Ralph Lauren on Monday announced a strategic limited partnership with Franklin Venture Partners, a team at investment firm Franklin Templeton oriented toward Silicon Valley and "focused on mid- and late-stage private companies," according to an emailed press release.
The retailer will invest an undisclosed amount in Franklin Venture Partners, which "will seek to invest in innovative consumer technology companies, with a particular focus on companies led by women," per the release.
The announcement "also builds on Ralph Lauren's minority investment in Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. (NFW), a leading startup focused on sustainable material science that has revolutionized the reuse of natural fibers into patented, high-performance materials," per the release.
Ralph Lauren's focus will be on consumer technologies, in the broadest sense, a Ralph Lauren spokesperson said by email. Given the mounting interest in the metaverse, and Ralph Lauren's own investment in it already, platforms offering virtual customer experiences are likely a target.
In November, the apparel retailer's executives told analysts that they're committed to investing in new consumer acquisition and digital capabilities. On that earnings call, CEO Patrice Louvet also announced a collaboration with Korean metaverse platform Zepeto. The next month the retailer unveiled a holiday Roblox experience.
The Zepeto tie-up exceeded the company's expectations, including in terms of customer acquisition. "This partnership represents the latest frontier in digital engagement in which users can purchase exclusive digital and apparel for their 3D avatars for the first time ever," Louvet told analysts. "Early engagement has outpaced our expectations with 100,000 items already sold in just a few weeks. In all, we added 1.4 million new consumers to our direct-to-consumer channels alone this quarter, a 19% increase to last year."
Reflecting its growing importance, the metaverse emerged as a major theme during the National Retail Federation's Big Show in New York earlier this month. But some analysts have sought to remind retailers that they're in the business of selling actual goods to actual people, with GlobalData Managing Director Neil Saunders calling it "extremely overhyped."
This is extremely overhyped. I have no doubt digital goods will become more important. However, we live in a physical world. When today's children grow older they will need to provide for their physical needs and that means buying physical products https://t.co/vGsGfr5DM3— Neil Saunders (@NeilRetail) January 18, 2022
"I have no doubt digital goods will become more important," he tweeted about one metaverse expert's claim. "However, we live in a physical world. When today's children grow older they will need to provide for their physical needs and that means buying physical products."