With many consumers facing economic constraints or otherwise just having limited need to purchase and wear watches amid increased time spent at home, the category was among the hardest-hit from the effects of COVID-19, with basic, mid, and high watches all registering their steepest value sales declines in recent years in 2020. Meanwhile, with the growing popularity of smartwatches, chief among them the continuously updated Apple Watch, having been eroding sales of all traditional watches prior to the pandemic, increased digital device use amid the pandemic has only accelerated consumer adoption of smartwatches over quartz analogue, quartz digital, and even some mechanical watches.
While sales of all traditional watches have been pressured by COVID-19-related restrictions to in-store shopping, as well dramatically increased time spent at home, throughout 2020 and 2021, Watches priced over USD1,000, proved more resilient, with these watches registering the smallest decline in each of the respective categories, quartz analogue, quartz digital, and mechanical watches. This came even though leading high watches brands have limited distribution through e-commerce compared to basic and mid-price watches brands, with sales instead driven in large part by jewellery and watch specialist retailers that pivoted to provide more e-commerce options during the pandemic, such as buy online and pick-up in-store.
As the majority of watches sales were through store-based channels, especially department stores and jewellery and watch specialist retailers, prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, sales of watches were further limited throughout 2020 and 2021 by store closures and other restrictions to in-store shopping, including mask-wearing and increased hygiene protocols. Although watches’ sales, especially for the basic and mid price bands, were able to continue unabated in some retailers deemed essential and thus able to remain open throughout the year, such as hypermarkets and warehouse clubs, many consumers limited their time spent shopping in these stores in order to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus.
While travel restrictions, limitations to in-store shopping, and home isolation trends significantly reduced watches sales in 2020, positive sales trends since local markets have begun to reopen in 2021 indicate that the market will likely recover to 2019-level value sales (current terms) over the forecast period as the pandemic resides. However, the recovery of each subcategory within watches will vary, because of the effects of the pandemic.
Growing interest in more sustainable business models, including resale and rental, is one among several consumer trends that has accelerated amid the pandemic. Offering environmental merits, as well as the opportunity to buy or otherwise wear authentic watches for more affordable prices, the pandemic brought about increased interest in alternative business models as consumers not only re-assessed their spending priorities, but also had additional time to clean out their closets and browse online, multi-category resale marketplaces such as Depop, ThredUp, and Poshmark, as well those devoted exclusively to watches such as Crown & Caliber, to both purchase and sell pre-owned watches.
As many consumers’ only available, or otherwise vastly preferred, sales channel for watches of all types and price bands throughout much of 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19-related restrictions, dramatic growth in the category’s e-commerce penetration came as many consumers became increasingly comfortable shopping for and purchasing watches entirely online, with many doing so for the first time. As a result, watches brands and retailers have overhauled investments in innovative ways to merchandise their products for sale online, such as launching virtual try-on tools and hosting livestream shopping events.
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Understand the latest market trends and future growth opportunities for the Watches industry in USA with research from Euromonitor International's team of in-country analysts – experts by industry and geographic specialisation.
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This report originates from Passport, our Watches research and analysis database.
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