Do People Wear Watches to Tell Time?

The other day I noticed someone wearing a nice watch. I thought to myself “when was the last time I wore a watch?” It’s been at least two years. In high school and college, I always had a watch on. For me, it was partially about the style, but mostly about always being able to know the time. When the battery on my Guess watch shit the bed a few years back, I never bothered replacing it. I intended to, but after a few weeks of just using my cell phone to check the time, I realized that I didn’t need it. I’d still like to wear it from time to time because it’s a nice watch and I like the look, but I still haven’t made the effort to go to the mall and get the battery replaced at one of those kiosks.

Which got me to thinking: since everyone carries a cell phone now a days, have wrist watch sales plummeted? If so, I’d say people wore watches primarily to tell time and now don’t need them anymore. If not, I’d say people wear watches for style, and therefore are independent of cell phone use.

I did a quick Google search and found an ABC News article from 2006 entitled In the iPod and Cell Phone Age, Who Needs a Watch?. It seemed to support my theory:

Statistics bear this out. In the price category most frequently purchased by teens and young adults, watch sales have fallen by 10 percent in the last year. Sales of teen watches have as well, according to the Donegar Group of New York. And the decline accelerated in the last quarter of 2005, which included the Christmas shopping season.

At the same time, Pew Internet Project reports that 45 percent of all teens have a cell phone, and that a bigger percentage of young adults carry either a cell phone or a digital assistant, or both, all of which display the time digitally.

Side note: gotta love 45% and “digital assistant”. I think the number is more like 90% now, and no one under 21 has heard of a PDA…

Anyway, I thought my hypothesis might have legs, so I decided to dig a little deeper. I came up with the idea of looking a two trends for several well known watch companies: their stock price and their search volume. The idea being that both of those should have decreased over the last several years. If cell phones are replacing watches as people’s primary time-telling device, there will be less sales of watches (decreasing stock price) and less interest in finding watches online (decreasing search volume). Neither is completely reliable, but I thought there might be a chance to spot an overall trend.

I started with a Google Shopping search for “watches” to figure out which brands to look at. I came up with:

  • Fossil
  • Citizen
  • Rolex
  • Timex
  • Movado

Each of those names is synonymous with “wrist watches” in my mind. Some do other things, but they’re primarily about watches. I also liked the fact that there were some average priced brands (Fossil, Citizens, and Timex) and some luxury brands (Rolex, Movado). The stock price is reflective of a lot of things, but I thought the search volume for those names would especially be indicative of the trend.

Here are the graphs of both the stock price and search trends for the last five years.

Fossil



Quick analysis: increasing stock price, flat search demand

Citizen



Quick analysis: decreasing stock price, slightly decreasing search demand

Rolex


Quick analysis: N/A stock price (private company), slightly decreasing search demand

Timex



Quick analysis: decreasing stock price, flat search demand

Movado



Quick analysis: decreasing stock price, slightly decreasing search demand

I also looked at the overall search trend for “wrist watches” (“watches” was too general and had too many other search results about things like “neighborhood watch” and “crisis watch” mixed in to be valuable). This too was down:

At a quick glance, I’d say that the watch industry is in decline, although maybe not as much as I originally suspected. I do think there is a correlation between increased cell phone usage and decreased interest in watches, and that the increased cell usage is at least partially responsible for the decline (i.e. there’s both correlation and causation). I also think that the only reason that interest in watches hasn’t fallen completely off a cliff is that there is still demand for watches as a style accessory first and a time-telling device second.

If I really wanted to go further, I would probably look at each company’s quarterly income statements and try to pull actual sale numbers for watches (way too much work though). Also, the lack of media coverage on the topic is a little surprising. I would have thought that more people would have picked up on this potential trend.

Your thoughts?

20 comments on Do People Wear Watches to Tell Time?

  1. Rob says:

    Yup, I’d totally agree. I’ve never been much of a watch wearer, but I did have one for a while in 2005-2007. I frequently played with it, took it off and left it places though, then the battery died. I haven’t replaced it. It’s a nice watch too, cost about £70.

    I’ve got a few friends who wear watches all the time – my girlfriend always wears a watch. Many of my schoolteacher friends wear watches too; one even has a pocket watch! Most people I know, including my parents, other family members, and pretty much every friend I can think of (bar teachers) doesn’t wear a watch unless they’re going out and it’s a fashion choice.

    I wonder if the watch industry is worried? What exactly can they do? The only thing I can think of is to either create new brand associations with style leaders (musicians & movie stars) at affordable price-points or to create some incredible marketing like the DeBeers did in the 20s when they (re?)invented the engagement ring market – perhaps if some watch companies could get themselves strongly associated with turning 18, 21 or even engagement such that it became the cultural norm then that would help stabilise sales. Without some big changes or clever marketing I think that the decline is inevitable.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      “Most people I know, including my parents, other family members, and pretty much every friend I can think of (bar teachers) doesn’t wear a watch unless they’re going out and it’s a fashion choice.”

