DFS consolidated its strength in watches in 2012

By Doug Newhouse |

DFS executives talk fine watch retailing at both DFS’ Macao and Singapore Gallerias, with Benjamin Vuchot, Group MD, Asia North and Wendy Lee, Watch Specialist Singapore.

The last 12 months has been a big year for watches at DFS Group. It is now a matter of record that DFS Group is presenting 400 Masterpieces of Time from 32 of the world’s top luxury watchmakers at its DFS Galleria Macao (shown above) – while the travel retailer has also refurbished and expanded its fine watch business on a new luxury floor at its DFS Galleria Singapore in Scottswalk.

At the DFS Galleria Macao’s MOT event, Benjamin Vuchot, DFS Group Managing Director for Asia North talked about one of the largest and most expensive collection of watches ever put together by a retailer, while emphasising that it is all underpinned by DFS’ passionate belief in resourcing, investment and providing top-class customer service.



[The luxury watches room at DFS Galleria Singapore in Scottswalk – see interview below].


In similar vein, The Business also interacted with Wendy Lee, DFS Galleria Singapore’s resident Watch Specialist, who recently received the Singapore Tourism Board’s prestigious “Best Customer Service Award”. Lee talks about her customer experiences related to watch retailing at DFS’ Scottswalk Galleria, which itself has undergone major refurbishment and improvement on all four levels.

Meanwhile, back in Macao last month it was Benjamin Vuchot who was charged with leading the media tour around DFS Galleria Macao’s latest Masterpieces of Time event, which DFS CEO Philippe Schaus has since described to The Business as “the most sophisticated and the most spectacular we have ever done in terms of the number of pieces…”.

Of course – and as already reported – the timing of the event could not have been better as DFS unveiled an expansion of 5,000sq m of new retail space, effectively making its Macao Four Seasons store the largest amongst all of its outlets worldwide.

The high quality of the presentations related to its 400 Masterpieces of Time vintage watch event were also characteristically noticeable [they are still on display now-Ed], while equally impressive was the enthusiasm many of its executives displayed for timepieces and the product sector in general, both in general conversation and hard product knowledge.


[Benjamin Vuchot, DFS Group Managing Director for Asia North led the media tour].


Benjamin Vuchot was to prove both an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide as he led the media entourage around the very large and luxurious boutique known as Le Salon, which is totally designed to appeal to watch lovers, with its first section dedicated to vintage watches.

Vuchot explained that DFS works with a special curator to source some of the most unique vintage watches “from Rolex to vintage Patek Philippes” and all with very strong provenance and messages around the watches.

He pointed to some beautiful selling stations as well as luxurious and private spaces, with a central “amazing environment for watch lovers” dedicated to independent watchmakers, with a selection of between eight to ten “and sometimes 15” watches available for sale.

But besides Le Salon, there was – and is – also a whole lot more to see, as he explained: “We also have a very special and new category which is available for Macao where we present some of the watch accessories.” He said these include watch winders, leather straps and small leathergoods, plus other accessories.

“We also have a private room where we can entertain some of our clients who want even more privacy, but the idea is to really bring the luxury environment, selective products and attention to detail and services to the customers of Macau when they visit DFS.”

Vuchot said that on sourcing, DFS is collaborating with a curator from the 10pastTEN company for the second successive year and this relationship has proved so successful that it has now been cemented as a permanent arrangement. This curator will continue to identify new collections and monitor how demand changes in terms of what customers are looking for.

[Le Salon, described as ‘a new concept store at DFS Group” – as seen in the Luxury & Watchmaker Boutique Halls  of DFS Galleria Macao at The Shoppes at Four Seasons].


Despite the elaborate displays, which in some instances are perhaps somewhat reminiscent of what you might well find in a specialised fine museum, “everything is for sale” says Vuchot, who adds that DFS is certainly not averse to taking modern major credit cards.

He also emphasised that within the high-end watchmaking category, DFS is also displaying its desire ‘to expand a little bit’ the services it has thus far offered in the watch sector, while also securing new product. Having said that, he emphasised that DFS is the first retailer in Macao to bring so many vintage watches along with accessories and he described the whole exercise as “really exciting and something very new”.

He then took the media through the collection of boutiques that have traded regularly at the DFS Galleria Macao since 2008, with some displaying their latest concepts, while also housing their own special private customer consultation rooms.

