Sagar Malviya, The Economic Times
September 13, 2022
Uniqlo, Asia’s biggest clothing brand, has turned profitable in India in less than three years after it opened its first store in the country despite operating in a period marked by Covid-led lockdowns and restrictions.
The Japanese brand posted a net profit of ₹21.4 crore for 2021-22 compared to a loss of ₹36.1 crore in the previous year, according to business intelligence firm AltInfo. Its sales rose 63% year on year to ₹391.7 crore for the year to March 2022, a slower pace compared to FY21 when it clocked 86% sales growth on a low base.
Experts feel Uniqlo’s strategy of pricing its merchandise at least 20% higher than rivals Zara and H&M has helped it earn better margins despite inflationary pressures in terms of raw materials.
“The market is not easy and turning profitable at a time when most rivals are spending aggressively is a good indication of success. As an international brand, they (Uniqlo) are able to get good locations and are preferred tenants, which helps in generating sales, especially in top cities,” said Devangshu Dutta, founder of Third Eyesight, a strategy consulting firm. “However, the pricing is a bit premium and until they are able to source locally, selling products at a right value for the market will remain challenging.”
The Japanese brand opened its first door in the country in September 2019, but stringent lockdown measures announced in March 2020 to contain the Covid-19 outbreak delayed its store expansion plans, restricting its store count to about seven outlets so far.
Uniqlo has said India is one of the most priority markets where consumers are increasingly shifting from ‘fast-fashion’ to long-lasting essentials and functional wear. “India is an important and very big priority market,” Tomohiko Sei, CEO of Uniqlo India told ET in June.
(Published in The Economic Times)
In a blog-post a few days ago, I’d expressed my long-held view that retail is not an easily globalized business. (Retail models are not global, and global certainly not inevitable)
Local nuances have a big part to play in the success of a retail business – they could be related to the customer, products, packaging, pricing, customer service norms, government regulation, or anything else from the hundreds of local flavours that retail success hinges on.
An example that I often use is that of Asda in the UK.
When Wal-Mart bought Asda back in the late-1990s, there were cries of doom and gloom, calls for government protection, etc. etc. However, the reality was that Tesco clearly emerged as the leader, other UK retailers remained strong, even though Asda gained in stature and market share. Wal-Mart’s takeover of Asda may have pushed its competitors to rethink their business strategies and become more competitive. In the UK market, it’s Tesco that is seen as the 800-lb gorilla, not Wal-Mart. While Asda is a smart retailer (to the extent that possibly even the parent company, Wal-Mart, has learned from it), it does not have the same advantages that Wal-Mart enjoys in the US.
And now comes this news item in the UK newspaper – The Telegraph. Provocatively titled, “Could Asda be kicked out of Wal-Mart?”, it talks about how Wal-Mart considered a partial or complete exit from Asda.
Wal-Mart, like many other retailers who expand internationally, have found that what works at home doesn’t always work overseas – among Wal-Mart’s burdens are Germany (exited) and Japan (underperforming). It is probably too early to tell whether Wal-Mart will achieve its objectives in China, and the Indian business is still to open its doors.
At this time, neither Wal-Mart nor Asda will give credence to the report, for obvious reasons. But the fact is that, like all smart management teams, Wal-Mart’s management evaluates its markets on an ongoing basis, and it has not let historical reasons or sentiments keep it from exiting underperforming subsidiaries (e.g. Germany).
Differences not just in the customers and the market conditions, but even different management styles among countries can throw a retailer’s global ambitions off the planned trajectory.
And these differences keep many a retailer from venturing out of their home market at all.
Its a “big, bad world out there”, and sometimes it’s good to be just home! 😉