One would argue that punctuality is everything in the watch industry. Think twice, since being ahead of the times was pivotal to the success of Chrono24, the Germany-based online marketplace for high-end watches.
At a time when online luxury retailers are implementing their offerings with high-end watches — including Net-a-porter and Mr Porter launching dedicated spaces on their web sites this year — Chrono24 marks its 15th anniversary in 2018 and has just launched on its iOS App an augmented reality tool to allow potential buyers to wear and test the watches.
“We want to get in contact with every single watch lover in the world and also want to know about all the watches they own in their collection. As the partner of choice of the watch industry, we want to craft the shape of the industry in the future,” the company’s founder and co-chief executive officer Tim Stracke told WWD.
Before founding Chrono24, Stracke — with a background in online sales — in 2001 launched Mentasys GmbH, a German online price comparison service provider, which he sold to a subsidiary of Bertelsmann AG in 2006.
Founded in 2003 as a search engine for luxury watches, Chrono24 has expanded to become a global marketplace currently providing both private sellers and professional dealers with the right platform to sell high-end, new or pre-owned watches. “Due to limited offers [at the beginning], prices were way above average, so users just stopped by to research prices, brands and models, but did not buy. They researched online, but bought offline,” Stracke explained.
The web site counts about eight million unique visitors a month, who drove 1.3 billion euros in transaction volumes in 2018 alone, up 30 percent compared with the previous year.
“The online business is evolving fast, marketing space is endless and the next competitor is just one click away. We want to predict the future needs of our current and future users, so in the short-term you need to stay hungry for more and you’re not allowed to stop moving.…We managed to keep a start-up mind-set and gather experts with a can-do mentality in our teams,” Stracke said.
The company employs 200 people across its German headquarters in Karlsruhe, as well as in offices in Berlin, New York and Hong Kong.
Among the projects tuning in with today’s consumer needs, the “Virtual Showroom” augmented reality tool implemented on the company’s app at the end of October allows customers to print out a tracking bracelet with markings that enable the software to trace the wrist and virtually place a 3-D model of the watch on it. Top clients, on the other hand, receive rubber slap bracelets.
“The Virtual Showroom is a tailor-made product for watch fans. No matter where or when, you always have some of the greatest luxury watches at hand even if you don’t own them [yet],” Stracke contended. Available on a small selection of Rolex and Omega watches, the tool will be expanded to other products and brands in the near future.
Chrono24 has increasingly invested in a number of services and tools aimed at enhancing its relevance in the marketplace and stand out against competitors, although Stracke underscored that the company has been able to differentiate itself from the beginning. “It’s hard to say who our competitors are, as we are no dealer on our own and do our specialized business on a very high level.…We are experts in both fields: building up a world leading e-commerce platform and understanding watches and the industry in-depth. And we are personally driven by the passion for watches,” he said.
Customized services on the web site and in-app include the “Watch Collection” tool enabling users to constantly check the value development of their watches, or collection of watches, and the “Auction Channel” to hunt for rare collectors’ items on a platform that inspires confidence and is considered safe.
For instance, when displaying a men’s Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon 6002G watch in white gold retailing at around $2.7 million, among 400,000 other watches, adhering to a strict anti-counterfeit policy is a primary concern. “Over the past 15 years we worked hard on developing a place for watch enthusiasts to trustfully deal across country and currency borders worldwide and support them in the hunt for their grail watches,” Stracke explained.
Along with asking dealers for a self-certification, Chrono24 offers the “Trusted Checkout” service, such as an escrow account service for sellers and buyers, as well as a customer service line available in 15 languages.
In 2015, New York-based private equity fund Insight Venture Partners invested 21 million euros in the watch marketplace with the aim to expand its business on a larger scale. “Since they joined us, I can say that everything and nothing has changed: We still have operational freedom in our business decisions but the financial background encouraged us to grow and go even faster,” Stracke observed, noting that the Series A investment enabled growth especially in the U.S. — for example, the opening of the New York sales office in 2016 came on the heels of the cash injection.
The U.S. represents the leading country from the supply side, a result Stracke ascribes to the country’s “longtime experience in e-commerce.” Germany, Italy and the U.S. are the most important ones from the buyers’ perspective while Asia is gaining share. Professional dealers have doubled in number over the past five years reaching 2,800 stores and retailers, while private sellers showed an impressive 400 percent growth rate to 30,000 people in the same time frame.
Here, a list of the 10 most-purchased watch brands on Chrono24:
4. Tag Heuer