1 Dec 2016
Smartwatches Outsell Smartphones as Russia's Must-have Accessories
Fashion, functionality and fitness have seen Russians turn to smartwatches as this season's essential accessory.
Russians have been buying more smartwatches than smartphones over the autumn, according to figures released by a number of the major players in the sector, including M-Video, Svyaznoy and Eldorado. Overall, sales of smartwatches quadrupled in the September to November period, with some US$30 million worth of such items sold across Russia.
According to trade analysts, a number of factors have led to this upsurge in demand. Most notably, Russians value these digital timepieces for their functionality and affordability, while also prizing the cachet they bestow upon the wearer.
Smartphones long ago ceased to be real objects of envy, with similar items affordable by Chief Executives and office cleaners alike. While it is now increasingly common to see young metrosexuals and businesswomen sporting smartwatches, though, they remain a rarity among migrant workers and the like.
The popularity of smartwatches has even had something of a knock-on effect to smartphone sales. Frequently, a newly-acquired smartwatch will not pair with an old or outdated smartphone, prompting the owner to upgrade or even to switch phone brands in order to properly access the watch's functionality, while also retaining a degree of peer admiration. In particular, this factor has proved a boon to a number of the more recent entrants to the market, notably LeEco, Meizu and Xiaomi.
Smartwatches are seen as being particularly popular with consumers who favour a more healthy lifestyle, given their suitability for use in monitoring fitness and diet regimes. They are also in demand by those who have to juggle a wide variety of contacts on their smartphones, given their advanced call-handling features.
Aside from these two groups, however, the majority of purchasers value smartwatches more for their novelty value than their functionality. In line with this, many of the more fashionable young Russians now see these digital timepieces as part of their overall look, selecting models that co-ordinate with particular outfits or styles.
This fashionable aspect of smartwatches has already begun to have an impact on the sale of high-end watches, particularly in the men's market in St Petersburg and Moscow. It is now no longer considered de rigueur to sport the latest model by Ulysse Nardin or Hublot among senior staff, with smart timepieces now very much the order of the day. This is despite the fact that junior managers can often afford exactly the same models as their superiors.
The 40-plus sector, though, has remained largely immune to the appeal of smartwatches. This has seen the traditional pattern – older consumers gravitating from the more affordable Q&Q and Seiko brands to pricier Tissot, IWC and Panerai models as their income levels rise – remain largely unaltered. This, though, may change as younger consumers come of age and retain their digital preferences.
In terms of purchase channels, as with many other consumer items, Russian shoppers have a growing preference for buying both smartwatches and smartphones online, with AliExpress and JD.com proving to be two of the more popular e-commerce sites. With customs requirements less stringent for individual shoppers in Russia than in the EU, these sales channels are ideal for Southeast Asian suppliers looking to target the country's gadget-obsessed consumers. To date, a number of mainland electronics brands have already found more of a ready market in Russia than they have in Western Europe.
Leonid Orlov, Moscow Consultant