By Lenore Fedow
The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is expected to be a sales driver this year. Swatch Group’s net sales fell 29 percent in 2020. (Image courtesy of Swatch)
Biel/Bienne, Switzerland—Swatch Group posted a double-digit drop in full-year sales as the COVID-19 pandemic weighed on watch sales, leading to store closures and layoffs.

For the full year, Swatch’s net sales fell 29 percent year-over-year at constant exchange rates to 5.59 billion Swiss francs ($6.29 billion).

In the second half of the year, net sales were down 14 percent on a comparable basis, but showed improvement compared to the first half, when sales sank 43 percent.

The company has been downsizing as a result of the pandemic, closing 384 stores in 2020. However, it opened 55 stores in growing markets.

The closure of retail stores and the end of its licensing agreement with Calvin Klein led Swatch to cut 10 percent of its workforce, about 3,000 jobs. It now has approximately 32,400 employees.

December brought renewed lockdowns in important markets, including Germany and Great Britain, but monthly sales were resilient, said Swatch.

In the United States, December 2020 sales were in line with December 2019 sales, and Tissot saw its best-ever month in the U.S.

In mainland China, sales were up by double digits for both the second half and the full year.

The production sector reduced its losses compared to the first half of the year, but the situation in the second half was mixed.

Some areas that produce for third parties posted below-average capacity utilization, while other areas saw demand exceeding production capabilities.

Production bottlenecks affected several brands, including Blancpain, Omega, Longines and Tissot. In addition, a cyberattack interrupted Omega production for 10 days, leading to delivery delays and lost sales.

Production of watches, jewelry and components gradually increased over the past few months, said Swatch, but will only reach capacity again in the first half of 2021.

Online sales were strong, up 70 percent, but were not able to offset the losses in traditional retail.

And Swiss Timing, the Swatch company involved in the official timing of events like the Olympics, lost business as most major sporting events were canceled.

Looking to the year ahead, the company expects a “strong catch-up” worldwide for watches and jewelry.

Swatch pointed to the recovery in mainland China as evidence the market can improve when COVID-19 is under control.

Demand is expected to strengthen as travel restrictions ease.

The watch company has several new products on tap, including the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch and the Longines Spirit, which are expected to be sales drivers in 2021.

The Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar is set to launch in additional markets in 2021, including the U.S. and China.

The company’s “SwatchPay!” models, offering a contactless payment feature, have been in high demand, said Swatch.

While the watches need to be set up at a Swatch store currently, the company is working on allowing them to be configured online.

In the production sector, a new line for solar watch dials is on the way as are new technologies in the polishing sector.

The company expects to see “significantly improved” margins, noting that the year-end order book in the production sector is down only 4 percent compared with last year.

Swatch is expected to report its first-half results July 30.

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