Vuchot said: “We know that the customers to Macao come with their friends and they enjoy the privacy and they enjoy the service that we can give them, so most of the boutiques that you see have a very unique private room.

“All the watches here are for sale – this is not an exhibition. We are a retailer and the curator of beautiful pieces and we love to make sure that the visitor to the exhibition can also enjoy the purchasing of the pieces, because this is the ultimate service we want to give to them.”


[Le Salon is real collectors country, featuring not only a very exceptional and rare collection of vintage timepieces from the houses of Rolex and Patek Philippe, but also the most sought after and rare independent watch houses – Christophe Claret, H. Moser & Cie, Laurent Ferrier, and Richard Mille].

On this very subject, The Business asked him how DFS approaches the logistics of educating its staff on every precious watch that comes in and how the training process works in this respect?

Vuchot said: “DFS is very, very famous for its training modules. We work very closely with the brands and we also work with experts. We have continuous training and sometimes on a daily basis and it is very important that our sales associates are the ambassadors of the products and of the brands that we display.

“So as you can imagine it is a very, very tedious and hard process, but it’s probably one of the biggest values to provide the content, to provide the information and make sure that the passion of the pieces is carried through in the language that the sales associates will share with them.”

So is it all about the customer feeling that the sales associate is an expert, we asked?

“Absolutely, so we train them and particularly on the vintage pieces. We train them on the provenance, the authenticity and we also have a very important seal of confidence with DFS because we have a guarantee.

“We have a full refund policy, so our customers know when you buy from DFS there is a certain value and a certain element of trust. So we combine our umbrella service values with the personal involvement of each of the sales associates to make sure that they are the ambassadors. But it is a lot of work.”


[Male and female models showcased timepieces at the exhibition].

Of course, some subjects still remain a little less popular than others at DFS, such as when The Business’ Editor asked Vuchot whether DFS pays its associates commissions? Vuchot replied politely and with a grin on his face that such matters could be revealed in a private room should I indicate I was looking for another job… (or maybe not, as the case might also be..).

More seriously he added: “More importantly the product information and the passion of the product are what we are trying to exchange with our customers – whether they purchase or not and of course, it is much better if they do. But really the service and the attention to detail in the service is what we really focus on foremost.”

Asked whether DFS has any research on those who do not buy the first time around, but do come back and buy on their second or third visits, Vuchot said: “Macau is a very particular place. DFS is always a very unique retailer, because we focus on the world’s travellers – we claim to be the world travellers’ preferred destination for luxury shopping.

[DFS’ collection of 400 watches made by 32 of the world’s preeminent watchmakers].


“Being in Macau we are dealing with customers who are coming to Macau for tourism and also for gambling – it’s a very unique destination. Some of our customers actually come two or three times a year, so we do see them repeatedly and we are able to build the very strong relationships with them.

“This is why – as I said before – our first intention is not to close a sale, but more to introduce the values that DFS can carry and share the values of each of the products, so that the customers feels attracted and will want to come back and bring friends.

“We actually often see that one customer who has enjoyed the experience visiting will come back the next day, or on the next visit with two or three friends who understand that this is a trustworthy place. Price is not the issue. It is really about authenticity, the provenance and the service and feeling comfortable.”


[Just some of the permanent dedicated watch ’boutiques’ located at the DFS Macao Galleria].

[Below: DFS Galleria Singapore’s award winning Watch Specialist, Wendy Lee Boon Choo].



It can also be said that the same consistent values are also very evident in the way that DFS approaches its fine watch business elsewhere and the DFS Galleria Singapore is no exception, following one of the largest refurbishments it has seen in recent years.

Changes to the store are both internal and external, featuring a brand new façade facing Scotts Road and extensive renovations on all four levels of its Scottswalk location – including the watch section.

These extensive multi-million dollar changes to the Scottswalk location also coincided with a very prestigious award presented to DFS Galleria Singapore’s resident Watch Specialist Wendy Lee.

With 25 years of experience in the retail sector – Lee received the “Best Customer Service Award” in the Individual Retail category at the Singapore Tourism Board’s annual Singapore Experience Awards on 15 October, 2012.

