In dress and fashion speak, the youthful David Lauren comes across as the web-based version of his famous designer father. As Chief Creative & Marketing Officer of Ralph Lauren Media/Polo.com, son David speaks of his company’s year-old web site the way Father Ralph talks about his trendy fashions. “We are in the lifestyle marketing business,” the younger Lauren told attendees at the eTail 2001 Conference this week in New York. “We’re selling people a dream, an attitude, and we take that philosophy to our web site. When you visit our web site, you are entering our world.”
In Lauren’s view, that philosophy has produced a distinctive web site which features highly focused merchandise and a selling strategy that stresses content, glamour and glitz. Lauren dubs the strategy “merchantainment,” and it means that fashions are not presented in a virtual vacuum but in a fashion context. The web site, for example, features interviews with fashion model Penelope Cruz and other celebrities connected to the Lauren brand, videos on how a particular silk scarf should be folded and worn, behind-the-scene videos of a fashion show, interviews with “beauty experts” on how to apply make-up, and a high-traffic page called “Ask Ralph,” which Lauren describes as “a definitive guide to fashion-Ralph Lauren’s take on how to dress.”
Nothing is displayed on the site without the support of beautiful and related background images and information. Clothing designed for the great outdoors is supplemented by stories on outdoor living; dress inspired by an upscale polo set are illustrated by stylized equestrian images; biking and climbing gear is displayed with interviews with athletes providing tips on those sports. “We want to give as much information about the product as we can, but we also want to give it a personality,” Lauren says. “We want to use our web site to create this world, this dream, so that the customer can see not just the clothes but the world that inspires them. And we want the customer to say ‘Wow, that’s cool. I want to be part of that world.’”
To help achieve the slick video images, Polo teamed up with NBC as a partner on Polo.com. In Lauren’s mind, that partnership and the approach the web site has taken to merchandising helps counter what he says is one of the handicaps of the web. “When I started into this, I was not wild about the web,” says Lauren. “It uses a flat screen, and we wondered how we could create three-dimensional images. We wanted to do something that was cinematic, something that keeps the visitor energized, something that can be found in the store.” Part of the deal with NBC also involves “very heavy” television promotion of the site on the network “in the many millions of dollars.”
While Lauren was short on specifics about site traffic and sales, he noted that one-quarter of the visitors on the site click into the editorial that supports the product sale. As Lauren sees it, providing useful information to support a web sale is the ticket to customer retention. “We want to make sure we get visitors to keep coming back to the site,” Lauren said, noting that the editorial achieves that goal.
In response to a question, Lauren argued that the designer’s site does not threaten the relationship that Polo has with the department store and specialty chains that merchandise its products. He notes that as the site began expanding the market for Polo merchandise, “our business went up everywhere, including in the store.” And, he added, his company’s site “has set a tone” for the department store chains to follow on their fashion sites. “We make sure to keep up a dialog on this with all the chains where we have a relationship,” says Lauren.