Apparel giant Fast Retailing Co. is set to open a new Uniqlo store in Tokyo's Harajuku district on Friday, the first such opening in eight years in the fashion hub, while it navigates the economic fallout and low retail sales caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Harajuku store is really symbolic for us,” Uniqlo CEO Maki Akaida said during a preview of the outlet for the media Wednesday.
She added that the Harajuku store that opened in 1998 was Uniqlo’s first in a busy urban area, and also helped launch a fleece clothing boom.
Back then, the Harajuku store’s first floor was dedicated to offering a range of fleece clothing, grabbing shoppers’ attention and making the product line fashionable. As a result, the Uniqlo brand became a household name.
A major role of the new Harajuku store, Akaida said, is to promote the culture and philosophy of the brand along with its latest items.
The opening of the Harajuku shop — initially planned for April — follows a 56.5 percent plunge in Fast Retailing's domestic same-store sales in April, its worst year-on-year decline, due to the stay-home and business-closure requests made under the government's state of emergency. In May, sales fell by 18.1 percent compared with the same month the previous year.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus probably couldn’t have come at a worse time for the firm, which had planned openings for new Uniqlo stores in both the capital's Harajuku and Ginza districts before the crisis. The Ginza store is set to open June 19, after its opening scheduled for May 15 was postponed.
Still, with the addition of the two new stores in the capital, the company has its work cut out for it, and it will have to balance its business needs amid subdued consumption with attempts to mitigate infection risks.
The lifting of the state of emergency will likely help the retailer get its customers back to its brick and mortar stores, but that also means an increase in infection risks.
Fast Retailing said its Uniqlo stores in Japan are currently checking the body temperatures of customers at the entrance of their shops and are also making sanitizer products available. They also limit the number of customers that can enter the facilities to prevent crowding.
The new Harajuku store is located in a new combination shopping, office and residential complex that will also open Friday near the recently renovated Harajuku Station. The Uniqlo store consists of two floors, one on the ground level and the other underground, with a total space of nearly 2,000 square meters.
The complex, named With Harajuku, also initially had its opening planned for April 25.
One of Uniqlo's selling points for the new outlet is the integration of digital features.
The underground floor has a wall installed with 240 touch screens that show fashion styles posted by other customers. If visitors see items they like, they can check whether they are available at the Harajuku store or on the company's online mall.