Swatch Group, Swiss Watch Exports Signal Improving Business in U.S.

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Mimosa Spencer
·3 min read
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PARIS — Watch sales are bouncing back in the U.S., according to executives at Swatch Group as well as the latest Swiss watch export statistics, released Thursday.

“The recovery in the U.S. is going very strong,” said Peter Steiger, who heads corporate controlling activities at Swatch Group, the company behind Omega, Longines and its namesake label. The executive spoke at an annual results presentation for journalists, broadcast through the group’s website Thursday.

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Steiger noted that the group overtook sales figures of 2019 — pre-coronavirus-crisis levels — as early as November and December, with some labels like Tissot clocking their highest sales there for the last month of the year. The growth has continued in January and February, in the double digits, percentage-wise, and the group expects growth in the market over the first quarter to surpass 2019 levels by around 15 percent, according to Steiger.

Swiss watch exports to the U.S. market grew 8.8 percent in February, to 223.9 million Swiss francs, or $241.27 million, the first month of growth in nearly a year, and compared to a robust pre-pandemic comparison base, according to the latest figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Swatch executives said they are seeing a robust return to business as markets reopen.

“We have the experience now in some countries, in many countries in Asia but also the United States, and the situation is proving what we always hope — when there is a crisis, for whatever reason, the people want to compensate after the crisis is over, they want to spend,” said Nick Hayek, chief executive officer of Swatch Group, ticking off markets in Asia including Mainland China, Macao, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

“The situation is good and it’s a big opportunity for us because we of course learned to handle a situation when stores are closed — e-commerce has been dynamized, also the habits of consumers to buy not only in stores has a bit changed — but if you add this together, when the situation gets normal again in the countries, it will be the famous one plus one is three, and not one plus one is two,” he said.

The situation in Europe continues to be complicated, however, with a succession of openings and closings due to the pandemic, in countries like Germany and Switzerland, according to executives. The group’s home market has been hit hard by a lack of tourists, where it will be difficult to reach 2019 sales figures without visitors from abroad, said executives.

The group saw a quick recovery in countries no longer in lockdown, especially Mainland China, where its sales grew in the double digits over the year. Greater China was Swatch’s largest market last year, accounting for 44.5 percent of sales.

Swatch’s watches and jewelry division generated net sales of 5.34 billion Swiss francs, down 33 percent from the year before. As reported in January, the group’s performance was heavily affected by disruption to worldwide consumer spending amid the health crisis and store closures.

The group last year closed 384 of its own stores, including 54 in Hong Kong, while adding 55 new units at prime locations in various cities.

The group’s e-commerce sales grew 70 percent over the year.

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