Decoding Ralph Lauren’s New China Strategy

With its iconic pony logo and preppy Polo tees, Ralph Lauren has come to embody American luxury on a global scale. And now, as the brand extends its presence to China’s luxury hub, Chengdu, more shoppers are set to be welcomed to its world of wardrobe staples.

July saw the launch of a dedicated Double RL store and Ralph’s Bar at Sino-Ocean Taikoo Li — one of the city’s most luxurious retail mecca. The new location is the third addition to the New York-based company’s emblematic store portfolio in China, on the heels of the openings in Beijing and Shanghai last year.

The opening ceremony of the World of Ralph Lauren in Chengdu. Photo: Courtesy of Ralph Lauren

Unlike European luxury brands, which largely entered the Chinese market in the 1990s, the Ralph Lauren Corporation waited until 2011 to move in. However, as China inched towards becoming the center of the global luxury industry over the decade, the newcomer was forced to play catch-up with changing consumer trends. Gen Z emerged as a growth engine for the luxury sector and logoed polo shirts weren’t enough to lure in this new generation. In light of the challenging shift, CEO Patrice Louvet announced a Next Great Chapter strategy in 2018 to “deliver sustainable, long-term growth and value creation.”

Four years on and Ralph Lauren has gained substantial momentum. In fiscal 2022, the apparel leader recorded revenues of $6.22 billion driven by robust double-digit growth across all regions, exceeding fiscal 2020 pre-pandemic levels. In particular, it highlighted robust growth in the mainland, with fourth quarter sales increasing more than 25 percent compared to last year despite ongoing lockdowns.

Widely recognized for its Polo Ralph Lauren flagship label, the American stalwart manages a complex brand portfolio consisting of luxury, affordable fashion, and lifestyle lines. With the unveiling of its recent Chinese presence, the company is solidifying its high-end positioning through the introduction of luxury offerings such as the Double RL and Polo Original. Here, Jing Daily outlines Ralph Lauren’s China strategy behind the emblematic stores and measures their feasibility in the current environment.

A regionalization strategy

In April 2021, the company debuted the World of Ralph Lauren in Sanlitun as a way to launch its new China retail strategy. In addition to hosting the first Ralph’s Coffee in China, the store features men’s, women’s, and children’s products of Polo Ralph Lauren and its high-end Double RL brand. Another representative brick-and-mortar presence was unveiled in Kerry Center, Shanghai, in August of that year.

Building on the two openings in these recognized luxury hubs, Ralph Lauren is now doubling down on promising cities such as Chengdu. With top luxury houses and leading multi-brand fashion stores expanding there, the capital of Sichuan province has become a significant entry point into China’s southwest region. Ranked fourth in retail sales with a total volume of $137 billion (925.18 billion RMB), according to a 2021 report, Chengdu follows Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen.

However, the 55-year-old company is not simply replicating its previous strategy. Rather, it is localizing merchandise and innovating the physical retail experience. Curated and customized specifically for Chengdu, the new presence spotlights Double RL and Polo Original. Double RL offers a mix of selvage denim, vintage apparel, and accessories as well as cool, rugged sportswear with roots in workwear and military gear. Polo Original, a new brand that is launching in Chengdu, features a top-tier collection of Polo products including elevated, iconic sportswear, tailoring and accessories.

There is no doubt that brand elevation cannot happen overnight. Still, by offering differentiated product lines and visual merchandising, Ralph Lauren is taking steps to re-energize its brand image and showcase its understanding of target customers in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu.

Sipping” American vibes in Chengdu

Chengdu, dubbed the “Land of Abundance,” is not only famous for its profound culture and laid-back lifestyle but its colorful nightlife, too. As such, it has become a favorite tourist destination that has drawn young people from neighboring first-tier cities and regions in China. In fact, with nearly half of Chengdu’s total population between 14 and 35 years old, the city could be considered a youth capital.

That’s why, to better cater to these consumers, Ralph’s Bar in Chengdu is the first wine-and-spirit bar, differentiating it from other Ralph’s Bars around the world. In addition to offering a variety of specialty cocktails, it also has one of the largest stocks of American whiskeys in China including a collection of special edition bourbon and rye whiskies that are relatively rare in the local market. Open until 2 a.m., it is one of the few spots in the shopping complex that operates until the wee hours of the morning, allowing it to fully immerse in Chengdu’s vibrant nightlife.

Ralph’s Bar’s move to extend business hours actually aligns with the central and local governments’ support on the night economy – which refers to the economic activities of the service industry that occur from 6:00 pm on the same day to 6:00 am the next day. According to iiMedia Research’s prediction, China’s night economic market will reach $5.93 trillion (40 trillion RMB) in 2022, or about $14.83 (100 billion RMB) per night. Through capturing the nighttime when consumers can finally slow down their fast-paced urban life, Ralph’s Bar greatly resonates with night owls.

Optimizing omni-channel marketing

The World of Ralph Lauren in Chengdu delivers an identical immersive digital shopping experience as  its counterparts in Beijing Sanlitun and Shanghai Kerry Center. Powered by Tencent, the smart retail outfit features augmented reality technology and RFID-equipped smart mirrors which share product descriptions and omni-channel purchasing channels. The store also integrates WeChat Mini Program to provide a selection of immersive experiences, unlock personalized in-store services, book Ralph’s Bar reservations, and join the “RL Reading Club.”


Chinese A-list actors Deng Chao and Kevin Tan as well as actress Cecilia Song attended the opening event on July 8. Photo: Courtesy of Ralph Lauren

Alongside these elevated in-store initiatives, Ralph Lauren employed a comprehensive digital marketing agenda to celebrate the Chengdu opening. Chinese A-list actors Deng Chao and Kevin Tan as well as actress Cecilia Song posted about their attendance to the opening event on July 8. The campaign hashtag #RRLChengdu has over 21 million views on Weibo, sparking massive online buzz. Meanwhile, fashion KOLs such as @gogoboi and @Fil小白, as well as lifestyle influencers like @Sam的午夜场, shared their visiting experiences. Thanks to these endorsements, a cohesive consumer experience was delivered across all major social platforms including Weibo, Xiaohongshu, Dewu, Dianping, and WeChat Moments.

With a diversified brand matrix and cohesive storytelling, Ralph Lauren is on the fast track to elevation and impressing the young generations with its unique American DNA. Watch this space.


Companies, Retail