Tokyo gets another flagship store

03/19/2012
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And this time, it’s homegrown – Fast Retailing lifts its image with a new Ginza megastore

TOKYO (majirox news) — When Apple releases a new iThing, such as happened with the new version of the iPad the other week, we’re used to seeing lines from the Apple Store in Tokyo’s Ginza stretching around the block as customers line up for the new item.

But similar lines – up to 1,000 long – two blocks’ worth – for cut-price clothing and underwear?

It happened March 16, when Fast Retailing, the Japanese apparel giant, opened its flagship Uniqlo store in Ginza, a short distance from the Apple Store, and a minute’s walk from US apparel giant Gap, which opened its Ginza store last year on a site originally eyed by Uniqlo.

The flagship Uniqlo locations overseas in New York (two stores), London, Paris,Shanghai, Seoul, and Taipei, have made the name famous world-wide, and in these countries the brand is associated with a clean simple Japanese design ethic – at an affordable price. Overseas market commentators have marked this as the key factor in Uniqlo’s favorable image overseas, which differs somewhat from its Japanese image as a discount (albeit good value-for-money) brand.

The twelve-floor Ginza store marks an attempt by Fast Retailing to lift the brand out of the domestic “bargain basement” category. Fast Retailing President and Chairman Tadashi Yanai says that the store will “promote Uniqlo as a global clothing brand.”

The store will also serve the needs of tourists visiting Japan. To that end, the store’s 520 staff – 100 of whom are not Japanese – can communicate with visitors in English, Chinese, Korean, French and Spanish (in addition to Japanese, of course). Childcare facilities, employing certified licensed care providers, are available for customers’ convenience.

Mannequins rotating through 360 degrees, and large high-tech displays help to showcase the merchandise on display. With 5,000 square meters the Ginza store is now the largest Uniqlo store in the world, but Uniqlo “megastores” in Japan (defined as over 3,300 square meters (35,000 squarefeet) of retail space) are poised to explained from the current number of five to over 100 in the medium term, including a Shinjuku megastore to open later this year. This trend is in line with the expansion of Uniqlo store sizes generally – the number of “large stores” over 1,650 square meters(18,000 square feet) has quadrupled over the past four years.

But heavy competition is on the way. Gap now has an established image in Japan, and the Swedish H&M chain is expanding its presence here, with other foreign chains eyeing the Japanese market. Even so, it is unlikely that Uniqlo’s regular customers will desert it in a hurry given that older customers as well as younger dedicated followers of fashion continue to shop there. The Ginza Uniqlo is expected to bring in 10 billion yen (US$120 million) in its first year, making a significant contribution to the 20 trillion yen (US$240 billion) sales target to be reached by 2020.

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