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Reaching customers where they are

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Tomoya Maruyama, Head of Merchandising, UNIQLO India, shares his insights on the winter wear market in India, the changes in consumer behaviour the brand has witnessed this season, and how it has adapted to this shift through online commerce.

What is your opinion of the Indian winter wear market? Has there been a change in the market pre and post-COVID in terms of both business and customer requirements? Please elaborate.
The price segregation at UNIQLO is diverse and there is something for everyone. Pre-pandemic, winter wear sales were positive and growing. During the pandemic, we accelerated the introduction of an online platform for customers nationwide to be able to get the products they want, first by introducing a transitional service, then with the launch our full-fledged online store UNIQLO.com. Through this online platform, customers in India were able to shop online for high-quality, comfortable, innovative and functional apparel under our LifeWear concept from the comfort of their homes. We saw demand for categories like loungewear and sports utility wear increase. We foresee this trend to continue as customers now prefer comfort and functionality after undergoing lifestyle changes during the pandemic.

According to you, which are the rising/ trending sub-segments in winter wear?
One of the after effects of the pandemic is that people have now become accustomed to comfort, functionality and versatility with regard to clothing choices and that is a driving factor behind their buying decisions. The lockdowns made people stay indoors for a longer period and closer to their neighbourhoods. Therefore, their needs for clothes changed and evolved. Year after year, UNIQLO anchor products such as Ultra Light Down Jackets, Fleece and HEATTECH are the most preferred and demanded items during the winter season.

Besides these core winter items, we are also seeing demand for such items as seamless down, hybrid parka, fleece room set for its functionality and style. During the pandemic, consumers moved towards healthier lifestyles and habits and thus well-being became a very important aspect. Our key items such as AIRism with comfort conditioning technology and high performing fabric, DRY-EX also saw a significant growth during this period.

Tell us in brief about your winter wear collection. Have you added new product lines to your existing portfolio?
For our 2021 Fall/Winter season, the collection takes into account the needs of people around the world adjusting into their new routine and new lifestyle. It comprises an array of accessible, well-made basics to choose from, finding just the ones that complement your personality and way of life. The product range consists of outerwear, innerwear, loungewear, accessories, tops and bottoms for men, women, baby and kids. One of the season’s innovation is HEATTECH Cotton. HEATTECH is thermal innerwear featuring a revolutionary technology that lies in its special fibres, which absorb vapours from the body and convert them into heat.

How do you plan to make a difference through marketing and attract customers amid such heavy competition?
UNIQLO stands for high-quality, highly functional, versatile and affordable clothes that are developed under our LifeWear concept. Our ethos of LifeWear is the most unique proposition for our customers. Marketing activities are undertaken keeping the target audience in mind and their media consumption patterns. Both online and offline audience have a different way of consuming media. At UNIQLO, we are learning the way our customers are consuming media. Nevertheless, our customers across all platforms are important to us and the endeavour is to reach them through the right media channel with information that will be useful to them.

Do you think the pandemic has impacted the pricing of your winter-wear collection in any way?
The global economic disruption caused by the unforeseen circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic has hit businesses both large and small around the world. However, we are humbled to have strong and warm support from our staff and the community that has helped us weather this difficult period and still keep our winter items affordable, which is appreciated by customers.

Have you witnessed a change in demand for winter-wear this year over last year?
Last year due to the lockdown and the restrictions that were imposed, we saw fewer walk-ins into the malls. The lack of vaccination and inability to have get-togethers where customers might want a new outfit led to a decline in the need to shop and opportunity to make purchases. However this year, with a majority of people being vaccinated, they have been able to meet again and celebrate festivals, which has led to a demand for gifting and purchasing. With the festive season and winter round the corner, the demand for winter-wear is on the rise.

Lastly, any expansion plans on the cards for your brand?
We are working towards making LifeWear accessible to more and more people across the country. Launching our e-commerce operations was part of our expansion plan aimed not only at providing customers access to the brand at their doorstep swiftly in these times of cautious mobility, but also to provide LifeWear to customers in other regions. As for brick and mortar stores, we would like to assess the situation and then make an informed decision.