Here, Yuki Yamada, CEO of Uniqlo Singapore and Malaysia, shares how the brand is connecting its on- and offline retail experiences, how its Uniqlo Town concept has evolved and how the challenges of 2021 have set up the retailer for the future.
Inside Retail: What has 2021 looked like for Uniqlo Singapore?
Yuki Yamada: We remain focused in 2021 to meet the needs of our customers through Uniqlo LifeWear, high quality and affordable everyday clothing for all occasions that is well positioned to cater to their evolving lifestyles. Besides working on continually improving our LifeWear offering, we have also introduced new special collaborations with Japanese womenswear brand Mame Kurogouchi, outdoors-inspired streetwear brand White Mountaineering and international artist Jeff Koons for the first time.
At the same time, we endeavour to find new ways to engage and uplift our customers. For instance, we held a Thank You Festival in July, with limited offers, special novelties and in-store promotion activities, to show our gratitude to Uniqlo’s loyal fans for their continuous support for the brand. To liven up the shopping experience, we worked with local artist duo 8EyedSpud and MeshMinds to create an interactive in-store, augmented reality mural at ION Orchard to bring the vibrant local arts and culture closer to the public, while encouraging creativity and individual expression among shoppers.
We believe our business can have a positive impact on society too. That is why we partnered with HawkerHeroes.sg, to distribute 15,000 packs of AIRism masks to hawkers around Singapore in July so that those working in hot and humid environments can benefit from their smooth, quick-drying and odour-eliminating functionality. We also collaborated with local boutique FIN Crafted Goods to repurpose pre-loved jeans and give them a new lease of life. This is part of the Uniqlo Denim Takeover at our stores located at Plaza Singapura and Orchard Central to share what sustainability means for all of us, and encourage customers to recycle their pre-loved jeans too.
IR: In what ways has the business been challenged and how have you overcome those challenges?
YY: The pandemic has brought about many changes in the way we live and operate as a global retailer. At Uniqlo, it is most important that we always adapt to stay on top of our customers’ needs. With the accelerated shift towards digital and e-commerce, we offer additional online perks for those who prefer to shop at the largest Uniqlo store at their fingertips. These include offering extra sizes from XS to 3XL, exclusive products and limited offers, and ongoing special coupons, such as an SGD5 welcome voucher for all new shoppers as well as an SGD5 birthday voucher. For customers who are excitedly anticipating a soon-to-be-released item or even those who are not ready for a purchase decision yet, they can simply add the desired item to their online wishlist. This allows for easy purchase when the item becomes available or goes on sale. They can even check for in-store product availability online before heading out.
These unprecedented times also brought about a heightened awareness and interest in sustainability amongst consumers. At Uniqlo, we believe that the power of clothing can be a force for good. By designing, making, and selling good clothing that is simple, high quality and built to last, as well as by employing recycled materials, we can reduce the burden on the environment and make the world a better place. However, sustainability is an issue that no one company will be able to solve on its own. Hence, we must continue to transcend national frameworks and partner with organisations and companies worldwide with determined action. One example is how we have teamed up with Toray Industries Inc, one of the world’s top fibre and textile innovation companies and our strategic partner in materials development, to produce our DRY-EX polo shirt. Using contaminant filtering technology made it possible to manufacture a variety of fibre types to create an environmentally-friendly product without sacrificing quality and functionality, and without raising prices.
IR: How do you ensure that you are constantly delivering engaging customer experiences?
YY: With the acceleration towards digitalisation, we continue to identify ways to leverage digital tools to engage our customers and support them with a seamless shopping experience. For example, we have an in-depth and comprehensive guide on our website to inform them on how to measure clothing and body dimensions so the clothes they buy are a good fit.
We know more people are getting their entertainment online too. Hence, we have introduced digitainment through livestreams on Instagram to give the public a sneak preview of the new season collection in August even before some of them hit the stores, as well as an upcoming weekly live streaming series ‘LIVE! with Uniqlo’ every Thursday at 8pm between 30 September and 21 October, where shoppers can expect styling tips for the simple-made-better Uniqlo Masterpieces, with weekly themes ranging from products that combine form and function, to casual work styles and everyday wear. Livestream viewers will also be the first to know the latest discounts on Uniqlo favourites, and stand a chance to win app coupons and prizes.
