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Uniqlo wants to beat Zara at the fast-fashion game

Japanese group Fast Retailing wants to live up to its name, by cutting down to 13 days the time lag between product design and delivery. Uniqlo’s parent company is making no bones about its intention to beat fast-fashion giant Inditex (Zara) at its own game.

“Zara is selling fashion rather than responding to customer needs, said the Japanese group’s owner Tadashi Yanai, at the inauguration of a new, automated logistics hub in Tokyo. We need to be fast. We must deliver the products the customers want, and quickly. This is why we are called Fast Retailing.”

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The words smack more of a high-profile statement than of real strategy, since Zara and Uniqlo are poles apart both in terms of product range and clientele. The Spanish label features in fact fashionable items largely inspired by the latest trends, while its Japanese competitor’s range chiefly consists of unseasonal pieces.

The Fast Retailing boss’ impact statement must be considered in the light of the group’s recent sub-optimal performance. Uniqlo’s net income has plunged, notably due to a price rise in part of the range. It was a mistake, admitted the senior management, even as it targets sales for €25 billion by 2020.

To achieve this ambitious objective Uniqlo needs to deploy a very aggressive policy in Asia. In the course of this year, Uniqlo is set to open about one hundred stores in China, and as many in South-East Asia. For its part, Inditex opened some one hundred stores in Asia last year. It is because of this that Uniqlo is throwing down the gauntlet to Zara, which claims it can supply its Asian stores from Spain in 48 hours.

Last year Inditex sales were worth €23.3 billion, compared to €15.5 billion by Uniqlo. Zara currently operates 2,213 stores while Uniqlo has nearly 1,940 (of which 837 in Japan).