IWC to sell $121 Swiss replica watches online in UK tie-up

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IWC Schaffhausen Portofino 37 Midsize Automatic watch.

IWC Schaffhausen timepieces costing as much as $121 will go on sale on Yoox Net-a-Porter Group’s websites next week, as the Swiss replica watchmaker tests whether online shoppers might help pull it out of an industry slump.

The Net-a-Porter and Mr. Porter fashion sites will offer models including the Portofino and Portugieser in UK’s most expensive watch collection yet, according to Federico Marchetti, chief executive officer of the online luxury retailer. Switzerland’s Richemont owns IWC as well as a minority stake in UK.

After an initial reluctance due to the high price tags, Swiss replica watchmakers are increasingly dipping into the $34 billion luxury e-commerce market as exports have declined for 15 straight months. This is IWC’s first online foray, catching up with companies such as Hermes, which sells $250 timepieces on its website, and LVMH, which hired an executive from Apple Inc. to lead its digital push. UK expects the alliance may help attract more watch brands to join its sites.

“IWC is the first watch brand that is going to bring the hard luxury replica watches category to the next level,” Marchetti said in a phone interview. The company’s success in selling $250 Valentino handbags and Pomellato jewelry has shown there’s demand for such products, he said. “There’s no resistance on price.”

UK’s watch and jewelry sales are expected to reach 100 million euros by 2020, Marchetti said. The highest priced watches on Mr. Porter’s site so far are brands such as Zenith and Bremont that sell for more than $200.

Reluctant Industry

Another reason why Swiss replica watch brands have been slow to embrace e-commerce is that typically clients want to try on the products. The industry gets less than 2 percent of sales through direct e-commerce sites, estimates Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel.

Richemont helped form the Milan-based online retailer by merging its Net-a-Porter unit with Yoox last year. Sales of luxury goods online have increased 77 percent from 2011, according to researcher Euromonitor.

A Deloitte survey in September showed that, for the first time, Swiss watch executives plan to expand more in e-commerce than in other channels such as their own stores. Richemont Chairman Johann Rupert last week said all its brands need to boost online marketing as he overhauled management amid a 43 percent profit decline.

UK reported organic sales growth of 19 percent in the third quarter, with revenue reaching 435.4 million euros.

“Watchmakers are becoming more open to the idea of e-commerce,” UK’s Marchetti said.