Uniqlo to Go looks like a soda machine, and works like one, except it dispenses jackets and underwear.
The automated apparel vending machines are being deployed by the Japanese retail giant to high-traffic areas that may not warrant a store or have the square footage to accommodate one.
Uniqlo, which prides itself on fabric innovations such as Heat Tech, is trying to find ways to distribute its products by giving consumers another way to purchase them. Uniqlo to Go vending machines will sell Lifewear, the retailer’s signature apparel line, at select airports and shopping centers nationwide.
Ten Uniqlo to Go units are launching in the first wave at locations including the Oakland Airport, where the vending machine bows today; Hollywood and Highland Center in Los Angeles on Aug. 10; Houston Airport, Aug. 17, and Queens Center, Elmhurst, N.Y., Aug. 22. The six remaining locations will be revealed shortly, the company said.
A spokeswoman said Uniqlo is working directly with airports and mall owners to identify the busiest locations in their spaces. “We’re already talking with amusement parks, train stations, entertainment conventions and movie theaters about additional opportunities,” she said. “The goal is to open new markets and use machines as an introduction to our products.”
“These locations will place Uniqlo products in high-traffic locations to better meet the needs of customers when and where they shop. We’re looking forward to introducing a new and easier way of shopping,” said Hiroshi Taki, chief executive officer of Uniqlo USA. “Uniqlo to Go machines will carry the best of Lifewear, providing convenience to travelers looking for a warm jacket without the bulk, or a versatile undershirt, all with the push of a button. Our aim is to answer the real needs of our customers through clothing and we hope to broaden the reach of that mission through this new concept.”
Uniqlo has experimented with pop-up concepts since it launched in the U.S., including experiments such as UT Truck Stops, which in 2013 sold T-shirts from the UT collection featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Also, Uniqlo Cubes, which in 2011 surfaced prior to the opening of the retailer’s Fifth Avenue flagship, were six cube-shaped pop-up shops with high-tech surfaces that glowed brightly at night that turned up around Manhattan.
“Uniqlo to Go follows our experiments over the years, and offers great products in a fun and surprising way,” Taki said. “This novel vending machine experience represents the intersection of technology, convenience and efficiency.”
Vending machines accept debit or credit cards and have touch screens and fluid user interface that allows for adding or removing multiple items to a cart. Once a customer makes a selection and completes the transaction, a robotic arm finds the product. A conveyor shelf moves the item onto the robotic arm and the arm brings it to a window that the customer opens.
Heat Tech Ultralight down jackets come in nylon drawstring bags, $69.90, while Heat Tech tops are packaged in cannisters, $14.90. Both items are available in a variety of colors and styles for men and women. The company said it plans to expand to graphic T-shirts, Airism, and potentially even innerwear items such as socks, etc.
Fast Retailing last month said its nine-month net profit soared 69.1 percent compared with the same prior-year period. In addition to higher sales, the increase was largely the result of a foreign exchange gain of 13.3 billion yen. Uniqlo continued to see strong growth internationally. Outside of Japan, the company’s operating profit jumped 61.3 percent to 68.1 billion yen. Uniqlo’s international sales grew 5.4 percent year-over-year to 561.5 billion yen.
However, Uniqlo’s results in the U.S. have been mixed. As a sign of how important conquering the U.S. market is, Tadashi Yanai, founder, chairman, president and ceo of parent Fast Fashion Co. Ltd., in March traveled to New York to tout the brand’s offerings and technological breakthroughs.
The brand has suffered in the U.S. from a lack of consumer awareness, insufficient marketing and advertising and issues related to merchandising and product presentation. The U.S. operations continued to operate at a loss last year, although a declining one.