Sat, Dec 01, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Fashion store to send customers home empty-handed

Bloomberg

A brand-new store opened in Tokyo’s Harajuku fashion district yesterday, with walls lined with clothes, shoes and handbags, shoppers walking away empty-handed.

The GU Style Studio store, opened by Asia’s largest clothier and Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing Co, is for customers to try apparel and place orders online for later delivery. They can also try out extra services, such as playing with clothing combinations on a virtual mannequin or creating a digital avatar.

Although the notion of showcase shopping has been around for a while and remains somewhat popular in Europe, such stores have usually been reserved for electronics, household items and knick-knacks. Seldom has the idea been ported over to the clothing sector.

However, as increasing use of e-commerce threatens to upend the global retail industry, apparel makers are experimenting with new ways of selling clothes.

“Among large specialty chain retailers, Fast Retailing has one of the most developed digital strategies,” said Dairo Murata, an analyst at JPMorgan Securities Japan Co. “They are doing it all in-house and it allows them to be more competitive.”

The line separating online and offline storefronts is becoming blurrier as e-commerce moves into physical locations and brick-and-mortar retailers shift online. That has resulted in new shopping experiences such as Amazon.com Inc’s Prime Wardrobe, which sends boxes of clothing to customers to try on, letting them send back what they do not like.

GU Style Studio is not the first to open a try-on store; Inditex SA’s Zara also temporarily opened a look-and-buy outlet in Tokyo’s Roppongi District this year.

GU Style Studio has steadily grown into a key pillar of Fast Retailing’s business, accounting for about 10 percent of revenue in the latest fiscal year. It has almost 400 stores across Asia, mainly in Taiwan, Japan and China, and is known for being more affordable and more fashion forward than its bigger sibling, Uniqlo.

The GU Style Studio brand has also historically been more experimental with technology, being the first in Fast Retailing’s portfolio to introduce RFID tags and self-checkout. Last year, a futuristic digital store popped up in the city of Yokohama, Japan, with screens on shopping carts recommending various clothing combinations as people walked through the store.

Murata said that GU Style Studio’s new Harajuku outlet could be a template for rolling out smaller shops in cities that do not have space to store inventory.

He said it could be applied to Uniqlo as well.

However, GU Style Studio chief executive officer Osamu Yunoki said that the company had not decided whether to adopt the concept for Fast Retailing’s other brands, or other conventional GU stores carrying inventory.

Shoppers at the new GU store can scan QR codes attached to clothes to bring up purchase links on their mobile devices, and are also encouraged to test clothing combinations on a virtual mannequin on a separate app. Cameras placed in the store capture can also be used to create a virtual avatar of shoppers, although the resemblance was unconvincing.

The store can collect and use data on how customers are shopping, such as what items they are scanning into their phones, which clothing they try on and whether they purchase it. That could serve an important function for Fast Retailing’s efforts to automate its entire supply chain.

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