TAG Heuer Appears to Be Clueless About e-Commerce

60 cookie cutters, 1 counterfeiter…and 1 unclear business strategy…

I don’t know why I’ve been sitting on this article for a couple months now…but since I am on the topic of TAG Heuer this week let’s take a look at an important topic – e-commerce.  I first wrote about TAG Heuer’s e-commerce initiatives about 2 years ago (see: Tag Heuer opens to online sales – a controversial move by a leading watch brand? December 20, 2008), followed by a more extensive article noting expansion of the initiative (see: TAG Heuer Quietly Expands Authorized E-Commerce Initiative Aug 18, 2009).  Lo and behold, since 2008 TAG Heuer has aggressively but quietly ramped up its the e-commerce platform from the initial 2 e-tailers to a current count of 60, (yes 60!) Authorized E-tailers.

Now at least TAG Heuer is trying to figure out how to make the Internet work with what is actually a very big and industry-wide problem — that is, an entrenched and geographically defined network of Authorized Retailers that is seemingly incompatible with a territory which has no walls and knows no boundaries…aka the Internet.  But…like its doomed-from-the-start Meridiist mobile phone and its insanely over-priced “luxury” flash drives, I think that TAG Heuer’s “Authorized e-tail” strategy reflects a poor understanding of the e-commerce channel.  So I decided to give the situation some greater scrutiny…

While on the one hand I give credit to TAG Heuer for being one of the more forward-thinking brands when it comes to the Internet – particularly for a brand of its size and stature – on the other hand I have to say “What the hell is TAG Heuer thinking with its e-commerce strategy?”

First, a quick look at what is known about TAG Heuer’s e-commerce strategy.  Basically, TAG Heuer allows some of its Authorized Retailers to set up storefronts on a Tag Heuer-hosted domain (tagheuershop.com).    Each “Authorized E-tailer” website is identical except for the swap out of the the name.  Note also these storefronts are separate and distinct from (ie not seamless with) the dealer’s normal website, although in some cases Tag Heuer is *generous* enough to place a small dealer logo in the lower-right-hand corner of the page which links back to the dealer’s primary website.  You can click on any one of the 60 Authorized E-Tailers here on TAG Heuer’s website and see for yourself what I am talking about.

Is a generic “one-size-fits-all” approach the answer for a luxury sales channel?


TAG Heuer’s unwillingness to relinquish any sort of marketing control to its dealers (by forcing them all to adopt a Tag Heuer hosted website) is a bit control-freakish but not uncommon in the luxury watch industry.  Most watch brands simply are not comfortable relinquishing control of the sales experience, online or off.  But this cookie-cutter approach is just awful.  Why does Tag Heuer need a new subdomain for each dealer? They are, after all, nothing but a bunch of identical storefronts housed under the same domain and offering the same products at the same price (control your excitement, please).  Why not just own up to reality and just have 1 tagheuershop.com and allow all dealers to re-direct to it and receive the lead-gen fee and/or share the commission?  Particularly if TAG Heuer is handling order processing and fulfillment (which I don’t know for sure).

Overall, I get the impression that Tag Heuer is treating its Authorized Dealers like 3rd graders with this whole “authorized e-tailer” cookie-cutter approach.  As a consumer, I am 100% indifferent as to which of the 60 e-tailers I would choose to purchase from — there is absolutely no differentiation across these sites, so what is the point?

Not to mention that gray marketers are now unabashedly ripping-off TAG Heuer’s own storefront designs.  Which is ironic because the gray market is one set of dealers that Tag Heuer probably wanted to help diminish by implementing such an e-commerce strategy.  The one clone site (that I know of) has 100% ripped off TAG Heuer — the site looks virtually identical to the TAG Heuer e-shop, including rotating “Authorized TAG Heuer E-Commerce” logo, but on the FAQs page the company clearly states that it is not an authorized Tag Heuer dealer. The other difference is that it is offering prices that are lower to any of those found on the official Tag Heuer e-shops.   Interestingly, the site may have been taken down since I first drafted this article a couple months ago – I tried accessing it this morning but it would not load (I’m not going to give them unwarranted publicity by listing the URL).   But I did take a screen shot (see below)!! Even if this particular site was taken down, knock-offs can pop up like weeds, which forces TAG Heuer to run around the Internet playing whack-a-mole.

