The Serendipity of Delay

By John McCormick  |  Posted 2002-12-16 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Prada wants to reinvent retailing. So its first Epicenter store features everything from antennas and chips embedded in clothing tags, to video displays hanging from the racks, to clear doors on fitting rooms that are supposed to fog up when you walk in.

The Serendipity of Delay

On Sept. 11, the World Trade Center towers fell from terrorist attack. Lower Manhattan was shut down.

The delay pushed back the target opening date two months, to December. That may have helped the project. Several participants told Baseline they doubt they could have completed their jobs without the additional time.

Even then, the wands were not ready when the store opened, 11 days before Christmas. IconNicholson and the project team had to make a choice: Could the store function without the wands? The answer, Eckfeldt said, was yes. The wands were not deployed until March. A year after the opening, some pieces of Prada's plans still remain to be deployed altogether: the customer loyalty cards, and, a customer-focused Web site.

No one who worked with Prada has seen an issued loyalty card or a live version of the virtual closets, where a customer or a sales associate can place garments and the pair can discuss—and see—what works best together. The site should also be able to notify customers when goods sitting in the closet, still to be bought, go on sale.

As for the loyalty cards, one contractor that worked on the SoHo store indicates that Prada has solved the difficulties of putting an antenna and a chip in a clear plastic card, in a fashionable way. But it now is having a tough time with what would seem to be the simplest part: Finding a printer capable of putting type on the exterior of the cards, identifying the card as belonging to Prada and a particular customer.

In the meantime, the pressure is still on Prada. One rival, Gucci, has translated its repository of data on its best customers' habits and preferences—its little black book—to the Internet, according to Cathy Hotka, VP of information systems at the National Retail Federation. Gucci wouldn't comment, but, according to Hotka, Gucci sales associates can access customer information from terminals in any store in the world, no matter where the goods have been or are about to be bought. Gucci is even geared up to send desired goods to customers' hotel rooms to try on, at short notice.

Meanwhile, Neiman Marcus has connected every store to a company-wide intranet and to the Web. Sales associates can ask customers if they're purchasing a sweater because they really want it, or because they came for a different sweater but couldn't find it. Then they can search inventory to see if a particular store has what the customer needs. Sales associates can also check for items that customers have seen on the Web to see if they can be located in a Neiman Marcus store.

Pressure on retailers is intense. Mercer Management Consultants, in a recent report, said retailing "today is plagued by too many stores, a glut of products, and declining consumer confidence." Companies like Prada "that once had winning value propositions can easily die or be overtaken by innovative newcomers."

But the biggest obstacle to Prada finding its "pathway toward life" may not lie so much in creating awe-inspiring technology, building it or installing it. The biggest challenge may just be getting it used. One associate sums up what seems to be the overriding staff reaction to the wands this way: "I could use it, but I'm too lazy."



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