When Patrice Louvet joined Ralph Lauren as president and CEO in the summer of 2017, he started a digital transformation. His quest began with a chief digital officer – a position had not existed in the 53-year history of the fashion company. He knew that digital would be an important new lodestar for the company; the consumer shift toward digital during the coronavirus pandemic has proved his point.
This digital focus helped Ralph Lauren navigate the pandemic beyond mere survival. As he told the National Retail Federation during a CEO webinar sponsored by Blume Global, the fundamentals of Ralph Lauren are stronger today than they were when the pandemic started to impact business at the beginning of the year. Louvet explained that the company has had to balance new business realities with the very human cost of the pandemic, ensuring Ralph Lauren is set up for continued success.
Due to Ralph Lauren’s presence in China, Louvet saw the supply chain impact of the coronavirus pandemic early on. Seeing how the pandemic changed every aspect of life in the country, the company was able to develop approaches that were adapted as the virus spread around the globe.
“China is back to the business situation it was in prior to the crisis, so I think that gives all of us hope that as we get this virus under control then we can get back to developing the business, engaging with consumers, building our organization the way we were doing as we went into this crisis,” he told the virtual audience.
The research bears out Louvet’s bullishness toward digitization. In an NRF survey of consumer habits during Thanksgiving weekend, 44 percent more customers said they spent all their retail dollars online than in previous years. This trend likely continued during the rest of the holiday shopping season. And with customers now accustomed to shopping online, buying nearly everything digitally could become the new normal.
Louvet is now beginning to implement artificial intelligence at Ralph Lauren, both to improve the consumer retail experience and to leverage data to figure out where to make new investments. This digital thinking is the norm.
“We challenge everything with a digital-first mindset,” he said. That means approaching every process with a question: Can this be done digitally? This encompasses applying analytics, working to implement artificial intelligence where possible.
“It’s a journey. I don’t think it will ever stop,” he said. “I do think, though, that digital will become like electricity, which is: we won’t notice it, it’ll be everywhere, and it will power everything that we do.”
In addition to the newfound push for digital created by the pandemic, health and safety have now become more important in the consumer journey, and that will remain even when the vaccine is widely available. The retail experience of shopping for nearly everything online won’t soon disappear.
“All the connected retail capabilities that we have put in place are here to stay,” he said, adding that it creates a better overall experience for customers, who are now looking for personalized experiences from their retailers.
“Throughout this crisis we’ve learned the importance of focus on what matters most, resilience and agility,” he continued. “The agility point will continue to be a core muscle that we continue to build because of this ever-changing world that we operate in.”
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