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Ralph Lauren Corporation– digitization in the luxury retail business

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How does digitization affect the retail value chain? From smart wearables to smart mirrors, Ralph Lauren has taken bold steps to tap into the early adopters in this retail revolution.

Context-

Ralph Lauren Corporation is a global leader in the design, marketing and distribution of premium lifestyle products in four categories: apparel, home, accessories and fragrances. For almost 50 years, Ralph Lauren’s reputation and distinctive image have been consistently developed across an expanding number of products, brands and international markets. [1]

Digitisation & IoT technology are already reshaping and revolutionising the retail industry, yielding advances and new opportunities in customer service, throughout the supply chain and in brick-and-mortar stores and other channels. In addition to potentially revolutionising customer-facing applications, IoT technologies may play a big role in retail supply chain and delivery operations. [3] Ralph Lauren leads in bringing digital innovations into stores and connecting the online and offline, followed by Bergdorf Goodman and Burberry. [8]

Digitization efforts by Ralph Lauren- 

The polo tech shirt

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Launched in 2015, the shirt is a  “second-skin” fabric workout shirt has silver fibres woven directly into the fabric and a small, sensor-filled black box that snaps into the shirt near the rib cage, to track biometric stats like steps taken, heart rate, breathing depth, and energy exertion. There’s a Ralph Lauren mobile app that syncs data from the PoloTech shirt. [4]

Smart fitting rooms

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From the outside, the smart fitting room looks like your average dressing room with a full-length mirror. Items brought into the fitting room are detected by reading their RFID tags, prompting an item quantity number to pop up on the touch-screen mirror. First, the lighting changes. Shoppers can then view unique item details, request alternate colors or sizes, view stylist recommendations or request to help from an associate for a more engaging person-to-person experience.[7] One is given three lighting options to choose from: Fifth Avenue Daylight, East Hampton Sunset, and Evening at The Polo Bar. [5]

Interactive shoppable windows

Blurring the lines between the physical world and the real world, the shoppable windows help consumers interact with the brand on the street.

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The screens displayed large-scale images of the brand’s signature products such as its iconic Polo and Oxford shirts, ties and chinos. Passers-by could ‘customise’ the items by choosing from a palette of 18 selected colours. Additionally, a mix-and-match feature allowed them to view products in combination – boosted by realistic projected imagery that showed styling in motion, such as a tie being wound around the neck of a chosen shirt. A corresponding interactive mobile app allowed users to purchase the products directly from their mobile device. [13] Using mobile proximity technology, the displays let passers-by unlock exclusive and interactive content. Going beyond the traditional window display enables a brand to expand the customer experience through multiple channels.[12]

Way forward – 

The new retail experience

What does the future retail experience look like? The exhibit below gives a sneak peak into how Ralph Lauren can further accentuate its digital retail strategy  –

The new digital retail experience

Decentralisation of manufacturing/supply chain

The current lead times from design to sale for Ralph Lauren can go as high as 15 months. [9] One way to have a more connected supply chain will be to have the so-called omnichannel operations, in which orders are fulfilled both from stores and warehouses where many retailers prefer to handle their own distribution so they have better grip on inventory at any given time.  The trend toward decentralisation can also be spurred on by an increase of customisation options toward the end of the manufacturing cycle.

Concerns – 

Data privacy

More connected devises imply that more consumer data will be collected by IoT devices. The smart mirror can track each item taken into the dressing room and keep track of how shoppers are interacting with the clothes. A huge communication gap and consent gap exists in today’s retail world, and Ralph Lauren will need to figure out its strategy. [14]

Data security

Securing a bundle of devices that operate over heterogeneous networks is a major challenge in the retail space. The need to secure device data and enterprise communication will increase as a result of heightened data collection. The need for security rises in case of camera equipped devices used in an IoT ecosystem. [15]

 

(683 words)

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Lauren_Corporation

[2] http://press.ralphlauren.com/polotech/

[3] http://www.cio.com/article/3090123/internet-of-things/how-the-internet-of-things-is-revolutionizing-retail.html

[4] http://www.theverge.com/2015/8/20/9178923/ralph-laurens-polotech-smart-shirt-is-the-ultimate-preppy-tech

