The UK lock down began on March 23, with The Watches of Switzerland Group and Beaverbrooks joining thousands of other watch and jewellery retailers in shutting all of their brick and mortar stores.
Business was already declining sharply a week earlier after the government advised against all-but essential movement for work, health reasons or getting to pharmacies or supermarkets.
Until then, the UK watch industry had emerging from a difficult fourth quarter and optimism was rising that a stable government with a big majority in the House of Commons was able to push forward with important measures.
So March was a month of two halves, and that shows up in the retail data from GfK, which shows sales dropping across Great Britain by 23.9%, far less than we expect to see in April when retailers speaking to WatchPro say they have seen turnover plummet by 90%.
Analysing historic data is normally useful to pinpoint trends that inform future decisions. This exercise is rendered useless in the current situation, but retailers can at least measure how they are performing against the wider market.
London was hit hardest (-33%) in March than the rest of Great Britain (-20%). Tourism to the capital, particularly from the important Chinese population, had already been hit hard as Coronavirus swept across Asia towards Europe. That will have taken the greatest toll on the likes of Selfridges, Harrods, West End showrooms and London’s airport boutiques.
Online sales slowed less dramatically than most, with an 8% drop in March, but some retailers closed their ecommerce operations for safety reasons by the end of March, and others were reporting very modest sales as minds have rightly been consumed with keeping families safe.