Jul 18, 2009

Swatch in US vs. China

I like Swatch watches. The Irony line of watches they have is a nice middle ground between a real watch and a Casio. The watches look pretty stylish, and you're not going to be too upset when you whack it on something accidentally and it breaks. There's nothing I've seen that's over $175. Another benefit: you probably won't get mugged for wearing a Swatch. I wonder what a pawn shop give you for one anyway.

Swatch has stores everywhere, it seems. Most fancy malls, airports, wherever -- you're bound to run into a retail display. And they'll always polish the watch face crystal for free when you go in. Or so I thought.

I wear my watch all the time, so the crystal gets scratched up after a few months. In the US, you could go in anytime, toss your watch at the high school student behind the counter, and he'd come back in one minute with a brand new looking, polished watch crystal.

Swatch seems even more ubiquitous in China than the US. There's a mall every hundred yards in Beijing, it seems like, and there's a Swatch stand in every one of them. The prices are the same as in the US, the selection is the same as in the US, but when you axe them to polish your watch crystal, they give you this look, like, "You A-Hole."

When you press the Chinese Swatch store workers for an answer, they direct you to go over to mall such-and-such. Then when you actually go to mall such-and-such, the Swatch workers there direct you to another one. You're dealing with an infinite loop of morons. But really, I'm the biggest moron for continuing to be fooled by these guys and traveling this loop.

If you research enough, you'll discover that the Swatch retail stores in China don't polish the crystal. In fact, they don't do anything but stand by watches and make sure no one steals the display models. If you want to get your Swatch crystal polished in Beijing, the official way is that you're supposed to go to floor X of some office builiding near Guomao, way on the other side of town, a one hour journey.

Once you're there, you need to take a number like you're at the butcher's, then hang out inside a waiting room. The place does repairs for Swatch and a handfull of other brands. You wait around forever, depending on how crowded it is, and then you can get the thing polished in about ten minutes, for around 50 yuan or so. What a waste. It's stupid to have to wait in line for something that takes literally one minute to do.

It seriously doesn't take longer than a minute. The last time I dropped into the Swatch store in an upscale mall in California, I felt bad about getting this free service done. So I start looking at the watches on display, like I'm going to buy one, then I walk over to the counter and tell the guy, since I'm here looking at new watches, would you have time to polish the crystal on my old Swatch? "Of course", the guy says, and as I'm still babbling excuses to the guy, he pops back out from his work closet, and the job is done. It's very, very quick. There's no reason to have to travel to a remote repair shop and wait in line.

So if you want to get your Swatches polished for free, don't plan on doing it in China. The labor cost may be a lot cheaper than what it is in the US, but it don't apply to Swatch stores. Wait until you're back in the US at a mall and get it done.

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