Fast fashion retailers are considered to be the bottom feeders in the fashion world. They are widely credited – or discredited depending on which side you are on – by imitating designer-inspired trends, overproducing them and selling them for a penny of their namesake brand dollars.
H&M Sweden operates 5,000 stores worldwide, Zara with 2,200 locations, owned by Inditex Spain and Uniqlo with 2,300 stores, owned by Fast Retailing Japan, is the undisputed leader in so-called fast fashion.
Fast mode reaches the speed hurdle in the Covid pandemic. The supply chain has stalled because factories are closed and consumers who order at home have nowhere to wear new clothes. Shoppers are retreating from trendy styles to comfort options.
All leaders have something to offer in the world of comfort fashion, but Uniqlo has a more, more lifestyle-oriented – or as the company calls it. “LifeWear” – rather than mode driven like H&M and Zara.
The battle for fashion domination
The strict line-by-line comparison of the three fast-fashion market leaders is difficult due to different financial calendars, but it can be said that the competition is fierce between the three giants.
H&M Group just reported until November 30, 2020, recorded revenues of $ 22.4 billion (SEK 187.0 billion). Latest Inditex spanning the nine months to 31 October 2020, reported a total of $ 17.8 billion (€ 14.1 billion), including all seven of its brands. However, in 2019, Zara earns about 70% of the company’s total revenue of approximately $ 34 billion.
And Fast Retailing made $ 22 billion in fiscal 2019 83% below Uniqlo (total 2,287.5 billion Yen and 1,898.9 billion Yen for Uniqlo). Based on first quarter 2021 results, it is estimated that total turnover is $ 21 billion for this fiscal year ending August 2021 (Yen 2,220 billion).
Even so, Uniqlo has a target to become the number one fashion brand in the world and is on the way to fashion dominance.
It just claims the title the number one fashion brand in China. And it has far more penetration in that market than any other competitor – 800 stores in Mainland China compared to 500 H&M locations and about 200 Zara stores.
With China is projected to overtake the US As the world’s number one apparel market in 2023, Uniqlo has an edge over the competition.
Here’s how Uniqlo took the crown:
Quality over quantity
While Uniqlo shares the fast fashion label with H&M and Zara, it takes a very different approach for these other retailers. Rather than just pumping up lots of clothes for immediate consumption to throw away for next week’s or next season’s style, Uniqlo specializes in basic apparel that has seasonless appeal.
“We don’t chase trends. People mistakenly say that Uniqlo is a fast fashion brand. We are not. We are about clothes that are made for everyone,” CEO Tadashi Yanai explained.
It can be seen from the number of products offered on the site. Edited, which is a market intelligence platform that collects data about products available on retailer websites, found that in early February, Uniqlo lists 6,209 SKUs, compared to the Zara 9,198 and H&M 20,860.
“Zara and H&M bring in a lot and often do,” explains Kayla Marci, market analyst for Edited. “Uniqlo is quite calculated and very consistent in its more moderate rhythm. Given their moderation I would call Uniqlo a ‘diet’ fast fashion brand. ”
This restraint provides greater stability in the buying cycle, with about a third of Uniqlo items available between six and nine months, while 66% of Zara products are under three months old.
And with its focus on quality over quality and longevity rather than fast expiration date, Uniqlo made promise of sustainability.
Essential tools that are easy to wear and go great with collaboration
Comfortable and easy to wear basics are Uniqlo’s trump card and are getting more from it because of the changes people have made in their clothing choices during the pandemic. Yanai Fast Retailing predicts consumer casual comfort style will continue even after.
“The days of suits are over and the days of everyday wear have begun,” he shared interview with Asia Nikkei. “People will choose clothes that are comfortable to wear as work clothes or at home. There is no need for clothes that are worn for a year and then thrown away. ”
However, for male customers who still need classic business attire, Uniqlo offers a customization service for blazers and shirts promising tailor-made shades at off-the-rack prices starting at $ 99.90 for jackets and $ 9.90 for shirts.
For easy mixing and matching, nearly 90% of the items currently listed on the Uniqlo website are plain, with no patterns other than simple lines. “Good everyday work is what Uniqlo is famous for,” said Marci of Edited. “Other retailers are just catching up now.”
But Uniqlo has also spiced up its plain vanilla outfit through licensed collaborations, most recently featuring artwork from Andy Warhol, Disney, street artist Keith Haring and the Louvre. It has also been successful in a J + collaboration with fashion designer Jil Sander who maintains the classic everyday Uniqlo style.
Make use of technology
Yanai Fast Retailing describes Uniqlo as “digital consumer retail company, ”Which summarizes how companies leverage technology from their factories through their supply chains and to consumers. Since 2016 Uniqlo has invest more in e-commerce than physical retail in its domestic market and has focused on expanding online shopping in Japan, throughout China and Southeast Asia and in the US
The investment paid off as the number of visits to Uniqlo’s website rose 30% year-on-year in 2020, much faster than H&M (0.9%) and Zara (13%), reported Caroline Kim, lead consultant for the retail industry. for SimilarWeb, a company that tracks online traffic.
It also offers higher quality online traffic than its direct competitors.
“Of the three players, Uniqlo over-indexed desktop traffic, which bodes well for sales as desktop buyers are highly engaged and more likely to convert,” stressed Kim. “H&M and Zara, on the other hand, have a percentage of mobile web users who are less engaged, stay on the site for a shorter period of time, and are more likely to leave the site.”
More than half (56%) of Uniqlo site visitors come from desktops, compared to 34% for H&M and 40% for Zara.
But Uniqlo is also leveraging technology into its apparel design and construction, similar to the corporate approach to sports and active wear but to a lesser extent in traditional fashion.
“The technical attributes used in garments really differentiate their products from other fashion brands, especially at such low prices,” said Marci of Edited, pointing to Uniqlo’s fabrication including HEATTECH to keep people warm and AIRism to keep wearers cool and dry. .
“Technology is a big component at the core of Uniqlo. It’s used not to cut corners or speed up processes, but to improve the product for the customer, ”he maintains.
With all the other factors at play, Uniqlo’s dedication to the needs of its customers is clear when it comes to pricing. This is heavily utilized in the $ 20 price range and below (59% of current offerings) compared to 28% for H&M and 25% for Zara.
It benefits there with an emphasis on underwear, socks, accessories and essential fittings that need to be changed more frequently than outerwear and denim. The need to repeat such purchases drives traffic to stores and websites where customers can find higher priced offers, such as the women’s cashmere blended jacket + J which sells for $ 179.90.
Given the financial hardships that consumers around the world are experiencing through the pandemic, Uniqlo’s Yanai firmly believes that the brand is well positioned for what’s to come next.
“As people save, the quality of brands and products becomes more important,” he said. “Consumers will choose brands that are reliable and really good.”
Uniqlo is unique
Uniqlo’s stated mission is to “unlock the power of clothing”, which means “by designing, manufacturing and selling fine clothes, we can make the world a better place.” It is a sublime ideal for a fashion brand and one that sets it apart from other brands that just want to make their customers look stylish and fashionable.
It is true according to the spirit of our times, as Yanai revealed in his latest CEO message:
“The meaning of clothing also changes as we witness a strong shift from clothes worn to beautify or emphasize the wearer’s social status to clothes designed to last and enhance the comfort of everyday life. We continue to develop clothing based on our LifeWear concept for simple, quality clothing that is engraved from efforts to fully meet the needs of everyday life and to enrich the lives of people everywhere. “