COVID-19 was TAG Heuer’s time to shine online

Confronting disruptions with a digital engagement engine
by Noelle Tanas
5-minute read

Timeless innovation has always been the essence of TAG Heuer S.A.

It was there 161 years ago, when Edouard Heuer sold his first pocket watches in the Swiss village of St-Imier; when his company developed the first split-second stopwatches and dashboard chronographs in the 1910s; when it put the first watch into space, in 1962, worn by John Glenn; when it connected the first luxury smartwatches in 2015.

Yet time and innovation have rarely been as important for this storied watchmaker than over the past year. In 2020 and 2021, TAG Heuer’s motto — “don’t crack under pressure” — has never been more tested, or truer.

The retail apocalypse already presented challenges to a brand connected to thousands of jewelers and department stores in addition to its own boutiques. Meanwhile, consumers have been demanding not just better digital sales but better digital experiences and environments. For a global luxury brand like TAG Heuer, the hurdles of bringing together its disparate sales and marketing channels can seem as numerous as the seconds in the day.

And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill, forever altering shopping and life.

Man wearing TAG Heuer watch while surfing

Developed a new online purchasing journey within

3

weeks

Delivered more personalized services, helping drive

3x

growth

“The primary challenge is uncertainty for the moment, but we’re adapting and staying nimble,” Frédéric Arnault, TAG Heuer’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), told ForbesExternal Link in October 2020.

Yet the past year has only emphasized and accelerated the new, digital direction that TAG Heuer’s management team have long championed.

We went through tough months, including the shutdown of production — you can’t make watches from home — and to be completely honest, thanks to e-commerce, it was not that bad.
Beatrice Goasglas
Vice President for Digital and Consumer Experience, TAG Heuer S.A.

Can digital sales be boutique?

In many ways, Arnault is the ideal leader for this platinum-plated pivot.

Only 25 when appointed to the top job in June 2020, Arnault had been leading digital strategy and smartwatch development for three years prior. He already had an enduring appreciation for the values and traditions of the world’s luxury houses, having grown up in the Arnault family, which controls LVMH, the luxury conglomerate that includes TAG Heuer. At the same time, Arnault is a digitally native, social-savvy younger Millennial who understands the tastes and trends of his generation.

It’s all about meeting contemporary consumers where they are: online and on the go, jet-setting and scoring likes in a daily relationship with the friends and brands they value most.

The desire to be more digital was a marked change from TAG Heuer’s historic reliance on retail partners.

Man working on TAG Heuer watch spring
Face of TAG Heuer watch

“We wanted to promote direct-to-consumer sales, especially e-commerce, while strengthening our relationship with these customers,” says Beatrice Goasglas, Vice President for Digital and Consumer Experience at TAG Heuer. “And in parallel, we wanted to do this while of course nurturing our existing, highly valued worldwide network of retailers, who have already established these connections as part of their expertise.”

For years, TAG Heuer had been using Salesforce CRM to manage its relationships with retailers and other business-to-business partners. As it undertook its consumer transformation strategy, the watchmaker’s leadership in Switzerland and France determined it would be most effective to leverage the Salesforce cloud platform for consumer engagement, as well.

To help navigate both the technical and experiential side of the Salesforce equation, TAG Heuer enlisted IBM iX® global digital transformation and customer experience design consultancy in 2017 for its combined expertise in Salesforce integration, design thinking and retail-industry knowledge.

“We decided to take a cross-cloud approach on Salesforce because of all the possibilities to transform everything: e-commerce, marketing automation, integration, customer care, data and analytics,” says Alexandre Regard, TAG Heuer’s IT Digital Manager. “At the end, all departments will be connected.”

A 360-view, 24-hours a day

It’s a crucial connection, especially in the luxury watch community. No matter where, when or how customers make a purchase, they are so much more than just shoppers. They are collectors, fans, afficionados. For a storied brand like TAG Heuer, the watchmaker needs to build and nurture owners’ passions. Salesforce becomes the gears smoothly connecting and driving it all behind the scenes.

“We have so many touch points to cultivate the relationship with our customers and enthusiasts — whether they have a hundred watches, one or none,” Regard said. “With Salesforce, we can build a 360-degree view of each customer.”

That view becomes the gears that connect and power so many aspects of the business, including repairs, loyalty programs and word-of-mouth and influencer campaigns.

Crucially, it will boost personalization efforts that enhance enthusiasts’ desire to be seen, heard and known by the brand across all channels. Enhanced consumer profiles also opened up more streamlined repairs between owners, boutiques and the company through a digital service record accessible to all.

Woman working out wearing TAG Heuer watch

Time waits for no company

When COVID-19 first swept across much of the world in the winter and spring of 2020, the work TAG Heuer, IBM and Salesforce had already undertaken for two years took on even more urgency and importance. “All the countries were asking and begging for e-commerce, for developing it and rolling it out worldwide,” Goasglas says.

Woman stretching out wearing TAG Heuer watch

Want to turn customers into enthusiasts?

The company had been early in the e-commerce space among luxury brands, with a pioneering group of sites launched across five markets in 2015. Yet that had been the extent of its digital work until the full relaunch of its pages in February 2020 — just in time for the COVID-19 lockdowns across Europe and North America. By the end of this year, it will have multilingual sites covering 95% of its international footprint

“Trying to launch e-commerce,” says Regard, “especially in the watch industry, was really a risky business.” Like shoes or clothes, the fit, feel and even essence of a watch is a chief selling point; capturing that je ne sais quoi on a screen can indeed be hard to describe.

The approach to marketing was likewise altered and accelerated due to the pandemic, especially the focus around personalization.

As trips to the store became impossible and even the passage of time skewed, TAG Heuer tried to capture more personal elements that brought both a sense of normalcy and celebration back to life.

“We still had birthdays, special occasions, maybe a gift to say, ‘I’m thinking of you,’” Goasglas explains. “We changed the lens of the communication, not talking about products but rather talking about well-being and mindset, to engage and to entertain our final customer.”

Working with IBM iX consultants, TAG Heuer built a new guided purchasing experience in a matter of weeks that helped bridge the physical gap. And as more data and automation become available, TAG Heuer can reach owners and customers in new ways.

It’s also another example of Arnault and TAG Heuer’s commitment to a seamless global experience above all. Even before COVID-19, they were set on disrupting how the luxury market approaches the digital realm.

And pandemic or not, the results have been remarkable. In 2020, the company saw triple-digit growth.

“We went through tough months, including the shutdown of production — you can’t make watches from home — and to be completely honest, thanks to e-commerce, it was not that bad,” Goasglas comments. “But the recovery’s been quite fast, and that’s also a very positive sign that customers are coming back to us, that TAG Heuer is trusted.”

TAG Heuer S.A. logo

About TAG Heuer S.A.

Founded in 1860, TAG HeuerExternal Link is a Swiss luxury watchmaker that designs, manufactures and markets watches and fashion accessories. It also sells eyewear and mobile phones manufactured under license by other companies and carrying the TAG Heuer brand name. Headquartered in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, TAG Heuer operates four productions sites and has subsidiaries on all continents. It employs approximately 1,600 people.

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TAG Heuer S.A. logo

About TAG Heuer S.A.

Founded in 1860, TAG HeuerExternal Link is a Swiss luxury watchmaker that designs, manufactures and markets watches and fashion accessories. It also sells eyewear and mobile phones manufactured under license by other companies and carrying the TAG Heuer brand name. Headquartered in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, TAG Heuer operates four productions sites and has subsidiaries on all continents. It employs approximately 1,600 people.

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