Patrice Louvet

The pandemic might have the world trying to buy, sell and ship online, but Patrice Louvet, president and chief executive officer of Ralph Lauren Corp., is looking deeper and trying to send and receive feelings through cyberspace. 

It’s an area where fashion can connect in real life. 

“Not just the fabric and material on your skin, but an emotional connection between what you’re wearing and the brand that made it,” Louvet said.

Now Louvet is looking to move that transmission of feeling — and the deep ties Ralph Lauren has built with shoppers over decades — to the web.

“How can digital enable those moments of connection?” Louvet said. “How can you make people at a time of isolation feel connected to your brand? These are questions that the industry at its best has always been able to answer compellingly. The challenge, the opportunity is to now be able to answer them digitally.”

That Louvet is thinking so deeply about the online experience is a sign of how far the company has come in its digital revamp. 

The ceo said that, when he was asked at a town hall three years ago how the company could accelerate its digital operations and become a leader in the area, it was a difficult question. 

But by the start of this year, Ralph Lauren was on a much better footing, only to be buffeted by the sweeping changes of the pandemic, with both a stay at home workforce and shopper.  

“The pandemic challenged every single one of us in retail to implement digital strategies faster than we ever thought possible and create new digital approaches,” Louvet said. 

Ralph Lauren’s digital flagship, for  instance, became a kind of online safe space, emphasizing coloring for the kids and recipes for the idle instead of shopping.

“The approach was RL at home,” he said. 

Going forward, other aspects of the business are going to have to be similarly reassessed and updated. 

“We as an industry have to ask ourselves some fundamental questions,” Louvet said. “In a truly connected retail world, what is the role of the store? Is the store a marketing tool or a sales channel? Are metrics like four-wall profitability still relevant?”

And beyond that, “What does one-to-one marketing and personalized shopping look like in the future?” he said. “And how do we leverage AI to get to a level of precision never achieved before and apply it without inadvertent bias?”

Clearly, even with all the changes fashion has seen this year, more are on the way.

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