Fast Fashion Means Fast
In the fashion industry, the ability to provide trendy products to customers quickly is essential to success. This topic keeps Tadashi Yanai up at night as he works to catapult Fast Retailing, and subsidiary Uniqlo, to the top of the fashion food chain.
Setting their sights on competitor Zara, Uniqlo has set aggressive growth targets and ambitious digital transformation plans . The impetus for implementing a digital supply chain has become more intense as consumers demand customized products quickly, while companies work to maintain cost efficiencies . Uniqlo has already begun this process of incorporating digital elements into their business model. In 2015, Uniqlo partnered with Accenture to create a cloud-based platform that would enhance the overall supply chain of Uniqlo and provide better service to customers . While they have initiated this digital path, Uniqlo still has room for improvement to achieve their sales goals.
Another key concern for Uniqlo is the desire to grow their online presence and boost their revenues. Yanai set the ambitious target of growing online sales from 5% to 30%, creating the need to design tools that can provide the immediacy and customization that customers desire . To implement Yanai’s vision of meshing the physical and digital components of Uniqlo’s business, he has created a vision for the next decade that will enable his company to adapt to the shifting preferences of its customers.
Plans to Digitize
One technology that Yanai finds fascinating is artificial intelligence, which he believes will decrease extra inventory in their warehouses by providing superior customer demand information . Superior inventory management will allow them to eliminate the policy of discounting prices to get rid of unsold inventory .
The expectation is that gaining more profound insights on customer demands will allow Uniqlo to provide customized products while maintaining lean factories. In the short-term, Yanai is seeking the counsel of IT specialists who can help architect this type of change, recognizing that there is an inherent challenge in bringing the world’s best IT talent to an industry that they may not be as familiar with .
Another near-term strategy that they are employing is the use of radio frequency identification tags (RFID). This technology will allow the company to rapidly take note of what products need to be added into inventory, diminishing the labor burden on store personnel .
As recently as November of 2017, Yanai announced that integrated circuits (IC) would be implemented globally in all outlet stores, which would enable Uniqlo to improve checkout times and deliver the most desired goods to customers . While the effort would improve the product inspection time by as much as ten times as current technologies and provide a wealth of data, the cost is estimated to be multiple billions of yen . Uniqlo will have to regularly measure the effectiveness of the campaign in the following years to ensure that the return on investment is worthwhile.
Considerations Moving Forward
Seeing that Uniqlo has established digitization as a key pillar to its long-term growth, there are a few strategies that the company should consider:
- Ensure that the data is visible
As Uniqlo gears up to expand its RFID technology worldwide, they should make sure that they develop a unified platform that shares valuable product data across all supply chain constituents. PWC, in their Industry 4.0 analysis, elaborates on how a company’s visibility into its supply chain is essential in providing real-time data that can be acted upon, driving efficiencies in raw material and inventory management to improve financial performance and customer service .
- Use virtual technology to not only wow customers, but also empower designers
Uniqlo has already experimented with virtual technology to create unforgettable customer experiences. Dating back to 2013, Uniqlo utilized virtual technology to enable customers to look at Uniqlo products in the mirror and adjust the virtual image to show different color alterations . To gain a competitive advantage and continue to improve their speed to delivery, Uniqlo should consider using virtual technology to empower fashion designers to iterate on fashion concepts.
In The State of Fashion Report from 2017, McKinsey highlights the added pressures that digital transformations place on designers in that they need to have tools, “from virtual design to virtual sampling” . This industry pressure presents an opportunity for Uniqlo to invest further in virtual technologies that would empower creatives to iterate on fashion ideas more rapidly to improve speed to market while meeting consumer demands.
How might Zara, the world’s largest clothes retailer, respond to Uniqlo’s digital efforts to ensure that it remains dominant in the marketplace? As technological improvements increase exponentially, what steps can Uniqlo take to ensure that they remain at the frontier of digital technology innovations while maintaining low costs?
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