Jeweller Laing relaunches website as watch sales sparkle

LAING, the venerable Edinburgh-based jeweller, is moving into online retailing next month with the relaunch of its website as the 172-year-old firm benefits from a sharp rise in demand for luxury watches.

The company, which also has branches in Cardiff and Southampton, is proving popular among Chinese visitors and now employs Mandarin speakers in all its stores.

Despite a slowdown in growth in the world’s second-largest economy, owner Michael Laing said: “I don’t think that demand is going to suddenly stop. Everything we do is about our customer experience and we know they are much more comfortable if we can communicate with them in Mandarin.”

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About five years ago, the firm created a watch gallery at its Frederick Street store, but in June it converted the previous Laing Boutique two doors along the road into a stand­alone outlet for Chopard, Longines and Omega watches, which Laing said was the only store of its kind in the world.

He added: “Normally, a store would either focus on one brand or several more, but there’s a symbiotic nature between these brands and Omega are increasing in popularity at a huge rate. It also allows us to have brand specialists in store, so rather than sales consultants who have to deal with ten brands, here they can look after one or two.”

Laing said Omega in particular had benefited from a rise in awareness as it is the official timekeeper for the Olympics and the brand of choice for James Bond, whose latest outing, Skyfall, is due for release in cinemas at the end of next month.

“Omega is huge in the Far East – it’s one of the most-popular quality watch brands over there, along with Cartier, Longines and Rolex – and in Edinburgh we’ve had a lot more Chinese tourists coming in. We’re geared up to accept China UnionPay cards.”

He said many people are now choosing to do their “window browsing” at home on their computers, rather than the high street, but he still expects customers will make the journey to its stores to finalise their purchases.

“Many facets of business are changing at a blistering pace,” Laing said. “We just did the website less than two years ago, but now we realise we have to move further.”

He added: “Jewellery is an incredibly touchy-feely product, so while the website will be a full e-commerce offering for diamonds, jewellery and watches, we reckon most people will use it for research. But some people living outside the city will have confidence to buy from us online.”

As well as embracing online retailing, the firm has invested in an iPad-based training system for its staff and recently appointed Jonathan Payne as its first managing director from outside the founding 
Laing family. Laing said: “Jonathan was operations manager with Mappin & Webb and Goldsmiths, and for the past two years he ran 720 stores as the retail director of Holland & Barrett.”