Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing just dethroned a fast fashion great.
Fast Retailing reached 10.8 trillion yen ($103 billion) at the end of trading Tuesday, surpassing Zara parent Inditex’s 81.7 billion euro ($99 billion) for the first time. The improvement sees Uniqlo and Zara neck and neck in Gartner’s Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail, and reflects the former’s contribution to its parent company’s new conquest.
Uniqlo makes up the great majority of Fast Retailing’s sales, and though fast fashion hit a speed bump in the Coronavirus pandemic, Uniqlo kept consumers coming back thanks to an endless offering of comfortable basics and elevated e-commerce. Though the brand falls under the same fast fashion label as competitors Zara and H&M, it takes a markedly different approach to its product offerings than these two. While Zara and H&M play up and predict of-the-moment trends like rubberized boots and slitted pants, Uniqlo leans into lifestyle-oriented “LifeWear” pieces, like leggings and thermals from its Heattech line and timeless items from workwear to workout-wear. It also peppers in poppy collaborations from celebrities of all backgrounds like Troye Sivan and Roger Federer, plus high-end designer J.W. Anderson, and makes pandemic-appropriate tweaks to classics like comfortable dress shirts you can wear at home and leggings with pockets for walks outside when the gym isn’t an option. A children’s line promoted on the homepage touts the tagline “Keep kids moving.”
The brand also invested more in e-commerce than physical retail, resulting in a 30% increase in quality site visits – far greater than that of its competitors. Interestingly, over half of Uniqlo’s site visitors originate on desktops, compared with 34% for H&M and 40% for Zara, both of which rely more on mobile apps. Are work-from-homers indulging in more online shopping breaks while on the job now that there’s no one to catch sight of their screen? Are consumers setting their phones aside when they’re not working to alleviate pandemic stress? Possibly, but it also can’t be denied that Uniqlo operates at a lower price point than its competitors and consumers may feel better about purchasing cost-effective pieces that will never go out of style as opposed to trendy buys that cost more.
Finally, Uniqlo puts a cause at the forefront of its brand, stating that it aims to “unlock the power of clothing…to make the world a better place.” Lofty and a little unspecific it may be, but it does answer the growing consumer desire to support and buy from brands that commit to social issues.
With China projected to overtake the U.S. as the world’s number one apparel market by 2023, Uniqlo already has a head start in the fast fashion race. That said, its success could also signify on more marker of the times: Is consumer need for fast fashion fading?