* U.S. shopping site launches next week
* Aims for N. America sales of $10 billion by 2020
By Phil Wahba
Oct 18 Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo is
turning to e-commerce in a bid to speed up its expansion in the
United States and take on more established rivals like H&M and
Zara in that market.
Uniqlo, a unit of Japan's Fast Retailing Co Ltd,
will launch its U.S. online shopping site next week, as a key
component of an effort to earn $10 billion in overall North
American sales by 2020.
Uniqlo opened its first U.S. store in 2006, but still only
has five locations, with recently opened shops in San Francisco
and New Jersey, along with its other three in Manhattan.
But expansion is set to go full throttle, with 20 to 30 new
U.S. stores opened annually over the next few years.
And the new e-commerce site is essential to widening its
reach to potential customers, even as the new stores are set up.
"By opening this e-commerce site now, we are able to cater
to customers across the United States," Uniqlo USA CEO Shin
Odake told Reuters in an interview last week.
He declined to say what percentage of business the company
hoped online sales would represent.
Fast Retailing Co's ambitious expansion plan for newer
markets like the United States and China comes amid slower
growth at home.
The retailer's ambition is to leapfrog Zara, H&M and Gap Inc
as the world's top apparel retailer by 2020, and online
shopping is at the center of that goal.
In the United States, H&M, a unit of Sweden's Hennes &
Mauritz SA, has 250 stores, while Zara, a unit of
Spanish company Inditex S.A. operates about 50.
H&M and Zara, known as "fast fashion" retailers, offer
trendy clothes at low prices aimed at shoppers who want to
frequently refresh their wardrobes.
An e-commerce site offers Uniqlo a way to catch up with H&M,
which said recently it will launch its U.S. shopping site in
mid-2013, delayed from an originally planned launch this fall.
Zara launched its U.S. website in September 2011, while Gap's
namesake brand began offering online shopping in 1997.
Uniqlo already has e-commerce sites in Britain, China and
Japan and will use a similar format for its U.S. site.
Launching a successful site, especially one catering to a
younger, tech-savvy clientele, can be daunting and involved. Add
to that the challenges of shorter lead times between ordering
and receiving merchandise than for traditional retailers, and
the result is a costly and complex endeavor for fashion chains.
"You need to have photographs of everything. You need to be
able to zoom in and zoom out, turn the image 360 degrees," said
Retail Systems Research analyst Paula Rosenblum. "When you're
turning merchandise eight to nine times a year, that's
That's why H&M, and even companies like off-price retailer
TJX Cos Inc's T.J. Maxx, a fast-growing U.S. chain, have
yet to set up online U.S. shopping sites, she said.
Many fashion chains side-step those problems by offering
online only a fraction of their in-store merchandise. They also
create online exclusives.
Still, Odake said Uniqlo's U.S. website will offer
everything its stores do, plus extra sizes and fits for a few
items like men's ultra-light down jackets or women's corduroy
"Basically, our e-commerce and our store experience should
be the same," he said.
The uniqlo.com site, designed with Razorfish and Digitas,
units of French advertising company Publicis Groupe,
will have a recommendation engine based on a customer's
preferences and prior purchases.