By Xinxin Zhang, Research Intern, East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student in public policy at the University of Chicago.
Note: this article originally appeared in the East-West Center’s Asia Matters for America/America Matters for Asia initiative on August 23, 2017.
Japanese clothing company Uniqlo announced new plans to sell products via vending machines to US customers in airports and premium shopping malls in major cities. The first vending machine became available on August 2 at the Oakland International Airport in California and nine more will be rolled out at the Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles, Houston Airport, Queens Center in New York, and other locations to be announced. Uniqlo has tried the vending machines in Japan and Singapore as well.
In order to build a highly efficient retailing supply chain, Uniqlo adds vending machines to its existing system of physical stores and virtual online sales operations. Vending machines are a cheaper and more flexible way of selling products than storefronts, and can be very profitable. Consumers can buy basic and travel-friendly clothes from the vending machines instantly. They can choose products from different colors and sizes, and can return them in a store or by mail if they are not satisfied with the purchase.
After eleven years of growth, Uniqlo has 45 stores in the United States, offering basic, casual, affordable clothes to US consumers. These stores offer job opportunities for local youths and support economic growth via tax revenues, tourism, and commercial real estate development. The first Uniqlo store in the United States was established in New York in 2006. Five years later, Uniqlo’s largest global flagship store was launched on Fifth Avenue in New York, bringing more than 1,000 new jobs to the city. In 2012, Uniqlo opened its first store in California, generating about 500 jobs. In 2015, Uniqlo opened its flagship Chicago store, employing more than 400 local youths through its partnership with the 100,000 opportunities Initiative. The company is planning to open two more stores in Washington, DC this year in hopes of a brighter future in the US market.