      I’ve never really made it a point to notice whether other people around me are or aren’t wearing a watch, but I definitely will from now on…

  2. Peter Davis says:

    Cell phone watches. They’re getting there but still a bit bulky. They’re mostly popular in Asia now.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Interesting. I think I’ve seen a few examples on the tech blogs and in magazines. I wonder if they’ll take off in the US market…

  3. Danny says:

    I think your observation might not be true. Try the more luxurious brand like Omega, IWC, Panerai, etc.

    Infact I know the Chinese are huge consumers of the luxury watch brands as brand status and fashion accessory.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I’m no watch expert, but Movado and Rolex are still pretty “luxurious” in my book…

      Certainly my “conclusion” from 20 minutes of research could be off. I wonder though if even in China the likely fashion demand increase (if there is one) has offset the likely time-telling demand decrease (again, if there is one)?

      At a quick glance of some other luxury brands, Omega watches seems to have a similar slightly downward search trend http://www.google.com/trends?q=Omega+watches but Breitling watches don’t http://www.google.com/trends?q=breitling+watches

      I’d be curious to see some “real reporting” on the topic 🙂

  4. tim says:

    As a one time watch aficionado I have noticed a similar decline in watch wearing. I still have 2 “fancy” watches but plan on selling one when the global economy recovers a bit. There are still collectors out there, there are still watch lovers out there, but I think your initial observation is correct, they simply are not as popular as they were 10 years ago.

    Cell phones clearly play a large roll in this, I think the tattoo fad is also contributing to the number of people who are making a different fashion statement and reducing watch wearers. I suspect in most of our lifetimes watches will make a big comeback, during a “retro” period down the road, I would be surprised if pocket watches weren’t the “in” thing at some point down the road. This sounds like the type thing Malcolm Gladwell could get to the bottom of!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      I’m excited for the “retro period”. I’ll tell my grandkids that we actually wore those to tell time way back in my day.

  5. […] people still wear watches? Really? I think the answer to that question comes down to whether or not people wear watches primarily to tell the time. Now that everyone has their smartphone glued to their body 24/7, it doesn’t seem practical […]

  6. […] people still wear watches? Really? I think the answer to that question comes down to whether or not people wear watches primarily to tell the time. Now that everyone has their smartphone glued to their body 24/7, it doesn’t seem practical […]

  7. Rob MacDonald says:

    Greetings Adam,

    Yes, the same thought occurred to me when musing about Mr. Putin. He swims against the stream, wearing his watch on his right hand.

    In my blog often I write about changes in Russia in the last 10 years, since we arrived in St Petersburg. Watches disappearing has been countered by a great status drive by many young Russian for ‘prima’ items.
    Certainly cellphones have had a profound effect.

    Seems like we are both Scottish Americans!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks for the comment Rob! Do you have a link to your blog? Sounds interesting…can’t say I know anyone in Russia

      • Rob MacDonald says:

        Hi Adam,

        I guess my link didn’t show… it’s http://www.amrusob.blogspot.com.

        We left New Jersey in June 2000 to retire to St Petersburg Russia, my wife’s hometown. I’m still trying to get up to speed in Russian. It seems everything is different here.

        I like the way you have your blog set up, and enjoy your writing. My next post is about the new Russian Standard Time, and coincidentally how people are increasingly checking their cell phones instead of a watch. I list your post as a reference.

        All the best,

        Rob

  8. Jane says:

    3rd world sales? what about them

  9. […] all of this from your wristwatch. Surely you remember watches? Seems not to many people wear them anymore, unless you’re a […]

  10. BillyBob says:

    Watch’s are for fruit cakes and panzy’s.

  11. Ashley says:

    I had also noticed this about a year ago when I was in a room full of friends and asked someone for the time – EVERY single one of them reached in their pocket or pocketbook to look at their phone – no one was wearing a watch!

  12. lolface says:

    i just wear cheap under $ 50 watches but i can find good intimataition brand watches or cheap nice wiatches for 30 bucks

  13. sighthndman says:

    The whole stock market tanked in 2008 (the Crash of 2008). The market as a whole (measured either by the S&P 500 or the the DJIA, and I’ll bet the FTSE, the DAX and the NIKKEI too, though I don’t watch them) is down over the time period you examine. How do watch company prices compare to market averages?

    Similarly, spending is down over the time period you examine, so I would guess by implication “serious” searches as well. Gift watches would be included here. But searches are up, so I don’t know how to tease out shopping (vs. looking) searches. (Vs. research searches.) That’s a lot harder.

    By the way, young people don’t wear watches, and old people do. So I stopped wearing a watch so I wouldn’t be so old.

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