Should I Buy a Watch on a Cruise Ship? Here’s why I wouldn’t…


Luxury watches are sold in many places, but perhaps the weirdest place to find a watch for sale is on a cruise ship. That’s right. You can swim, you can dance, and you can buy a Rolex (or another luxury brand). But buying a luxury watch is much different from buying a key chain, and you might find yourself wondering, “Should I buy a watch on a cruise ship?”

While it is possible to find a deal now and then, buyers should take precautions and educate themselves before buying a watch on a cruise ship or in an international port.

That is not to say that you should avoid shopping for watches altogether, but if you do decide to purchase a big-ticket item, make sure you protect yourself by following the tips listed below.

Cruise ship in port

Why Do People Buy Watches on a Cruise?

People often find themselves making impulsive purchases while on vacation, but why would anyone shop for a luxury watch on a cruise ship?

Vacation Mode

People who are on vacation are much more likely to open their wallets and make impulsive purchases. They may want to buy a souvenir to remember their trip, or they may find themselves making an impulsive decision because they are outside of their normal stressful environment.

Whatever the reason, cruise ships know that vacationers will spend their cash more freely, and they take advantage of this by filling their floors with high-end shops. And since many cruise lines decide which stores to host on their ship by profiling their customers, vacationers do not stand a chance.

Duty-Free Shopping

Not all purchases are impulsive, however, and some buyers purposely shop onboard to take advantage of duty-free shopping. Duty-free shops carry items that are not sold to local residents, and because of this, their goods are exempt from certain local or federal taxes. Since taxes on expensive items can add up quickly, shoppers might be able to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by shopping onboard a cruise.

Unfortunately, the idea of duty-free shopping may sound better than reality, and vacationers should educate themselves on the mechanics of duty-free shopping before making a big purchase.

Expensive wrist watches in shop window

For example, the shop might inflate the price of the item to above the appraised price because they know how much you are saving, and you might still end up paying taxes on the item when you report it to customs.

Aggressive Tactics

Both vacation haze and duty-free shopping are understandable reasons to shop aboard a cruise, but what if the purchase was made out of fear? That is exactly what some people have said happened to them while shopping in various international ports.

One elderly couple said they were intimidated into buying almost $10,000 worth of jewelry after being surrounded and hounded by four salespeople in a small diamond shop. Another single woman stated that she was forced to spend $20,000 on a ring, which was way more than she had intended to spend.

While sometimes this may be more of a case of buyer’s remorse than actual intimidation, shoppers should be aware that salespeople may be aggressive in their attempt to get you to buy something. Knowing how to say no is important, especially since returns are often not an option.

Things to Know Before Buying a Watch on a Cruise

Whether it is an impulsive purchase or something you planned, there are ways to keep yourself safe while shopping in international waters.

#1. Beware of Exclusive Brands

It is common to find stores that have struck contracts with brands to make them exclusive to their stores. Then, these stores partner with the cruise line and hold seminars that pitch these products to cruisers. By the time they hit the port, cruisers are frothing at the mouth to get their hands on these deals because the salesperson made it sound like the deal of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, many people have found themselves duped after buying exclusive products and finding that they do not appraise for the same value in other markets.

You can protect yourself by sticking to well-known brands that you know hold value in your home market.

#2. Do Your Research

If you want to take advantage of duty-free shopping and know that you want to buy a certain item, you should research the item well in advance. Familiarize yourself with the brand, the product, and its actual market value.

 You should also familiarize yourself with the mechanics of duty-free shopping to avoid being blindsided when you come back through customs. Shops will often brag about how much money you are saving on sales tax, but they do not mention that you might still end up paying 3% tax on purchases over a certain amount.

If you find yourself thinking about pulling the trigger on an impulsive purchase, you should give yourself time to research the dealer before shaking any hands. A quick google search of the business will alert you to any unhappy customers, and there are several cruise forums where people discuss their experience in the shops onboard.

You can protect yourself by doing the research before you buy. Some of the places you might check out include:

#3. Watch Out For “Too Good to Be True” Deals

It is possible to save yourself some money while shopping during a cruise. However, if it were possible for people to buy $50,000 diamonds for $20,000, everyone would be doing it. A legitimate deal might save you a few hundred dollars, but if the sale sounds too good to be true, then it is.

You can protect yourself by listening to your intuition and thoroughly researching deals that seem too good to be true.

#4. Avoid Buyer’s Remorse by Having a Budget

Buyers’ remorse is very real and very prominent among cruise members because they get swept up in vacation mode and fall victim to the psychological tactics of the salespeople. Unfortunately, by the time the bills start to arrive, it is too late to fix the problem.

You can protect yourself by creating a budget and sticking to it. Additionally, if you are with someone else, having a safety word that allows the other person to pull you back from the cliff is always a clever idea.

#5. Prepare Yourself for Aggressive Tactics

The associates working in port shops often earn a commission on each item they sell, which means they are highly motivated to make a sale. In addition to being highly motivated, they only have a small window of time to pitch their sale. Motivation and a lack of time often equal aggressive sales tactics, which can make some people feel uncomfortable.

You can protect yourself by shopping with other people. Additionally, it might be a better idea to buy the big-ticket items aboard the cruise and stick to less expensive shopping in the ports.

#6. Read the Fine Print

Before you hand over any money or sign on any dotted lines, make sure you read the fine print. This is your chance to fully understand what you are getting yourself into. The sales associate might try to convince you that the fine print is just mumbo jumbo and give you a brief version of what is included, but you should always read it yourself. These contracts are binding documents and will guide how any issues will be handled in the future.

You can protect yourself by reading the contract in its entirety before you sign anything.

#7. Ask About Return Policies and Warranties

What happens if you walk out of the store and the watch stops working? Can you return it for a refund? Will the company replace or fix it? What happens if you get home and find the watch is not worth what you paid for it, will the company compensate you for that?

The only way to get these questions answered is to ask these questions before you buy anything. A legitimate company will have no problem explaining their policies to you in detail because their business depends on happy customers.

Additionally, it may not be a bad idea to step away from the shop and call customer service pretending to have these exact issues to see how they would handle the problem with an existing customer. This way you are not getting the “new customer” version.

You can further protect yourself by asking the sales associate to back up their answers by showing you the company policy in writing. If they cannot do this, walk away. It is hard enough to return an expensive item in a local store, but when you are thousands of miles away, it will become impossible.

You can protect yourself by asking important questions about realistic scenarios and calling customer service to see how these situations would be handled.

#8. Avoid Using Cash

It is always a better idea to purchase any big-ticket items with credit instead of cash. One reason for this is that you do not want to flash around big wads of cash in a forgiven location, but it will also provide a paper trail should anything ever go wrong.

It is important to note that you should be well versed in the terms of your credit card before tacking on thousands of dollars in debt.

You can protect yourself by using credit instead of cash to create an established paper trail. Additionally, you should save all documents you receive and ask for copies of the company’s policies.

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John Cunningham

John is a writer, classic car and whiskey lover, men's shopping enthusiast and self appointed DIY expert. His greatest passion is repairing in the workshop, making old classics look and run like new again!

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