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Uniqlo’s Mall Play

BY Marianne Wilson

Uniqlo has made its first move in an ambitious plan to become a major presence in shopping malls throughout the nation. The company, Japan’s largest retailer and a division of Fast Retailing Co., has jump-started its U.S. expansion with the opening of a 43,000-sq.-ft. store in Westfield Garden State Plaza, Paramus, N.J.

The two-level location is Uniqlo’s largest mall store in the world and will serve as the prototype for the retailer’s U.S. mall expansion. This is not, however, the chain’s first foray into the suburbs. In 2005, Uniqlo crept in under the radar and opened three New Jersey mall locations. In 2006, it opened a much larger store, in Manhattan’s SoHo area. The SoHo location flourished; the mall stores did not.

“Following the immense success of the first New York location, we revised our strategy for the U.S. market and decided to close the three small New Jersey locations to launch large-scale flagships in targeted areas of Manhattan,” explained Shin Odake, CEO, Uniqlo USA.

Following a pattern set by such other successful retail imports as H&M, Uniqlo has used its three New York City flagships to build brand awareness, venturing out into the mall only after it created a stir — and a name for itself — in the big city. Savvy marketing, pop-up stores and buzz-generating advertising over the past couple of years have upped its profile — and cool quotient — substantially. So has its high-tech, ultra-modern store design (by Wonderwall, a cutting-edge, Tokyo-based firm).

Indeed, the new Paramus location has little in common with the bland, vanilla boxes the company opened in 2005. Similar to Uniqlo’s Manhattan locations, it is sleek and streamlined, with a clean, modern aesthetic and a high-tech vibe. It also has the same variety of product, with basic items stacked in precise rows according to color.

The new Uniqlo also has lots of visual excitement, with 38 LCD/LED monitors and 200 mannequins. The store, which replaced an Old Navy, has a separate street entrance in addition to a mall entry. The facade — set off with dramatically lit signage and illuminated glass display windows featuring mannequins outfitted in the latest fashions — stands out like a beacon.

The mall entry boasts an interactive LCD display, imported from Japan, that plays games and other activities.

“It’s a fun element,” Odake said. “Customers can play games on it.”

Uniqlo’s overall feel is in sync with the clothing (men’s, women’s and children’s) on display. With its “Made for All” mantra, the brand is known for affordable threads that combine basic styling with high-tech fabrics, such as its heat-retaining and moisture-resistant Heattech line. (A series of recent designer collaborations have added more fashion-forward items to the mix.)

“Everyone focuses on trend,” Odake said. “But our focus is how to bring innovation to core basics. Another focus is product quality.”

While the Paramus store is billed as the brand’s mall prototype, the look is likely to evolve over time, according to Odake. Not all stores, for example, will be as large as 40,000 sq. ft.

“In some areas, the stores will be smaller,” he said. “It will really depend on the real estate and be a case-by-case situation.”

Uniqlo, which operates some 1,100 locations in 13 countries, has set itself an ambitious goal of ringing up $50 billion in global sales by 2020. With its growth cooling in Japan, overseas expansion is crucial to its plans. It is targeting $10 billion in revenue in the United States by 2020.

“We will open more than 10 stores here in 2013,” Odake said. Most of those stores will be in the New York City and San Francisco metro areas (see story, below).

But physical stores are only part of Uniqlo’s strategy. At press time, the company was set to launch an American e-commerce site. (It already operates e-commerce businesses in several countries, including Japan, China and the United Kingdom). The site, designed with Razorfish and Digitas, will reportedly offer everything the stores do, but with an expanded lineup of sizes and colors. In addition to bringing in revenue, the site will allow Uniqlo to judge potential areas for new stores going forward.

LEARNINGS: While the vastness of the U.S. market and the nation’s passion for shopping make it attractive to foreign retailers, they also face a big learning curve, Odake said.

“There is so much diversity here in terms of what sells from store to store,” he explained. “By contrast, Japan is a very homogenous society.”

There are other differences as well. “Dresses, for example, are more important to the women’s product line here than in Japan,” Odake said.

There are also operational challenges. Customer service is a top priority at Uniqlo. In Japan, be it in an upscale boutique or discount chain, Odake explained, customers automatically expect good service. Uniqlo wants to upgrade U.S. shoppers’ expectations here also. Key to that is duplicating the company’s store-centric philosophy, which has been integral to its success in Japan.

“It involves everyone having a store owner’s mind-set, including the sales associates,” Odake said. “Creating that culture here is a big challenge. We believe we need to hire American managers who understand the concept.” (The Paramus store is Uniqlo’s first ever with an American general manager.)

