Uniqlo has embarked on a venture to digitally renovate its retail empire, including adopting artificial intelligence, utilising big data and employing more experienced tech specialists who can help with digital innovation.
Japanese apparel retailer Uniqlo says it has had difficulties in attracting the best IT talent to its brand, and as a result it’s not renowned as a cutting edge digital company. It wants to change that, according to Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing.
It’s a common challenge faced by many retailers today, trying to recast themselves in the digital age. It’s a catch-twenty-two for retailers like Uniqlo – when you don’t have an identity for being tech savvy, it can be hard for you to attract the right kind of talent that can take you there.
So, in its quest for a digital renovation of the Uniqlo brand, the company is looking to hire an army of more experienced tech experts who can move the needle when it comes to operational efficiency and the development of innovative systems.
Yanai believes that artificial intelligence (AI) could significantly boost the company’s digital transformation. For instance, AI could assist factories, distributors and Uniqlo stores gain precision understanding about what the Uniqlo customer wants, as well as diminish challenges like excessive inventory levels.
He also says that analysing big data on consumer behavior could enable Uniqlo to make recommendations on merchandise to customers, or deliver the right product at the right time to a particular customer.
That being said, it’s possible that Yannai isn’t giving Uniqlo enough credit as an innovator in multichannel retail. Uniqlo’s recent unveiling of its apparel vending machines around the world certainly has merit towards its digital ambitions. In the coming months, Uniqlo will launch ten Uniqlo vending machines in major airports and malls in the US, stocked with its lightweight jackets and other basics. Self-serve retail is on the rise in the US and countries like Australia as well, where there is an increasing number of self-checkout and in-store pickup facilities popping up.
In addition to this, last year Uniqlo became one of the first major retailers to sell its apparel through Spring, a Google-backed mobile commerce multi-brand marketplace. Spring, which has since has attracted many major retail brands and an impressive list of investors, allows consumers to shop from multiple brands from a single mobile app, offering an extremely easy checkout.
Increasingly, more and more retailers want to be known as tech companies or mobile-first companies, and not just for namesake, but because they know the success of their retailing future lies in how they are able to evolve their digital capabilities.