It’s not unusual that the highly popular store and brand Uniqlo”, originally out of Japan and now quickly taking over key cities as most-liked shopping destination among 13-30-year-olds in North America, would work fast in creating a digital lifestyle and shopping experience for the brand overall. As we reported last week in “Tokyo’s Top Retailers, Harajuku La Foret, Shibuya 109 Get Overhauled with New Online Avatar Features, Additional Boutiques -Label Networks’ Japan Data Reveals Favorite Retail among Youth Culture Where Changes Could Capture Marketshare,” it’s taken time for top retailer malls to get into the digital arena, and things have been woefully slow for many top American retailers when it comes to digital shopping integration. However the 2 giants such as H&M (with Second Life) and now Uniqlo are achieving massive success on an enviable scale in a multitude of ways. Uniqlo, as we’ve been tracking in our Japan Youth Culture Studies ranks 3rd as the favorite store to shop in among 15-30-year-olds in Japan (tied with Diesel) and in the last few months, has stretched far into the digital domain to reach the growing generation of consumers who easily expect such things from their favorite stores and brands. Like H&M, what happens with Uniqlo should be noted in terms of changes and opportunities in the market for many brands -not just The Gap -which unfortunately continues to sag under it’s own weight (see also Label Networks’ North American Youth Culture Studies 2004-2008.)

Last month Uniqlo announced a collaboration with Google” whereby if people install a Uniqlo button on their toolbar, they’re eligible for special Google-branded bags and other items. In the mobile arena, Uniqlo has a deal with the mobile phone games Mobage Town created by DeNA in Japan that allows users to dress avatars in latest Uniqlo fashions%u2013-including a collaboration T-shirt graphic with Shonen Sundays and Shonen mangas who are celebrating their 50th anniversary. What’s very cool about this is that you can order your Shonen graphic via a touchscreen display similar to what they have in UT stores in Harajuku whereby shoppers punch in their preferences for a specific colored T-shirt and style in a vending machine-type of glass display from which a “tube of T-shirt” pops out.

Finally, Uniqlo is not to be outdone in terms of blogging and has a very interesting campaign called Uniqlock that features girls mostly doing different dance moves in Uniqlo fashion. The Uniqlock, which is a music, dance, clock keeps the time down to the seconds. Overall, the Uniqlo website has many cool features, music, blogs, dancing, updates, hot color choices, online shopping, news, daily drops, and of course now, Uniqlock and avatars, which overall contribute to creating an interactive entertainment destination for the store and brand globally.

To provide a little history on the store, when we first came across Uniqlo in Harajuku several years ago when creating our first Japan Youth Culture Study, the non-descript store was clearly one of the favorite shopping destinations among Label Networks’ researchers and reporters. Jackets, hoodies, pants, T-shirts, and other items were in a variety of colors (think American Apparel) but without branded labels in a no-brand, branded way -other than being in a Uniqlo store. This isn’t to say the store was a mono-label store, but more like a non-branded fast-fashion type of store with items that were affordable like H&M and changed often.

Interesting however”, Uniqlo started as a men’s shop called Men’s Shop OS before changing its name to Unique Clothing Warehouse, then Uniqlo with its first store in hipster-central Harajuku. However in our data, now Uniqlo ranks higher in preferences among females at 2.5% who name Uniqlo their favorite compared with 1.7% of males. In addition, the store captures a strong marketshare of the discerning 18-20-year-old demographic, peaking to 5.2% who name the store and brand as their all-time favorite (whereas other cool stores such as United Arrows peaks among 25-30-year-olds). The store has potential among both genders in terms of marketshare and already appeals to both, but has room to grow with young menswear.

In our upcoming release of our North American spring 2008 data, we expect that Uniqlo, with store openings in New York, LA, and San Francisco, to increase in terms of preferred shopping locations and brands. As Theme Magazine recently reported on the man behind the brand, Tadashi Yanai, the store is uniquely (no pun intended) Japanese. What got it on the map is up for question, but some say it’s the fact that they opened up in Harajuku at the same time as employing Wieden, Kennedy to create an ad campaign for them. With only basic fleece sweatshirts that came in 24 different colors and cost around the equivalent of $10USD, the campaign centered on individual stories of various Japanese people talking about their personal lives -which is similar to their current digital campaign. In a society where conformity rules, but “group individualism” thrives, it was a big hit.

As a young man, Yanai would visit Barney’s in New York City and was often influenced by the store and how they marketed themselves -not to mention the types of clothing they carried and their price points. Back in the day, Barney’s was selling basic menswear and wasn’t yet a specialty store -particularly for women as it is now. However Yanai took many clues from watching this evolution when it came to creating his own retail empire. Since the opening in 1999, Uniqlo is now up to 700 stores in Japan, plus stores in Hong Kong, China, Korea, and the United States. GQ named Yanai as one of the Man of the Year profiles and was featured on the cover of GQ Japan in January, 2008. In the article both in GQ and Theme, Yanai said he planned on being “bigger than the Gap” because he wants to strive for being number 1 -not number 3 (which to him includes also H&M). But in a wholly different way. What this means for the founder is quality at a reasonable price, style that tends to change as fast as Tokyo street-style itself, and various color selections -all on clothing that is as “non-branded” as it can get, but yet people identify with as being simply Uniqlo.

For more information about Uniqlo statistics according to youth culture markets, as well as The Gap, H&M, and other retailers and brands, contact info@labelnetworks.com; (323) 630-4000 about the Premium Global Youth Culture Subscription.

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