[5] http://www.refinery29.com/2015/11/97926/fitting-rooms-smart-mirror-ralph-lauren-clueless

[6] http://www.computerworld.com/article/3006294/data-privacy/could-cool-smart-mirror-in-futuristic-fitting-room-lead-to-creepy-data-tracking.html

[7] http://readwrite.com/2016/05/17/how-iot-is-changing-the-fashion-retail-experience-vr4/

[8] http://contactlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/LUXURY_GOODS_-_Digital_and_Physical_Integration___for_ContactLab.pdf

[9] http://www.just-style.com/analysis/faster-supply-chain-is-key-to-ralph-lauren-turnaround_id128087.aspx

[10] http://news.mit.edu/2014/digitization-decentralization-and-omni-channel-retail-the-future-of-supply-chains

[11] https://www.luxurydaily.com/ralph-lauren-bridges-fashion-technology-for-handbag-innovation/

[12] https://www.luxurydaily.com/ralph-lauren-uses-interactive-windows-to-launch-line-at-harrods/

[13] http://www.stylus.com/bzhnxq

[14] http://fortune.com/2015/07/06/consumer-data-privacy/

[15] http://www.alliedc.com/new-post-7-major-challenges-in-adopting-iot-for-retail-companies/

9 thoughts on “Ralph Lauren Corporation– digitization in the luxury retail business

  1. Rohit – I really enjoyed your post on the digitization of the retail experience. I am curious about the applications of this technology outside the luxury, or even the apparel, market—i.e., can this technology be used at other retailers, which drive sales through high volumes of low-price items? For example, my younger sister worked at our local Stop&Shop (grocery) chain when we were in high school. She told me the store had accepted product losses (i.e., theft) as a cost of doing business, because there was no real way for the store to prevent it in a cost-effective way (i.e., the store isn’t going to sue someone for stealing a carton of blueberries, and its return policies implicitly allow people to steal expensive items such as baby formula and “return” them for cash).

    I wonder if stronger inventory management within these retailers, perhaps facilitated by the use of tracking technology within the store, would help prevent this type of theft, thereby providing another lever that the chains can use to increase margins. In that way, the tracking technology wouldn’t just enhance customization and increase sales, but also reduce the operating costs of each store and allow stores to reinvest in new endeavors.

  2. Great insights into how digitization is changing the luxury retail space Rohit! It is amazing to see how high-tech Ralph Lauren is becoming in both their apparel and retail experience. The tech shirt is especially interesting as it is using technology to give customer stats as well as a better fit.
    I am curious to see where Ralph Lauren goes with the tech shirt technology- is it aiming to compete in the sports apparel market or is it using the technology to differentiate itself from the rest of the luxury retail space? Also, does the customization option of their apparel cause lead time challenges, and if so, is it doing anything to improve the customization process? Nike is having the same concerns- they are betting big on expanding their customized product portfolio, as it draws higher margins, but they cause larger lead times. They are investing in digitization to improve their production process to cut the lead times from weeks to days. Can Ralph Lauren leverage a similar process?

    http://fortune.com/2016/11/20/steve-bannon-interview-darkness/

  3. Great post Rohit!
    I believe retail, especially luxury retail is one of biggest potential areas for digital evolution. One it’s because of its customer base who are mostly high income professionals with a great desire to try out new things, so digitalization is a perfect marketing tool. Second, its operation model has a lot of improvement areas in terms of cost effectiveness which makes technological development a sensible move. In your posts, I have got to know many operation changes to embrace digital trends, I am however curious how these moves are linked to their business model?

  4. Rohit – this was a fascinating post! It is very interesting to learn about how Ralph Lauren is using digital technology to improve customers’ retail experience. I wonder though if Ralph Lauren is investing in the right technology to drive retail sales. For instance, while the smart fitting rooms sound like a fascinating idea, I do think customers have lots of concerns about privacy and a certain “creepiness” factor to having a fitting room track their every movement, which you also mentioned in your post. Some smart fitting rooms, such as the ones Neiman Marcus experimented with, also have video and photo capabilities, which introduces additional security and privacy risks [1]. I also wonder if smart fitting rooms would truly improve a customer’s shopping experience, as it takes away a personal element of interacting with the sales associates.

