Today I had the pleasure of shopping for clothes at Uniqlo for the first time. Yeah, I know, they’ve been in New York for a while, I’m a late adopter, forgive me. But this place is just so different I had to get my thoughts out.
At a conventional store, you’re lured in by crazy specials permanently plastered on the window. Every item has crossed-out prices telling you the equivalent at a “regular store.” Where exactly are these regular stores anyway? Can anyone actually name one? Last time I checked, even Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman use this tactic. You have to be a celebrity or a banker to shop there, but they still have 60%-off specials to make the millionaires feel like they’re getting a good deal.
Of course, once you’re inside most stores, they’ll manipulate your mind with pricing to get you to buy more. Buy 3 get 1 free? Wow, I was only going to buy 1, but that seems like a good deal? Wow, offer valid today only? Err, umm, crap, I guess we only live once, I may never have another chance!
Every time I’ve come home from a regular shopping trip, I’ve been completely exhausted, with a bag full of things I figure I’m probably going to return in a few days time, but in reality I never do. Which is the point of course.
Uniqlo seems to be different. They make no big deal of being cheap. There are no specials listed on their website. They sell quality first and foremost. The first thing you see when you walk in the door is a $90 cashmere sweater. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s just another expensive SoHo fashion store like Banana Republic next door.
But if you explore for a while, you’ll be properly rewarded with good prices. I picked up a $7.50 fleece sweater and $9 dress gloves, among other things – all just about the best quality I’ve ever seen. These cheap prices are sustainable, the byproduct of Japanese efficiency, much like when Japan re-invented the motor industry a few decades ago.
Strategically placing the cheap stuff as rewards for exploring the entire shop is a much more honest way of enticing customers to walk past the expensive items than old-fashioned bait and switch tactic of “use a special to get them inside, then milk them for all they’re worth.” This may have worked on the public for a while, but we’re a smarter public now. At no point inside Uniqlo did I have to try to figure out whether I was being conned.
Maybe their strategy is more complicated than this, but whatever they’re doing, it’s working:
In 2009, during one of the worst periods in the history of retailing, Uniqlo reported over $7 billion in sales of more than 400 million items. Existing-store sales were up by more than 30 percent.
Uniqlo has somehow managed to design their store so that you can shop for the product and not the price tag. It’s a refreshing experience.