After a failed Europe-wide expansion ten years ago Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo is building its presence across the continent by breaking down cultural boundaries through its use of internal IT systems and in-store technology.
The clothing specialist cut short a planned UK roll-out at the turn of this century and its was forced to close down the majority of its stores in the country, but by implementing the right technology systems it has been able to lay down an effective platform for future growth across Europe.
In an interview with Retail Gazette last year Uniqlo’s UK CEO Simon Coble said there were a number of lessons that the retailer learned from their abandoned expansion plans, one being that it is difficult for Japanese businesses to repeat domestic success in new territories.
With its second wave of European expansion now fully underway, and with no signs that these growth plans will be stemmed in a similar way to before, it seems that Uniqlo’s use of technology and its partnership with ICT solutions specialist NTT Europe have proved crucial in breaking down these barriers.
NTT provided fully managed infrastructure and systems, including WiFi and security solutions, at the company’s flagship store and European headquarters in Paris, all of which is linked to Uniqlo’s head office back in Japan.
In the UK, the tech firm delivered similar services for all of Uniqlo’s shops and offices, ensuring the business’s global network is linked though a complete communications infrastructure.
Cedric Allix, Chief Information Officer of the French arm of Uniqlo parent company Fast Retailing, said: “Historically, Japanese corporations have occasionally had difficulties in Europe, and western firms have often had problems operating in Asia.
“We needed a partner who could operate in both cultures effectively, with local abilities and market knowledge and helps us operate as a single global company.”
Uniqlo sees its partnership with NTT as an extension of its IT department rather than as a relationship between supplier and customer, and it has benefited from the tech solution provider’s capacity to keep key departments in Europe and Japan connected.
“We are currently undergoing a period of expansion beyond our home country, into regions where we previously had little footprint,” Allix explained.
“There is the potential for a degree of disconnect between our branches in these regions and HQ, but working with partners such as NTT ensures that on both a business and technology level we remain connected.
“Infrastructure backbone is key for our growth strategy.”
There has been a strong push among the senior team at Uniqlo to ensure the retailer is successful in Europe, and there is a confidence that its gradual roll-out of stores in the UK – starting with a solid base in London and aided by other outlets in popular shopping centres such as Bluewater in Kent – is the correct expansion method.
Linking all parts of the global business with the right IT and technology network should also go a long way to ensuring a sustainable future for the retailer.
Speaking last October, Coble said: “Because we opened in the UK before and it didn’t work, there is a real desire – particularly from Fast Retailing CEO Tadashi Yanai – to make a success of things here.”