    [1] Lonnie Shekhtman, “Who benefits most from digital mirrors in fitting rooms: stores or shoppers?,” The Christian Science Monitor, November 18. 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2015/1118/Who-benefits-most-from-digital-mirrors-in-fitting-rooms-stores-or-shoppers, accessed November 2016.

  5. Rohit, what an interesting area you have chosen for your research. As a few other commenters have suggested, the area of digitization in high end retail is fascinating and is all but guaranteed to be the testing ground for capabilities that will eventually cascade down into shopping experiences across mass retail.

    One interesting capability that I came across in my work before school was tracking shoppers foot traffic inside a retail location via heat mapping. [1] This capability was increasingly helpful for store managers because they could understand not only how many people came into a store, but in what sequence they visited different departments, and even how long they stood in front of an item before deciding whether or not to purchase it.

    This information can help companies decide which types of in-store layouts are optimal, determine what new products to introduce, and better predict inventory needs. I would expect companies like Polo to adopt this technology if they have not already, as it helps them to further many of the business development goals that you mentioned in your post.

    [1] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-retailers-track-shoppers-in-heat-maps-2014-1

  6. I think a key innovation in the shopping experience over the next 5-10 years has to be using AI to simulate what a consumer would actually look like in a style/size and making the experience way better than the process of fitting rooms and returns/exchanges that it is right now. However, there is a trade off with a brand like Ralph Lauren who aims to be a classic, rustic look and therefore relying on AI/VR cuts into that brand and vision in my opinion. Weighing these together becomes increasingly important.

  7. In the past few years, there have been several companies that are making a push similar to what you’ve described Ralph Lauren moving towards. While I was not aware of all of the dressing room renovations that are being made, there are several wearable technologies that assist with workout and general health monitoring. However, at the start of your post, you mentioned that fragrances are one of the big four focuses of Ralph Lauren. My question would be, what is the company doing to digitize this product line?

    Looking at other companies such as Dior, most digital efforts in the fragrance realm include simply social media advertising. Dior has partnered with celebrities to create .gifs and short videos, and paste them on Instagram and Facebook to garner followings. [1] However, what could be the further digital application of a fragrance? One way might be using 4D technology to pair scents with the clothing recommendations that the fitting rooms are making, to customize a fragrance for a store’s customers. This could cause much larger logistical issues, so it may be better to take the intermediary step of just pushing the store’s own fragrances in the near future.

    [1] F. Constance, February 6, 2015. http://www.digitizing-luxury.com/diors-new-itsmissactually-campaign/, Accessed November 2016.

  8. Fascinating topic! Ralph Lauren is doing some really cool things to digitize the shopping experience! As your post and many of the comments mentioned, these features can help but also hurt. While they may enhance the shopping experience for some, the lack of human contact and service and possible invasion of privacy may be a turn off for others. I would also take a guess that installing all of these devices at stores is not cheap. I would be curious to see if the ROI on these devices justify their installation and maintenance cost.

    I am also curious to see if Ralph Lauren is able to attribute the data they collect in store to any particular customer. I worked closely with a clothing brand who is very good at getting its customers to share her information, either by opening up a store credit card or just through signing up for emails. With this information, they are able to figure out who she is, what and where she is buying, and where she lives. This information was invaluable for the brand not only for marketing and understanding its core customer, but also in terms of product design, where to open a new store, and promotional strategy. With these digitized gadgets, Ralph Lauren can learn so much more about its customers and tailor every aspect of their shopping experience to their preferences.

    Lastly, I think the point you had about omnichannel is key for Ralph Lauren. Over the last few years, although the retail environment has been struggling, companies that have omnichannel capabilities, not only in their supply chain, but also in their distribution and point of sale systems, have been unscathed. In fact, public market investors are rewarding omnichannel retails, giving them a valuation at a 2-3 times higher EBITDA multiple than those with a large brick-and-mortar presence.

  9. Great article. I thought you did an amazing job describing the technological revolution in the retail space and how companies like Ralph Lauren are taking advantage of this transition. It is clear that they have made a huge up front investment and they anticipate seeing this investment continue to pay off. I found the sophistication of the technology that goes into the manufacturing of the clothing to be most fascinating and surprising. I also thought that the smart fitting rooms would be incredibly beneficial in helping to enhance the customer experience.

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