Bob’s Watches is an unassuming name for a luxury watch retailer. But the e-commerce company, founded in 2010 as the Rolex Exchange by real estate executive and avid watch collector Paul Altieri, is a powerhouse when it comes to selling pre-owned watches from the world’s top brands, including Omega, Grand Seiko, Cartier, and especially Rolex.
It’s also one of the more innovative players on the pre-owned scene. Bob’s Watches hosts its own online auctions and regularly collaborates with other brands. For example, this holiday it’s partnered with trendy clothing retailer Revolve to debut a Rolex capsule collection for the holidays. Mind you, the collection is a series of second-hand watches culled for the Millennial-focused fashion retailer, an idea that takes a minute to digest but also one that flirts with brilliance. After all, Rolex is the coveted watch brand among younger consumers of upscale fashion (Revolve’ customer), and the collaboration wisely targets the starter luxury watch buyer.
We talked to CEO Altieri about the pandemic’s impact on his business and where he sees pre-owned watch retailing—and its devotees—headed in the next few years.
The Zing Report: In your view, what major ways has online retailing changed since the pandemic began?
Paul Altieri: Online shopping has been becoming an increasingly large part of most people’s lives for a number of years now, but when the pandemic started and they really had no choice but to buy things online, it really became a part of everyone’s day-to-day existence. It hyper-accelerated the consumer shift to online shopping. Malls and stores were closed, and the Rolex factory actually shut down for several months. That forced consumers online to sites like Bob’s Watches.
We thought luxury watch sales might slow down during the pandemic, but it has been the complete opposite. Not only are people buying watches for themselves instead of spending money on vacations. But given inflation rates and the general uncertainty that surrounds these unprecedented times, many people are looking for alternate ways to invest their money. The ability of luxury watches to hold their value or even appreciate over the years is incredibly attractive to buyers, and unlike most other investments, they can wear theirs on their wrist and enjoy them every single day.
What are the new or coming challenges for e-comm retailers, as you see them?
Staying up to date with the latest technology is always a supreme challenge. As e-commerce continuously becomes the go-to way that people buy and sell goods, one of the biggest challenges for online retailers will be finding new ways to innovate within the digital space to create in-depth and engaging shopping experiences for customers. Although it has been around for years, e-commerce is still a relatively new concept and within it, an entirely new frontier of possibilities exists. However, continuing to innovate and find new ways of engaging with the customer will be the upcoming challenges as society shifts towards an online-based retail platform.
How has your consumer changed in the past two years?
Consumers are becoming a lot more educated about the products that they are buying. This is certainly true for Rolex, OMEGA and other luxury watches, but I think the same could also be said about many other industries. The internet has made it a lot easier to access information about virtually everything, and we’re seeing an increasing number of passionate collectors and enthusiasts who avidly research different watch models and their various details before making a purchase. I think we fast-forwarded five years in the past two years!
Where do you see the pre-owned watch market in 5 years?
The secondary market for luxury watches is easily in the hundreds of billions, so we are still in the early innings. The hobby of watch-collecting and the number of people involved in it gets larger each year, and many of the most iconic and famous watch models from history are those that are no longer in production. The pre-owned market not only offers a much wider selection for buyers, but it also comes without any of the frustrating waiting lists that exist for brand-new pieces.
In what ways has your business pivoted this past year?
We are always looking to get faster, better and cheaper. Wearing and collecting watches is becoming more mainstream, and we always want to make sure that we are making it as easy as possible for people to get into this amazing hobby. For many years, it was primarily collectors and enthusiasts reading our blogs and watching our videos, but we understand that not everyone always cares about the tiny technical details, and some people might be more concerned about how they can integrate different types of watches into their wardrobe. You will notice a more diverse assortment of content on our channels that still includes all the deep-dives and technical reviews, but now also covers other related topics like style guys and general watch ownership tips.
What professional issues or worries keep you up at night?
I always like to stay one step ahead but being one step ahead means that you can never really rest for too long. You always need to be looking for ways to improve and get better because if you sit still, everyone else will eventually catch up. Progress is an ongoing process, and I’m always looking for ways to grow the company and provide a better experience for all our customers.