Who would buy a swanky watch online? Fawning flunkies were once thought essential to the purchasing experience. So was the chance to fondle the merchandise. No longer. When Cartier released its €138,000 Panthère diamond watch on Net-a-Porter’s website, it sold out in three weeks. Long term, this trend should be a boon. Already online glitz has added much-needed lustre to the revenues of Richemont, the parent of Cartier. Group half-year sales were hit by a September slowdown. On Friday, the luxury group reported that online sales jumped from 1% to 14% of group sales, thanks to its recently acquired online distributors Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP) and Watchfinder. But technological change is not an unalloyed blessing. Youngsters prefer to use phones to tell the time. Going online has also had a mixed financial impact, boosting sales but not profits. The online distributors were to blame for a four-point drop in operating margins to just under 17%. A drop in YNAP’s margins, though small, g...

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