She received her award for her strong understanding of customer service and product knowledge in the local luxury market, with a particular focus on luxury watches, beating 21 other individuals also contending for seven awards under Customer Service.

But this was only achieved after her work was scrutinised by a panel of 77 local and overseas-based industry leaders/judges who apparently used a stringent set of criteria, including interviews and mystery shopping to evaluate all of the finalists.

In the final analysis the shortlist comprised those who were evaluated on their delivery of a complete visitor experience, based on both the strength of their products and services.

Following her win, The Business put a handful of written questions to Wendy Lee late last year, beginning with the main changes she has noted in consumer spending in Singapore’s luxury watch market in Singapore over the last year.

Wendy Lee: “Consumers have become more knowledgeable about watch brands all over the world and are more willing to spend. With wider product knowledge and higher spending power, consumers have also been exploring more options in buying luxury watches overseas when travelling.

“There are also increasingly more consumers who are in search of limited and special pieces by watchmaker brands.”


Which nationalities of consumer are most brand-aware and to what degree are they comparing prices in different stores before buying?

The Chinese customers are most brand-aware and they would usually compare the prices in different stores before purchasing.

DFS’ worldwide guarantee is unrivalled within the travel retail world – how much of a reassuring factor is this in the final purchasing decision in your opinion?

“In most cases, our guarantee undoubtedly acts as a reassuring factor for them, giving our customers an extra reason to purchase with DFS. As part of our DFS training, I learned that some customers who are ‘Relaters’ tend to like to be reassured and know that the product that they are purchasing is lasting. Through experience, this has become very true in my observation.”



How do you achieve high levels of customer satisfaction in your service?

I like to be well equipped with the product knowledge of the brands that we carry, so that I am able to educate customers and help them look for what they really want or need. Most importantly, I am sincere in my service.

What difficulties have you faced in managing different customer expectations and how have you overcome them?

“Different customers require different approaches. I would first ask if the customer already has something in mind, and respond accordingly to their needs or requests. Usually, customers compare our prices with the overseas market.

“I would explain that different countries have different retail prices because of taxes and the fluctuating exchange rates. It is fundamental to build a good relationship, gain the trust of the shopper with my sincerity and share my knowledge about the products.

How important is it to give the customer permission to enter certain parts of the store such as watches, where they might be intimidated by luxury names and a fear that they may not be able to afford to buy there?

“It is very important to cordially invite shoppers into the new luxury floor that we have in DFS and make them feel welcomed and valued. Our customers should feel comfortable to browse and look around at our product range and appreciate the fine watches.”

You have obviously seen a lot. What would you describe as the most difficult sale you have ever made? (if you want to leave brand names and the nationality of customer out in your description then that is fine…)

“I once had a customer, Mr. G, who was very unresponsive to my service. While he walked around the different watch counters and stood in front of them, I approached him and shared my product knowledge with him and asked if he was looking for anything in particular. I spoke to him for almost an hour, but he was still silent.

“After a while, he told his friend that they should head elsewhere to look around. His friend then told him… ‘She’s so helpful and well-versed with her product knowledge as compared to other shops outside which only talk about the prices and discount.’

“Hearing that, I felt more determined to garner Mr. G’s trust. Soon, we finally broke the ice and he started to open up to me on his thoughts and preferences. He bought eight watches in total and has become a regular customer in our store since.”

What are the most satisfying moments you have experienced in customer service since you began, however big or small?

“There are so many, I don’t know where to begin. I had one distinctive customer who came in with no knowledge about watches at all. He told me that he saw a ‘Brand X’ advertisement back in China, which sparked his interest in luxury watches. I spoke to him for a long time, sharing my product knowledge and some other interesting facts about watches.

“Although we did not carry the brand that he mentioned, I introduced him to other similar watchmakers. He was first taken aback by the price of the watch, but I explained that the value of the watch was slightly steeper because of its fine qualities and attributes. He was thoroughly impressed by the craftsmanship of the watch and purchased the watch.

“He became one of our top-tier Platinum Services Club members since. I feel that is this one of the biggest achievements for me.”

[The award to Wendy Lee was just one of several achievements by DFS Singapore in 2012, after winning the Best Retail Concept of the Year by the Singapore Retailers Association and another award by the Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore, which placed DFS at the top of the Departmental Stores sub-sector in customer service satisfaction for the third-year running-Ed].


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