While the pandemic has accelerated the growth of e-commerce, we believe there is still room to blend both the bricks-and-mortar store model as well as e-commerce. At the heart of it, we want to offer differentiated experiences for our customers both online and offline. This led to the launch of Uniqlo Town last year, a new retail destination concept for three of the Uniqlo stores at Orchard Road, including the Orchard Central global flagship store, ION Orchard and Plaza Singapura. It introduced three distinct Uniqlo in-store experiences and retail personalities along Orchard Road that are hyper-relevant, while harnessing the power of clothing to meet the local community’s aspirations.
This month, we will also be celebrating LifeWear with the fifth anniversary of our Orchard Central global flagship store, bringing the spotlight on our craftsmanship, innovation and sustainability. Customers can look forward to upcycling and customisation workshops by Furoshikilah!, FIN Crafted Goods and embroidery artist Isabel Lim; The Nursery and Alchemist pop-ups; and an exclusive ambient scent created by Scent by Six.
IR: What has the response been to the ‘Hub of the East’ store that opened in February?
YY: With Tampines being the area where we opened our first store 12 years ago, now more than ever, we feel like we’re very much a part of the local community, providing LifeWear designed to make the lives of its residents better.
We upgraded and expanded our store at Tampines Mall, to offer a wider range of LifeWear and provide a better shopping experience. The expanded LifeWear product line-up also allows Tampines residents to enjoy collections that used to be exclusively available in the city stores, such as collaborations with JW Anderson and Marimekko, in their local store.
This expansion strategy has definitely paid off for us, with suburban malls continuing to fuel the growth of our retail network.
IR: How is Uniqlo connecting its online and offline retail experiences?
YY: At Uniqlo, our priority has always been our customers with a focus on their shopping experience in both our physical and e-commerce stores, where they can expect excellent service and seamless transition from one to the other.
We have just launched a same-day click-and-collect service for our Uniqlo Town stores – consisting of Uniqlo Orchard Central Flagship, ION Orchard and Plaza Singapura stores – on our website and app. Customers can now easily secure their desired stock at the physical store ahead of time via our online store.
We also offer Pay in Store, which enables shoppers to pay at a preferred Uniqlo Singapore store within two hours for their online purchases. This service provides an additional convenience to customers when they are unable to find their sizes or desired product in store. They can then simply scan the item barcode in-store and make an immediate purchase online. Pay in Store also provides accessibility, especially for customers who enjoy online shopping but might not have an online payment option, while allowing them to still enjoy online exclusive sizes (XS-3XL) and novelty items.
IR: How has the Uniqlo Town concept evolved in the last 12 months?
YY: The concept of a distinct retail personality in each of the three stores at our Uniqlo Town stores – Orchard Central, ION Orchard and Plaza Singapura – to offer shoppers varied experiences has not changed.
We looked closely at the main demographics of each store, to determine the type of unique experiences we could curate.
Plaza Singapura serves a strong family customer base, so we developed a sustainability education corner near the kids’ shopping area, so parents can take the opportunity to educate their children about the importance of sustainable living.
ION Orchard draws a predominantly young adult crowd, so we wanted to create a space that could engage a highly tech-savvy target audience, whilst at the same time, support the local artist community. So, we developed a wall mural that could come to life through augmented reality, in collaboration with MeshMinds and 8EyedSpud.
Our Orchard Central Global Flagship store serves as a space for us to engage people – not just our customers, but the local neighbourhood as well. On Level 3, we dedicated a space to highlight key tenants in the vicinity as part of The Orchard Community/Neighbourhood Guide, in a bid to help profile fellow retailers that have all been impacted by the pandemic. Our Orchard Central Global Flagship store also continues to be a space where we hold events to create meaningful interactions with our customers. In celebration of the store’s fifth anniversary this October, we will be giving away free coffee and potted plants, and holding workshops (embroidery, denim upcycling, furoshiki and scent making) for our customers.