Rather than hire from other retailers, Uniqlo has established relationships with different U.S. colleges and is recruiting on their campuses.

“We found it’s much quicker to train them on our own,” Odake said.

Uniqlo believes in giving store associates a lot of responsibility.

“If you give them more responsibility, they are more motivated,” Odake said. “We promote from within in Japan, and with store associates moving up to store managers and corporate. We hope to do that here too.”

The Japanese executive noted that the United States is very open to all retailers but that competition is fierce.

“U.S. consumers are very honest,” Odake said. “They don’t care whether you are from here or not. They want great merchandise at a great price. In some other countries, heritage matters more than the concept. The competition here has made us realize our strengths and weaknesses. We are learning every day.”

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Mar-06-2013 08:49 pm

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P.Lab says:
Mar-06-2013 08:49 pm

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Mar-06-2013 10:26 am

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And the Unhappiest Shoppers Are…

BY Marianne Wilson

As we head into November, I find myself inundated with holiday surveys, with experts weighing in on everything from the busiest shopping days of the season to the impact of smartphones. To be honest, all of the data seem to blend together after a while, leaving me dizzy with projections and predictions.

A recently released survey by global design consultancy Fitch provides a refreshing break from all the holiday chatter. It’s the type of survey I like best — full of consumer insights. Among the more interesting was that as women age, they find the shopping experience less enjoyable. The most fulfilled female shopper is between 16 and 24 years of age. The results suggest that stores are designed for the young, which translates into a big opportunity for retailers to redress the balance.

The Fitch study is titled “The Joy of Shopping.” But as it turns out, the joy is not the same across the board. Consider these findings:

• The British are the most unhappy shoppers in the world, with only 21% claiming to enjoy shopping.

• The Chinese are most enthusiastic shoppers, with 55% enjoying shopping.

• By category, the highest levels of shoppers’ enthusiasm were found in electronics, with 43% of consumers calling themselves very enthusiastic, while 40% enjoy the experience.

• When it comes to shopping for fashion, 37.4% of consumers are enthusiasts and 51.9% enjoy it.

• There are wide disparities by country when it comes to shopping. Shoppers in the emerging markets of China, India and Brazil are much more enthusiastic and satisfied in their shopping experiences than their counterparts in more mature markets.

The survey also drove home something that too often gets lost in the rush to embrace digital retail: Brick-and-mortar stores are in no danger of going away soon. Shoppers across the world still see physical stores as the most preferred shopping channel. In fact, 54% of respondents rated physical stores as the most preferred shopping channel, while 30% preferred the Web. (The Internet, however, is seen to be significantly more important in emerging markets than in more mature markets.)

That is not to say, however, that retailers can put blinders on when it comes to the future. Don’t think off- or online, according to Fitch; think seamless. The days of silo retail are over. As the study puts it:

“Don’t look at store design or operations in isolation. Consider your retail experience in totality, as a matrix, and look for ways to enhance shopper experiences across channels and mind-states. Help your shoppers move through your experience, effortlessly and on their terms.”

*****

There is still time to enter a nomination for our “Rising Stars: 20 Under 40” awards, which will recognize retailers who are making their marks in their companies and in the retail industry.

To enter, send your nominations to me at [email protected] Please include nominee’s name, title, company, phone number or email address, and a short statement (no more than 200 words) as to why the nominee merits recognition as a “Rising Star.” But remember: Only individuals who are under 40 as of Jan. 1, 2013, are eligible for consideration.

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A guide to the holidays, courtesy of Sam’s Club

BY CSA STAFF

BENTONVILLE, ARK. — Sam’s Club is hoping to keep its members in good spirits this holiday season, by launching a guide to help them with preparing for the home, entertaining and gift giving. In addition, Sam’s Club has enlisted an all-star squad of "Cheer Guides," national experts in decorating, entertaining and charitable giving who will inspire members with creative, fun ideas that ease the stress of the holiday season.

“As our members stretch every dollar to provide cheerful holiday occasions this year, Sam’s Club will lift spirits with fresh, seasonal solutions at a value that our members can cheer about,” said Charles Redfield, chief merchandising officer for Sam’s Club. “By stocking each aisle with quality seasonal décor, exceptional entertaining items and unique and exciting gift selections from now through December, Sam’s Club can give every member the cheerful holiday memories they deserve this year.”

The Cheer Guides include Brooke Peterson, an expert in DIT entertaining and gifting; chef Chris Hammer, a member of Sam’s Club’s chef brigade; Ericka Lassiter, of the Off te Field Players Wives Association, who will offer charitable giving ideas.

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