Prada – the Devil Is in the Details

Prada – The Devil is in the Details … Prada estimates its sales per year at $22 million (as of ~2001). The luxury retailer recently spent millions on IT for its futuristic “epicenter” store—but the flashy technology turned into a high-priced hassle. The company needed to generate annual sales of $75 million by 2007 to turn a profit on its new high-tech investment. When Prada opened its $40 million Manhattan flagship, hotshot architect (“star-chitect”) Rem Koolhaas promised a radically new shopping experience. And he kept the promise—though not quite according to plan.

Customers were soon enduring hordes of tourists, neglected technology, and the occasional thrill of getting stuck in experimental dressing rooms. A few of the problems associated with the store: * Fickle Fitting Rooms – doors that turn from clear to opaque confuse shoppers and frequently fail to open on cue. * Failed RFID – touch screens meant to spring to life when items are placed in the RFID “closets” are often just blank. * Pointless PDAs – Salesclerks let the handheld devices gather dust and instead check the stockroom for inventory. Neglected Network – a lag between sales and inventory systems makes the wireless network nearly irrelevant. This was not exactly the vision for the high-end boutique when it debuted in December 2001. Instead, the 22,000 square foot SoHo shop was to be the first of four “epicenter” stores around the world that would combine cutting-edge architecture and 21st century technology to revolutionize the luxury shopping experience. Prada poured roughly 25 percent of the store’s budget into IT, including a wireless network to link every item to an Oracle inventory database in real-time using radio frequency (RFID) tags on the clothes.

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The staff would roam the floor armed with PDAs to check whether items were in stock, and customers could do the same through touch screens in the dressing rooms. But most of the flashy technology today sits idle, abandoned by employees who never quite embraced computing chic and are now too overwhelmed by large crowds to assist shoppers with handhelds. On top of that, many gadgets, such as automated dressing-room doors and touch screens, are either malfunctioning or ignored.

Packed with experimental technology, the clear-glass dressing-room doors were designed to open and close automatically at the tap of a foot pedal, then turn opaque when a second pedal sent an electric current through the glass. Inside, an RFID-aware rack would recognize a customer’s selections and display them on a touch screen linked to the inventory system. In practice, the process was hardly that smooth. Many shoppers never quite understood the pedals and disrobed in full view, thinking the door had turned opaque.

That is no longer a problem, since staff members usually leave the glass opaque, but often the doors get stuck. Some of the chambers are open only to CIP customers during peak traffic times. With the smart closets and handhelds out of commission, the wireless network in the store is nearly irrelevant, despite its considerable expense. As Prada’s debt reportedly climbed to around $1 billion in late 2001, the company shelved plans for the fourth epicenter store, in San Francisco. A second store opened in Tokyo to great acclaim, albeit with different architects in a different market.

Thought that store incorporates similar cutting-edge concepts, architect Jacques Herzog emphasized that avant-garde retail plays well only in Japan. “This building is clearly a building for Tokyo,” he told The New York Times. “It couldn’t be somewhere else. ” The multimillion-dollar technology is starting to look more like technology for technology’s sake than an enhancement of the shopping experience, and the store’s failings have prompted Prada to reevaluate its epicenter strategy. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. According to the Sept 17, 2010, Wall Street Journal, first-half sales for 2010 were $134. 7 million.

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