Uniqlo, Isetan Mitsukoshi See Sales Growth in June

Retail in Japan appears to be bouncing back after the March quake.

TOKYO — Both Uniqlo and Isetan Mitsukoshi saw sales growth in June, providing another sign that Japanese retail is starting to bounce back after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, despite sweltering summer heat and humidity.

Fast Retailing said Monday that same-store sales at its Uniqlo stores in Japan increased 3.9 percent last month, compared with the same period last year. The fast-fashion chain said it is seeing strong sales of lightweight clothing and workwear as part of its “Super Cool Biz” campaign.

“Same-store sales increased year-on-year in June as rising temperatures towards the end of the month boosted sales of summer garments,” Fast Retailing said in a release. Amidst an energy shortage linked to ongoing problems at a nuclear power plant, companies are cutting back on air conditioning and retailers like Uniqlo are pushing items like light jackets and cropped pants that are lighter alternatives to suits and traditional office gear.

Department store operator Isetan Mitsukoshi said Friday that sales at nine of its main stores were up 4.6 percent in June compared with the same month last year. This takes into account a sales increase of 86.5 percent at the Ginza branch of Mitsukoshi, which was partially closed last June due to renovations. However, sales at many of the company’s other stores, including those in Tokyo and quake-struck Sendai, also increased.

But despite recent strong sales, the company still isn’t confident that a full recovery has been made since the March earthquake and tsunami, according to a spokeswoman.

“It’s hot, so people may not want to go outside. Plus, there is still the problem with the nuclear power plant, which will continue for a while,” the spokeswoman said, adding that its best-selling products are designed to keep people cool like special bedding, neck wraps and folding fans. “We don’t know what will happen in the future, so even though there’s a feeling that customers have calmed down, we don’t think things are completely back to normal yet.”

Takashimaya reported that sales at its 18 department stores in Japan were up 0.7 percent compared to June last year. Stores in western Japan in particular performed better, while those in and around Tokyo showed sales decreases or smaller increases in June. .A spokeswoman said sales of Cool Biz apparel, jewelry and luxury goods have been strong lately.

H2O Retailing, which operates the Hankyu and Hanshin department store chains, said store openings and renovations propped up its June sales by 6.7 percent in June. But its same-store sales were down 2.5 percent compared to last year.

Mika Ikeda, an economist with Nomura bank in Japan, noted encouraging trends for retail.

“The consumer sentiment is improving, and I think the consumption is likely to increase gradually,” she said.

Retailers are developing strategies to conserve energy as the mercury climbs but so far it doesn’t seem like they will need to take drastic measures reminiscent of the days immediately following the quake when many stores closed their doors completely or shortened their operating hours.

A spokesman for Uniqlo said that while the retailer has no plans to alter store hours over the summer, it is taking other measures to reduce its power usage.

 “We are cutting down on electricity by turning off some lights in the back sides of our stores—places where customers don’t enter, such as stock rooms,” the spokesman said. “For stores that can’t achieve a 15 percent reduction in this way, we will also try to reduce our electricity usage by controlling the temperature. As a last resort we would [turn off] some of our signage at the entrance to our stores, but this is something we really don’t want to touch on.”

Isetan Mitsukoshi is  reducing lighting used at the front of its stores, as well as turning off some elevators and escalators, the spokeswoman explained. It also plans to close some of its stores for one day each during the month of August, which will also help to save energy.

A spokeswoman for Takashimaya said that the company has no plans to reduce store hours or close stores during the summer, but that it is taking similar measures to Uniqlo and Isetan Mitsukoshi to cut back on its power usage.