With over 1,700 stores in 17 countries, most of which reside in Asia, Uniqlo has found it challenging to grow store numbers in Western markets – where it only has 100 stores. A year ago, the retailer embarked on a project to expand its online reach and improve its brand recognition across the region. 

While its European business launched over ten years ago and is particularly strong in the UK, Continental Europe did not have a dedicated web platform a year ago.

The retailer decided to launch in Continental Europe, with France and Germany as its chosen key locations, while integrating the ability to ship to 17 markets across the region. The decision to use France and Germany as its online flagships was because of two fashion collaborations with French designers, which Uniqlo felt would benefit from the support of an online presence in the region. 

“The French [designer] launches were a huge opportunity to expand brand awareness in Continental Europe,” said Kenji Chikada, director of eCommerce Europe at Uniqlo. “We didn’t have a web platform a year ago, we had to do it and we had to do it fast.”

The retailer took only four months to launch its European site using Demandware’s eCommerce platform and Arvato as its systems integrator. During this period the retailer not only launched a web platform, but accompanying payments solutions, a new warehouse and delivery capabilities to 17 different markets. 

Speaking at the Demandware Xchange conference in Miami this week, Chikada described how the retailer had to harness its technical talent from across three continents – Europe, US and Asia – which meant the project was 24/7.

“The key success factors are to have a very clear objective for all team members,” he said, commenting on the multicultural and language divides across the teams. “Equally important was to focus on what truly matters and some functionalities at the beginning we had to deprioritise.”

He said Demandware’s cloud platform allowed Uniqlo the benefit of not worrying about infrastructure and servers, instead concentrating fully on the client-facing proposition.

“We successfully launched within the time schedule and rolled out before designer collaborations and peak season,” added Chikada, saying there were no issues with performance of the websites or connectivity with its own, or third-party, systems.

Uniqlo was also able launch a Click & Collect service available in all of its stores in France and Germany. 

Speaking alongside Chikada at the Demandware Xchange keynote, global CEO of eCommerce, John Fleming, said the implementation means Uniqlo can begin to connect its online and store channels. 

“Customers are looking for a connected integrated experience both inside and outside the store, this allows us to improve the experience we give to customers,” he said. “The future of retail is not how many stores you have, but how many customers you serve.”

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