Sunday, June 04, 2006

A sign of the time

With cellphones' popularity, most teens view wristwatches as unnecessary accessories

Erica Sagon
The Arizona Republic

PHOENIX - Any bare-wristed teen or 20-something can tell you that watches are so five minutes ago. Cellphones are the preferred timepieces, and their popularity is causing watch sales to decline.

"I look at my cellphone all the time anyway for text messaging, so I just end up looking at the time," said Ryan Kennedy, a watchless 20-year-old student at Arizona State University. He stopped wearing a watch when he got his first cellphone as a freshman in high school.

Ditching watches underscores young people's love affairs with the cellphone, an increasingly do-it-all gadget whose capabilities have also replaced alarm clocks and cameras for some people.

A recent survey by Piper Jaffray & Co. shows that wristwatches' time is up among teens.

After polling 700 teens this spring in cities including Scottsdale, 59 percent said they never wear watches. Last time the survey was conducted in fall 2005, 48 percent of teens said they never wear watches.

Although the company polled teens only, the trend is also tied to 20-somethings. In contrast, watches are still popular with older generations, which are more likely to view watches as status symbols or wear them daily out of habit.

While no one is predicting the death of the watch industry, the trend is giving watchmakers something to fret about. Fossil's watch sales have slipped while its apparel and accessories business has grown. Oakley has also reported dips in watch sales.

Fossil said growing its watch business this year would be difficult, but that the lackluster sales are cyclical. It expects consumer spending on watches to pick up in the long term.

Piper Jaffray's survey of teens isn't brightening the outlook for the retailers. The poll found that 82 percent of teens don't plan to buy a watch in the next six months. When teens were surveyed last fall, 76 percent said they would not buy a watch in the coming months.

Teens would rather spend their money on purses, shoes and electronics. In comparison, watches are a less thrilling purchase.

Watchmakers will try to rekindle the appeal of watches to younger consumers, said Piper Jaffray analyst Neely Tammingia.

"We think it'll come through product innovations, whether it be different materials used in making the watches . . . (or) celebrity endorsements and being more visible in teen-related publications and media," Tammingia said. "It's important for them to focus on what is increasingly appearing to be a general indifference to watches from teens."

Evan Wong, 18, of Chandler, sports a watch that he got as a high school graduation gift from his tennis coach. He wears watches regularly, unless he is at the gym or playing tennis, but he understands why many of his friends don't.

"You have your car keys. You have your wallet, your cellphone, your watch, sunglasses. That's a lot of accessories," Wong said. "A cellphone really cuts down on bothering with a watch."

At online retailer, searches for wristwatches have spiked during the holidays but have declined overall during the past two years. The company predicts that as people consolidate the gadgets they carry, watches will evolve as accessories rather than useful timepieces.

Fahim Sultani, 15, of Phoenix, wears a watch to special events like weddings a few times a year, but has friends who carry cellphones and wear watches regularly, too.

"They wear pretty nice watches with jeans and a regular T-shirt," Sultani said. "A lot of them just wear watches more for show than to actually tell time."

Wristwatches are still status symbols for businesspeople, said Michael Strong, owner of Michael's Jewelers in downtown Phoenix.

"They're in business and what they wear is looked on. People observe things like that," Strong said.

"So they like to put on something that would be complimented and would help them with whatever they're doing. A watch is an opening sometimes to a sale."

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