Are Watch Product Managers Almost Out Of Time?

Change is happening and watch product managers need to learn to deal with itq
Change is happening and watch product managers need to learn to deal with it
Image Credit: Barron Fujimoto

So here’s an interesting question to kick things off: do you wear a watch? Not all that long ago, the answer to this question would have been pretty much “yes” for everyone. I mean, how else were you going to be able to tell what time it was? However, as with all such things in life, things have changed. Now when people want to know what time it is, they whip out their mobile phones and glance at them. Kids these days just don’t think about purchasing the fancy watches that their parents used to buy. What can watch product managers do to change things?

The Problems Facing Watch Product Managers

The challenge that watch product managers are facing is that we now live in a different world. Time can be found just about anywhere. The question that younger buyers are asking is why should they make an investment in an expensive piece of jewelry that only serves to provide them with information that they can already get from other sources? Clearly the watch product managers are going to have to change their product development definition. These product managers are facing two simultaneous challenges: their potential customers don’t believe that a watch that costs the same amount as a good car is really necessary while at the same time other high-tech manufactures like Apple are starting to create watches that not only tell the time but also can track your workouts and organize your life.

So what went wrong in the watch industry? There for a long time, the industry had been flying high thanks to Chinese customers. Then, back in 2015, these customers started to pull back from purchasing expensive watches. What happened then is that the watch industry discovered that it had grown out of touch with its customers in the west. From 2014 to 2016 Swiss watch exports dropped by 13%. The result of this market decline is that watch product managers have been forced to buy back unsold watches, pry off their jewels, and then melt the watches down. This won’t be looking good on anyone’s product manager resume. What has to happen now is that the watch industry’s business model has to be rethought.

Change is something that the watch industry is going to have to go through. The new strategies are going to have to focus on the younger buyers of watches. What this is going to mean for watch manufactures is that some of their time held traditions that made older buyers love their brands are going to have to be disposed of. As an example of how far watch manufactures are willing to go, they are now enlisting street artists such as Jay-Z to design new watches. Young models have been signed up to act as brand ambassadors for various watches. Ads for watches have been placed in the virtual world of various video games. In order to not be left behind, the Swiss watch manufactures are also getting ready to roll out their own smartwatch.

How To Fix The Watch Problem

Watch product managers understand that they need to get creative in order to survive. A good example of this kind of behavior occurred when Apple introduced their new Smart Watch back in 2014. The Apple watch had the ability to display emails, act as an electronic wallet, and monitor the wearer’s physical activity. The big problem that the watch product managers had was that the low price of the Apple Watch, as low as US$400, meant that it would be competing with the lowest priced mechanical watches which were priced at $1,000. The mechanical watches also had the drawback that they only told time.

To deal with this changing market situation, the watch product managers quickly developed their own version of the smart watch. In fact, they did it so quickly that it contained so few Swiss parts that they could not identify it as being “Made in Switzerland”. They were able to introduce it shortly after Apple’s watch went on sale. However, in one aspect they were unsuccessful with their new watch. The plan had been to get people who bought the new watch to upgrade to a more expensive mechanical watch for $1,500 when the smart watch’s warranty ran out. However, fewer than 10% of the buyers chose this option.

A problem that the watch product managers continue to deal with is the fact that younger buyers just don’t see the need to own an expensive watch. Back in the 1970’s the mechanical watch industry faced a similar problem. Quartz watches that kept perfect time started showing up and were priced cheaply. These watches destroyed the lower and middle tiers of the mechanical watch industry. These days most customers don’t even know the difference between mechanical and quartz watches. A survey showed that only 29% of Americans under the age of 34 even owned a watch. Of these watch owners, only 3% were planning on buying a watch in the next year. Watch product managers need to find ways to connect with their customers via social media. They need to keep their prices low and they need to use Instagram and other social networks to talk about their products online. Effective marketing campaigns are what will be required in order to make mechanical watches a success in the future.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the challenges that product managers always have to be facing is that the world in which we live in is constantly changing. Mechanical watch product managers have experienced this type of massive change in the past and they are experiencing it once again. With the arrival of mobile phones, fewer and fewer people see the need to wear a watch – they can look up the current time on their phone anytime they need to know it. Additionally, the cost of a high quality mechanical watch can be quite high and potential customers are starting to look at other alternatives instead of buying a fancy watch. Watch product managers are going to have to revisit their product manager job description and determine what their next steps need to be.

Watch product managers are currently facing two simultaneous problems. The first is that their customer base is changing and becoming younger. These younger potential customers don’t have the same desire to own an expensive mechanical watch that their parents did. The second issue that they are dealing with is the arrival of Apple’s smart watch. The Swiss watch product managers have responded to the Apple watch by creating their own version of a smart watch. Their version has not been as successful as they had been hoping in that customers have not been willing to trade these smart watches in for more expensive mechanical watches. In order to be successful in the future, watch product managers need to learn to master social media, lower the cost of their watches and run effective marketing campaigns.

Expensive mechanical watches will always be works of art. The challenge that watch product managers are currently dealing with is that their customers don’t see the value in owning their product. These product managers are going to have to work very hard to show the value of owning one of their products. This can be done, but it is going to take a lot of work on their part to convince their potential customers that the cost is worth the look.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that mechanical watches could ever be made to work with mobile phones?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As product managers, when we want to boost the sales of our product, one of the “levers” that we have to make this happen is the price of our product. If everything works out the way that it should, if we lower the price of our product then sales should go up. However, product managers who work for traditional retailers are discovering that for them their product development definition has changed and this lever is not working the way that it should. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the fact that their customers are starting to use more technology when they shop is part of the issue. What can be done to put control of a product’s success back in the hands of product managers?