Grey market dealer has ripped off the design of tagheuershop.com – including the “Authorized E-Commerce” logo.  Note too, the gray-market DISCOUNTS being offered:

In summary, I just don’t see the logic behind Tag Heuer’s strategy here.   It comes off as a weak, half-a** effort that a deep-pocketed sales and marketing powerhouse like TAG Heuer should be ashamed of.  Of course I am willing to hear an explanation if TAG Heuer is willing to offer one, but if history is a guide they will stay hiding under their desks.

Maybe they should take some notes from brand such as Bell & Ross, Cartier and others.  While the e-commerce platforms of these brands are not perfect, they are leaps and bounds ahead of what TAG Heuer is doing.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now.  Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  If you are an authorized dealer (Tag Heuer or otherwise) — I’d also love to hear your perspective on the topic.  Comment below, anonymously if you prefer.

Also, I recommend some more good reading on the topic over at my watch friend Ariel Adam’s blog, here.

I don’t know why
  • Arieladams


    I am happy to see you doing more of this stuff. We both look closely at what brands are doing online – in terms of sales as well. This is a good note to the brand, and other brands of what the effects are of their decisions and plans.

    In terms of Tag Heuer, I understand 100% what they are trying to do. It is not wise in the long term, but I get it. It is like a band-aid on a bigger problem. Trying to integrate their existing retailer network with region-less nature of the internet.

    They also want to control pricing and the “feel” of their e-commerce sites. So this is the result. Does it come across as silly to us? Sure, but they are banking on the idea that people will be searching online for a better price.. and simple see the same thing everywhere. This will likely have the buyer get something near his or her home in the event they need to take the watch in someplace close for servicing. Tag Heuer makes a bigger cut of the sale, but the retailer still gets something, and a potential future customer as well.

    They also hope that by flooding the net with these “mirror” sites, it will push down gray market/replica guys on the SEO ladder. That isn’t likely to work out very well, but I have a feeling that is their intent. The bottom line is that no brand has been able to reconcile the historic distribution model with that of the internet. So they are simply testing ideas. Again – a band-aid solution. If Tag Heuer asked me to advise them on this matter, I would have a different plan for them and advice against this “clone” solution.

  • Ole

    I think you have some valid points here. An interesting point is that these control issues for major producers are not new if you take a look beyond the watch industry. I know that several car producers seem to have the same strategy for the internet sites of their distributors and dealers, at least in Europe. Of course, they do not sell cars through these sites (not yet, anyhow), but the requirements for the sites in terms of templates and information is very much in line with what you describe here. Additionally, the physical sites of the dealers are based on a set of very rigid requirements by the producer. Since this seems to be a viable strategy across industries, there might be something to it, but I don’t quite catch it either.

    I think that organizations which are used to having as much control as some of the watch and car producers have severe difficulties looking out of the “control box”, when trying to adapt to these types of changes. And this might be a key challenge. Still, I find it quite paradoxically that Tag Heuer has such needs for control in this regard considering they “allow” the gray market to operate with, as far as I can see, substantial volumes, which they don’t control.

    • R.I.R

      Hi. Some good points there. I would just like to find out….does anyone know anyone that has bought a watch off the tagheuer-watches.com site? It seems to be like two years (08-02-11) since any feedback has been given regarding the validity of the site and the sight is still running strong. The watches on the site are probably gray stock (not fakes), however they do offer all papers as they claim and a warranty that is held by them. Any feedback (positive/negative) is greatly appreciated.

      • http://www.perpetuelle.com Perpetuelle

        Hi–yes, the site is still going strong. the site is clearly a ripoff that is masquerading as an official tag ecommerce shop. i am surprised tag heuer has not taken action, but i guess hey, what do they care — the site is selling tag heuer watches, after all (so it seems, at least — on this i don’t have any advice/feedback). the ones who should really be ticked are the legitimate authorized e-commerce dealers for tag. in closing, I will say again — TAg Heuer is clueless about e-commerce. thanks for your comment and sorry for my delayed reply .
        KYle (Perpetuelle Editor)