Uniqlo Golden fleeces
Zara's Japanese rival gears itself to conquer China.
FASHIONABLE Japanese are sniffy about Uniqlo's cheap clothes. There's even a slang word for "you've been caught [wearing] Uniqlo". Students shout "unibare!" when they see an offender.
Tadashi Yanai, Uniqlo's founder, admits that his brand has a better image abroad than in Japan. So on March 16th he opened his biggest-ever store in Ginza, Tokyo's smartest street. He has done the same thing in New York, opening a big posh shop to give his clothes more allure. Now he wants to impress not only Japanese shoppers but Chinese ones, too.
Like Inditex, the Spanish firm that owns the Zara brand (see article), Mr Yanai is betting big on Asia. He plans to open 100 stores in Asia (outside Japan) this year, rising to 200-300 annually in a few years' time. His target is for Uniqlo to generate most of its revenues abroad within four years. Last year Uniqlo's Japanese sales were ￥600 billion ($7 billion); foreign sales were less than a sixth as much.
Uniqlo's approach is quite different from Zara's. Whereas the Spanish firm chases every fleeting fashion, Uniqlo relies on large volumes of high-quality, cheap items, such as fleeces and jeans, that last all season. But it is far less global. According to Yukimi Oda of Morgan Stanley MUFG in Tokyo, sales of Fast Retailing, Uniqlo's parent, are about 60% of those of its two biggest rivals, Inditex and H&M of Sweden, but operating profits are only a third the size. Ms Oda reckons more scale in Asia will bolster margins. Next year she expects Uniqlo's number of stores in China to surge ahead of Zara's and H&M's, as they have done already in South Korea.
Uniqlo的营销策略与Zara差别非常大。鉴于竞争对手西班牙公司对时尚的追求唯恐错失时机，优衣库公司凭借着高质量、低价位服装的大规模生产，比如羊毛衫和牛仔裤，一年四季里产品销路不断。但是，优衣库还远没有实现品牌国际化。据摩根士丹利东京分析师Yukimi Oda分析，日本迅销公司（Fast Retailing）——优衣库品牌持有人——其销售额是两个最大竞争对手（印第纺织和瑞典H&M集团）的百分之六十，但营业利润仅是其规模的三分之一。Yukimi Oda女士预测，优衣库服饰在亚洲区扩大规模将会促进盈利。她预期明年优衣库在中国的零售店数量将超过Zara和H&M的零售店，一如其在韩国已落实的情况。
Uniqlo has three advantages. Japan is physically much closer to China than Spain is. It is closer culturally, too. Japanese shapes and styles are similar to Chinese ones. Even the weather is similar. Uniqlo's high-tech clothing makes wearers sweat less during sweltering summers, which is handy. And being Japanese has cachet, among Asia's fashionistas if not its nationalists.
But Roy Larke of JapanConsuming, a market-research firm, says the "Japan-is-cool" image Uniqlo brings to the rest of Asia will not last forever. He believes it will eventually have to emulate some of the fast-fashion expertise of Zara. Meanwhile, the Ginza store may add a bit of badly needed glamour.
但来自日本的一家市场调查公司JapanConsuming的 Roy Larke指出，优衣库作为其"日本酷国"的形象给亚洲其他国家的影响不会永远持续。他认为优衣库最终会不得不模仿Zara服饰的快速时尚营销技巧。与此同时,其东京银座店可能为其增加了一点点急需的魅力。