Special Report: Richemont, Swatch To Acquire Top Level Internet Domains
by Kyle Stults on August 01, 2012
Pinit

Will www.buy.omega, www.shop.panerai, authentic.watches, or authorized-dealer.iwc be coming soon to the Internet?  With the pending registration of these Top Level Domains (TLDs) by Richemont and Swatch Group, it is certainly a possibility.  So what exactly does the future hold for websites that bypass the traditional “.com” in favor of extensions such as “.cartier” “.piaget” “.swatch” or any of the other aforementioned extensions?   Read on as we take you through this Perpetuelle Exclusive report on one of the most profound — and controversial — changes the Internet will ever experience and how luxury giants including Swatch Group, Richemont, Chanel, Hermes, Ferrari, Lambhorgini and more are staying close to the action…


The Genesis

It all starts with ICANN, the nonprofit private organization which oversees to oversees coordination of the Internet’s domain names (among other Internet management-related tasks).  After almost seven years of deliberation and policy development, ICANN launched the  New gTLD, or “generic Top Level Domains”, Program in January 2012.  The New gTLD program is profound, essentially enabling the registration of an unlimited number of domains (even those in foreign languages such as Arabic and Chinese) to compete and innovate alongside the likes of mainstays such as .com, .net. or .org.  Though open to anyone in the world, the ability to register a new gTLD requires significant capital ($185,000 per name) and resources and as such is effectively a business proposition.  The application process for new gTLDs closed April 12, 2012, with more than 1,100 applicants seeking over 1,400 new domain extensions.

Richemont Among Top Ten Applicants

original graphic source

On June 13, 2012, ICANN revealed the list of applicants for new gTLDs.  While tech blogs, computer geeks and nerds everywhere were salivating to see who had applied to own a piece of the new Internet frontier, yours truly had his eye on the ball of what matters here at Perpetuelle:  wristwatches.

Of course it was expected that Internet giants Google, Amazon and hundred-million-dollar plus-investment-backed Donuts Inc. (essentially a hedge fund investing in domain names) would be among the largest applicants.  And that domains such as “.app” “.inc” “.blog” “.book” and “.shop” would among the most popular, sought-after domains.   And indeed they were.  But was anyone expecting Richemont Group to make the top ten?  Indeed, Richemont did make the top ten list, with fourteen top level Internet domain extensions applied for:

Application Fee per domain:  $185,000

As you can see list list includes most of Richemont’s major watch brands.  Richemont also applied for generic terms such as .Watch and Chinese symbol for “Watch”, as well as  e-commerce properties such as Mr. Porter and Net-A-Porter.

Also in the mix is the Swatch Group — the world’s largest watch conglomerate.  Swatch applied for the “.Swatch” and “.Omega” extensions.

 

Application Fee per domain:  $185,000

Noticeably absent from the list were horology powerhouses such as Rolex (the world’s largest watch brand), Patek Philippe and Breitling, to name a few.  Also missing from the process was LVMH (TAG Heuer).  It is likely that these brands are some mix of a) clueless, and b) taking a “wait and see” approach.  Given the many unknowns and the  “slow-moving” tendencies of many these brands (particularly when it comes to the Internet), “wait and see” seems rational.

Why So Quiet, Richemont?  What Say You, Swatch?

But I wondered — what was the motivation for Swatch and Richemont?  As I mentioned in the intro, these groups also joined the likes of  Chanel, Hermes, Ferrari, and Lambhorgini — among many other high-end consumer brands — in applying for their piece of the Internet future.   My request for comment from Richemont’s Public Relations and Digital Media groups generated a “no comment.”  However, Swatch Group’s Head of Media Relations did respond to my questions and request for comment. When asked why The Swatch Group engaged in this process, the reply was:

“Swatch Group follows all the developments in the field of communication and considers Internet as one of the most important communication channels. It was a logical decision for Swatch Group to apply for certain new gTLDs which could be of the highest importance for its business.  Swatch Group considers new gTLDs as an interesting new communication opportunity.

Swatch and Omega are two of the most important brands in the Swatch Group portfolio.  Both brands are already today using Internet as an important communication channel.  New gTLDs open new opportunities for the communication of these two brands. How they will use and operate the new gTLDs, and when, is under evaluation at Swatch Group management level.

But What About e-Commerce?

Such a reply was perhaps expected, given the very early innings of this process.  I did inquire specifically as to whether or not Swatch intended to use these domains for e-commerce purposes, but was only given the response above; Swatch very clearly indicates that the new gTLDs are viewed as an interesting new “communication opportunity”.   I am not convinced that e-commerce is not part of the strategy here, but it’s just a hunch.

It is entirely possible that both Swatch and Richemont are securing these new domains as a defensive maneuver, with no clear plan in mind; they certainly have the financial wherewithal to do such a thing.  Or perhaps their strategic discussions at the management level are more advanced — perhaps there is a strategic end in mind, and securing these new domains is the first step in the process.  Admittedly, most all of this is purely speculative, based only upon my informed perspective on, and daily contact with, the Swiss watch industry.

Conclusions

So what does all this mean, in particular for you the watch consumer?  In the near term, not much.  And yes, while much of this is perhaps “inside baseball” at this point in time, there is over time a high degree of likelihood that something will come of these domain registrations.  Over the longer term, in a post ‘.com’ world, there clearly is the possibility for far-reaching implications in the manner that you will learn, interact and yes perhaps even shop for your favorite watch brands.

Perpetuelle will continue to monitor and report on any significant developments in this area.