranking but more importantly how we do business together – their success, is our success. And obviously this has never been as important as it is today,” he describes.

Many of CWA’s retail partners have either closed doors or gone bust altogether as the volume end of the market is transformed by the shift to shopping online by consumers and the rising market share of smartwatches from tech giants.

Ecommerce has accelerated during the Covid crisis, and nobody can say with any certainty whether that trend will stabilise or reverse as lock downs ease.

“When brick and mortar is closed consumers naturally turn to e-commerce. The question remains how much of this will continue once brick and mortar is up and opened and will it remain for all product categories. Will the consumer want to go back into a store? Will they feel safe trying on a watch? These are questions I do not have the answers to,” Mr Cohen admits.

What CWA can be more certain of is that a far more extensive and sophisticated data capture project will give it better oversight of the entire business ecosystem, and help it make quicker and better decisions. “The key to future growth is the combination of data and digital,” Mr Cohen suggests.

“We have many sources of data  through our website, social channels, online sales, watch registration and watch repairs and will be working with our data architect to locate all these plus additional data sources in order for us to build more precise audience profiles as to who our watch brand consumers are. We will then use these profiles to build targeted digital marketing campaigns,” he explains.

Retailers may fear this will give Citizen and its partner brands a huge competitive advantage, but CWA wants the benefits of its Analytics Center of Excellence to be shared. “We will share customer profiles with our retailers, and we will require them to execute more data driven digital marketing campaigns with defined and measurable KPIs. It all about using data to drive precision marketing — using our funds smarter — resulting in more effective buys,” Mr Cohen concludes.


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  1. What was once a tendency is now an imperative. The current public health crisis not withstanding, that’s not to say that e-commerce will replace the brick-and-morter experience anytime soon. However, Citizen’s adoption of an entire digital ecosystem to support not just the brand, but its retail partners as well, is a brilliant initiative. I know the company that did the work for them.

    The brilliant retail expert, George Minakakis, has made some excellent observations in his compelling book, Transformational Leadership, saying, “If you are not carefully assessing technological opportunities in your industry and adopting what make sense, they will ultimately become your competitive threats.”

    But he further said, “As much as retailers need technology, it is intended to enhance the customer experience, not replace it.”

    We’re already witnessing what the brands are increasingly starting to do. Therefore the retailers can follow one of two paths: 1) Adopt, adapt, and continue to make money, or 2) Complain that it’s not fair that brands are increasingly starting to sell D2C on their own platforms and “unfairly” compete with them.

    I’ll hedge my bets with the former!

  2. MAY 28, 2020 AT 8:39 PM
    It’s about time somebody stood up to the picky watch suppliers! Like Bulova citizen watches when all the jewellers are closing down! What gives them the right to sell you the product then inform you where you should sell it.

    MAY 29, 2020 AT 12:31 PM
    It is disappointing to see that online retailers like Rush Jets are still being overlooked as credible retailers while the world is moving to online platforms. Such elitist behaviour from brands is not only going to harm their business, but it’s going to cause harm to their image.

    MAY 29, 2020 AT 4:53 PM
    Are other watch retailers facing similar issues?

    MAY 29, 2020 AT 1:45 PM
    In this day and age, suppliers out there still have the audacity to be choosy about who gets to sell where? Gimme a break! Online businesses are just as credible as concrete stores, or maybe even more so and that is a FACT.

    MAY 29, 2020 AT 1:47 PM
    Brands can in fact benefit by making their presence known in the online retail space. This mentality of preferring physical stores over online retail has led to losses for so many companies. That’s why many have changed their stand regarding this. I hope watch suppliers also follow suit.

    CASEY M.
    MAY 29, 2020 AT 1:51 PM
    I am sick of this bigoted classist thinking! How can suppliers decide that only because some retailers don’t have brick and mortar stores aren’t as credible?! This narrow thinking is going to be their downfall.

    MAY 29, 2020 AT 1:57 PM
    We need more online retailers that are dedicated to watches. All industries are quickly moving to the online retail space. I can hardly find the time to stop for groceries on my way home from work. Why do brands expect me to spend my time visiting their store across town? I would prefer to shop online any day, even for more luxury goods.

    MAY 29, 2020 AT 3:33 PM
    Great article!

    MAY 30, 2020 AT 5:22 AM
    Would love to know what’s ahead for new retailers

    Russell Dee
    I have to say I was. a true. fan of Bulova Accutron watches for. over 40 years, But even now they turn their back on good sellers that have been very loyal to the brand image.
    I. received a text from Mark Robinson, The position has not changed ! then he writes this article! Bit 2 faced

  3. Dear Russell, these are extremely challenging times for everyone so firstly I hope all at Rush Jets are safe and well. I have read your various articles with interest and I appreciate your interest in our brands. We have a strategy we have been following for a while now although it is constantly evolving. This may be different to other brands but they have their own path to follow. At the moment our position remains unchanged however we will watch with interest your developments and no doubt talk in the future. I know this is disappointing but I wish you all the best and as I say we will no doubt keep in contact and should the situation change we can talk again. Kind regards, this what I received

    This is what he. emailed us on watts. watts app we will never give up the fight all for just advertising on Radio Caroline. I loved Bulova and loyal to the brand we. are now. going on ABC news. soo
    Tom Riverside

  4. Suppliers that discriminate among their retailers are one of the biggest reasons that the
    market is still so closed off. They will soon have to get off their high horse!


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