How Watchfinder's homegrown tech enabled it to dominate the market

Since 2002, Watchfinder has developed from a homegrown business to a multi-million pound international market leader featured in the prestigious Fast Track 100 list. Founded as a purely online business by two friends and watch enthusiasts, Stuart Hennell and Lloyd Amsdon, the company stocks over 3,000 watches at an average unit price of £4,000, with a turnover of over 13,000 units and £55.5 million annually.

Watchfinder diversified into traditional bricks-and-mortar retail solutions in 2012, with the opening of its first boutique in The Royal Exchange in London. It has since opened three more boutiques, two private showrooms, and a manufacturer certified service centre, staffing over 110 employees nationwide. This unusual approach has been led by the strong development of an IT-based infrastructure, building a core business online that has then naturally flourished into a fully rounded commercial entity.

Thanks to its continually forward-thinking development, Watchfinder has no direct competitors, which presents something of a double-edged sword: with no model to follow, growth is all into uncharted territory. This has presented challenge after challenge, requiring unique, custom solutions.

Watchfinder’s use of IT has helped them dominate the pre-owned watch market. The approach can be summarised into two different categories, online marketing strategy and internal IT solutions.

The approach to Watchfinder’s online marketing strategy is to have a strong paid and organic search presence, to reach users that know what they want but aren’t aware of Watchfinder. This is achieved by feeding the top of the funnel with programmatic real time buying of display targeted to strong audiences.

The path to purchasing a watch over £4,000 is around 30 to 90 days, so the process is mainly about nurturing the customer through the consideration stages to conversion. By offering the opportunity to win a pre-owned Rolex, visitors are encouraged to sign up to the Watchfinder newsletter. They will then receive emails with new arrivals and offers; this targeted approach gives the company high open rates and click-throughs.

As customers move further down the conversion path, and they start spending significant amount on time on site browsing certain brands, they will receive targeted remarketing messages via display. These messages are designed to tread that fine line between ‘top of mind’ and ‘ad fatigue’.

Read: The power of ephemeral marketing

From here it’s about delivering the premium level of customer service someone spending over £4,000 on a watch expects. Regular emails puts new customers back into the consideration phase, where they are presented with more watches that they could part exchange for.

Much of this strategy has evolved over the last couple of years as the tools that facilitate remarketing become more widespread. Watchfinder’s long term relationship with paid search and display agency Periscopix - who in turn have a great relationship with Google and Bing - get the company into early beta advertising programs.

There have been several key moments in Watchfinder’s history that have moved the company up a level in terms of its business efficiency and operation as digital entity. IT Director Jonathan Gill, together with the co-founders and the rest of the Watchfinder team, have worked tirelessly to research, test and progress ideas to push the business forward.

Because of the nature of Watchfinder’s business, Jonathan and his team have to constantly stay on top of the company’s technology to make sure Watchfinder runs as smoothly as possible and their expensive stock stays secure and safe. They have achieved this mainly, via their internally built, in-house system, Backoffice. The system works in the background of and is ultimately the system which controls Watchfinder.

Now Backoffice 6, It has made the website easier to operate and has generally sped up the whole process of Watchfinder, making their business model run smoother and more consistently than ever.

Read: The food tech start-ups changing the way we eat

2011 saw another key technological development as Watchfinder switched to a cloud based storage software. The business used to be run on a quote based system, but now, with the computer starts to make the quotes. This means the purchasing and IT team are freed up to divulge into other projects, making the business run far smoother across multiple fronts.

Watchfinder has seen it develop from a homegrown start-up to a multinational success. Their proactive development approach, and judgment on the need for in-house work or external solutions has given Watchfinder not just a present, but also a future.

Overall, the key message is that an IT department needs to leave their pride at the door, to put the business’s needs ahead of their desire to trial new tech. Experiment, prove, produce - if it doesn’t work, move on. There’s no room for bruised egos, only business.

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