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OPINION: How do you solve a problem like face masks?

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Don’t get me wrong, my experience on day one at Geneva Watch Days was an overwhelmingly positive one.

My flight was half empty, the train into Geneva was dirt cheap and on time, while the novelty of actually seeing watch brands and picking up timepieces in my hands didn’t wane at all throughout the day.

There was, however, a conflict in my mind that only grew as the day went on. On the one hand, compulsory wearing of face masks in some European countries in certain indoor environments (mainly shops and public transport) has liberated politicians and leaders to allow society to get back to some level of normality post-Covid. In this sense, I am very much a pro-masker, as I am so idealogical about people and businesses getting their lives back in order as quickly and safely as possible.

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On the other hand, when I was having appointments with various watch brands and had to put a mask on my face, it made the whole experience impersonal, uncomfortable and slightly dehumanising. For companies trying to persuade consumers to part with thousands of pounds for one of their products, this will represent a major stumbling block. Not for all, but for many. 

So what’s the solution? How do you make people feel like it’s safe to shop (something masks hopefully help with) without making them feel like they’re being greeted by dentists on the door as soon as they walk into a store, thus destroying any sense of ‘luxury’ almost immediately?

The answer to this is the Holy Grail of answers for the luxury watch sector right now, and it’s not one that I claim to know myself. From what I saw in Geneva, brands are doing a fine job of making the best of the situation that they find themselves in and the confines that go with it.

I will mention one exception to the rule, which was Maurice Lacroix. They have spent a significant amount of money hiring exclusively a hotel in the heart of Geneva. Whatever the financial outlay, this was/is a genius decision.

It allowed them to take complete control of their environment, which reeked of luxury as soon as I walked in. Yes, they made me sanitise my hands upon arrival, and yes, I wore a mask in the public area, but before long I was whisked into their branded private bar area, given a drink to quench my thirst, before having my pre-booked appointment from a slightly greater distance (maybe two and a half metres from the brand representative) and, crucially, without masks on. 

It felt extremely safe without undermining the ‘mise en scène’ of the wonderful visual merchandising that they’d created around the product displays. 

People have always bought into people. It’s as true now as it’s ever been. Through no fault of others I met on day one of Geneva Watch Days, my fondest memories are from my Maurice Lacroix appointment, where I really bonded with the person showing me the new launches and enjoyed a drink or two on the house as well.

Who knows what the future holds? I’m certainly not deluding myself that masks won’t be compulsory in most stores for at least the next few weeks/months. But every drop of energy spent trying to work out how to keep customers feeling comfortable while also enhancing the face-to-face experience is well worth it. It could literally be the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity with every single customer.

3 Comments

  1. Question: How do you solve a problem like face masks?

    Response: As far as I care it’s not a problem. According to my doctor, since I have difficulty breathing I can’t and won’t wear one. I actually put one on briefly if I am in a medical/dental office, but otherwise, no mask for me. .

    I won’t enter an establishment in which I am not welcome in any event. As far as I care they can do without my business. Buying a watch for me is an “experience”. It is a special occasion that I want to savor and remember. If I am “required” to wear a face mask, I’ll pass, no thank you. Have a nice day!

    As a retired airline pilot, I would not recommending flying at all until the virus danger has passed. Masks are not effective for personal protection. As a matter of fact, their use limits intake of essential oxygen. In an airplane at altitude, we pressurize the cabin to about 5,000 – 6,000 feet, which already limits oxygen levels to passenger. According to the US OSHA agency, the habitual wearing of face masks is not permitted on the ground for prolonged periods for US workers. Why? They limit oxygen to unsafe levels! Now, if they are considered by Occupational Health and Safety only to be used for limited periods at sea level, why would I advise anyone to wear one in a commercial airliner, where oxygen is already somewhat limited? Besides that, masks don’t stop virus or prevent its spread!

    Over 99.75% of infected persons survive Covid-19. Unless you are a member of a high risk group there is little or no problem! Avoid breathing near other people and frequent hand washing are the best ways to prevent infection. That’s my opinion, and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to express it.

    Capt. Alex

    Bottom line from a passenger’s perspective: The draconian policies enacted by several airlines in terms of face masks are going to help destroy an already ruined and insolvent industry. Airline travel is miserable enough without face masks. If you are worried or concerned, no problem, stay home. After all, you are solely responsible for your own health and safety..

  2. 1. I think you are being very optimistic thinking this an issue for months – I’m guessing years.
    2. Other cultures routinely wear partial face coverings and have incorporated that into their interpersonal and business relationships. These arose out of precisely the same kind of concerns over public safety we experiencing now – Id be pretty sure these were disruptive for a while but were normalized reasonably quickly.
    3. I am noticing a shift here in Australia where it’s actually a little awkward if someone doesn’t wear a mask like they are choosing to be rude. Choosing to ignore the safety of the people around them.
    4. The work health safety aspects of this could be enormous – an employer that exposes an employee to a dangerous work place – by allowing customers in without masks could be liable for a breach of a duty of care.
    5. Perhaps the answer is look at how other cultures have navigated this an learn from them.

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Daniel Malins

The author Daniel Malins