It’s easy to forget that there was a time before eBay or Amazon. Buying things online used to be a crapshoot – not only was the shopping experience unwieldy and tedious, but the chances of getting ripped off, having your purchase lost or damaged in the post, and the Sisyphean task of trying to return something all made online retailing a bit of an ask. 20 years ago it would have been unimaginable that you’d buy anything other than printer paper or t-shirts online.
But the pace of change has been enormous. These days, consumers are spoiled for choice and convenience: buying goods online, from groceries to Gucci slides is a doddle, many sites offering free, same-day shipping; seamless and quick online returns; significant savings and exclusive offerings, not to mention how much better virtual visualisation of goods has become. Buying luxury goods online has become second nature to many consumers.
Perhaps the most significant sign of how far things have come is this recent product offering from UK-based online luxury fashion retailer Farfetch – a Richard Mille RM67-01 Rainbow 50mm timepiece bedazzled by well-known watch customiser MAD Paris with rainbow-coloured diamonds, worth a startling 975,636 AUD (605,000 USD).
Richard Mille watches are already incredibly expensive and exclusive – the cheapest new/unworn Richard Mille on leading online watch aftermarket Chrono24 comes in at just under 95,000 AUD and the cheapest RM67-01, a titanium piece, is selling for almost 164,400 AUD if you include shipping to Australia. Adding a bevy of diamonds to an already outrageous piece of Swiss excess is just gilding the lily at this point.
We’re not quite sure who the target market for this watch is, or who would be crazy enough to even consider buying basically a seven-figure watch online, but the fact that you have the freedom to do so is astounding.
Whether it’s actually worth that much is another question. Customised watches don’t tend to hold their value, and indeed, adding diamonds to a watch can actually devalue your watch, particularly if they were added by a third party, according to Bob’s Watches. We’d argue that the less-than-subtle rainbow look actually detracts from the watch – the rainbow-obsessed New York rapper 6ix9ine might disagree with us, however.
All we’ll say is if people think this Richard Mille is too much, wait until they see this Patek Philippe 5531R-001 Rose Gold Grand Complications selling for almost 2 million AUD…
Putting the debate about the aesthetic or literal value of these watches aside for just a second, that you can even buy something like this online speaks to the state modern online retail. 2020 has further accelerated the move towards online retail, as physical stores have had to close and people are homebound during The Pandemic.
Physical retail was already struggling before 2020: the dilemma is that in order for physical locations to remain relevant in today’s market, they have to offer an experience; something that sets them apart from online. They’ll never win on the price front, as brick-and-mortar has overheads that online doesn’t. The reality is that the benefit to consumers of buying in-store just isn’t as strong as online these days, whether that’s shopping for men’s shirts on UNIQLO or Jaeger-LeCoultre watches on MR PORTER.
For Australians, that you can buy luxury goods like this MAD Paris custom job is particularly useful, as the tyranny of distance and our comparatively small market means we often miss out when it comes to luxury experiences. Case in point, there are only 37 Richard Mille boutiques globally, and none in Australia (the closest to us is in Jakarta).
While we’re still confident that brick-and-mortar retail still has a role to play in the market (if done properly and intentionally), this insane offering on Farfetch should be a warning sign for luxury retailers: the future is here – and it’s rainbow-coloured.