Uniqlo India launches online store as e-tailers battle for multi-billion-dollar Diwali shopping

29, Oct. 2020

A file photo of Japanese casual fashion chain Uniqlo’s first Indian store in New Delhi. After its first year in India, Uniqlo has set up an online store following many requests from Indian customers. (NNA)
A file photo of Japanese casual fashion chain Uniqlo’s first Indian store in New Delhi. After its first year in India, Uniqlo has set up an online store following many requests from Indian customers. (NNA)

By Atul Ranjan

NEW DELHI, NNA - Japanese apparel retailer Uniqlo Co. has launched its online store in India, in the midst of a nationwide shopping blitz in the run-up to Diwali celebrations in mid-November.

Joining what is possibly the biggest e-commerce battle in India so far as it marked its first year in the country, Uniqlo will be offering a slew of products, including clothings in the warm range such as ultra light down jackets,Heattech, fleece jackets as the weather becomes cooler in most regions.

E-commerce sales, which jumped to record levels during months of pandemic lockdowns, are expected to snowball as many more shoppers are turning online this season to grab things, from clothes to household appliances to celebrate one of the most important festivals--Diwali--

on the Hindu calendar on Nov. 14.

Already, e-commerce players, from small retailers to the big platforms like Flipkart, Amazon and Reliance Industries' JioMart launched earlier this year, have joined the fray as Diwali spending is worth billions and climbing over the years.

Analysts said the peak spending would also contribute to recovery efforts as the pandemic lockdowns have dealt severe blows to the Indian economy similar to unprecedented contractions in many countries.

Online retailers are expected to see this year's online Diwali sales soaring by 34 percent to hit $6.5 billion within a month from mid-October when the shopping frenzy began, according to research firm Forrester Research Inc.

Already, online sales from Oct. 15 to Oct. 21 would probably have hit $4.8 billion, a billion more than sales recorded during the first shopping week of last Diwali.

“We believe that the festive week sales had surpassed $4.5 billion and we anticipate that the overall numbers should be in line with our projections,” Sanjeev Kumar, a forecast analyst at Forrester Research, told NNA.

The firm reckoned that around 55–60 million online shoppers are likely to participate in festive sales, and about 75 percent of these sales would have occurred in the first week when leading e-tailers such as Flipkart and Amazon kicked off festive promotions.

The research firm expects smartphones, consumer electronics and fashion to be in hot demand this season.

Confirming the brisk buying in the first week, RedSeer Consulting noted that online platforms had already notched sales of around $4.1 billion.

“This points to a revival of consumption sentiment among Indian shoppers as they have been shopping online in big numbers driven by massive selections, great prices and the convenience and safety of shopping from home,” said Mrigank Gutgutia, a director at RedSeer, a consultancy firm.

It said the biggest growth lever this year was the massive increase in online shoppers during the first week, which jumped from 28 million last year to 52 million this year.

RedSeer said online sales events have enabled sellers and brands to recuperate from COVID-19 crisis and contribute to a positive demand-led economic recovery in India.

Flipkart, which held a major sales event in the first week, reported that its platform received over 666 million visits during the six-day event. More than 52 percent of them came from semi-urban centers and beyond, which suggests that their residents would not want to travel long distances to shop in city-centers.

The overwhelming response saw Flipkart delivering 10 million shipments in the first five days.

Forrester Research said the shift in consumer behavior towards embracing technology in past months has been so profound that many people are no longer having any reservations about buying online.

A transformation that would have taken two years had happened within five months after the country enforced strict nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus in March, said Forrester, adding that this is likely to dampen the business of offline stores.

“Some of the sales would definitely come at the expense of offline retailers as consumers avoid store visits. As most of the consumers stay at home, the need to buy or upgrade household appliances, furniture and homeware is higher as well this time round,” said Kumar.

In fact, Uniqlo was pushing to roll out its online store in India because of demand.

Tohomiko Sei, CEO of Uniqlo India Pvt. Ltd., said, “After a large number of requests from across the country about our products, we are happy to announce that now consumers can shop Uniqlo products from the comfort of their homes."

"With this service, we hope to provide more customers with iconic Uniqlo items like Heattech and fleece jackets along with essential items like AIRism through our website to support their lives in this new normal. We will be delivering to people in more than 17,000 pin codes across the country” he added.

Uniqlo India said its ‘Shop From Home’ service has been developed with contactless delivery to cater to customers who have shifted to online shopping “in times of cautious mobility”.

“While the company is actively engaged in building a robust e-commerce solution, given the current challenging situation, this interim solution is to provide customers a way to easily access and experience the brand,” the company added in its statement.

According to brokerage firm Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd., retailers in India are “disproportionately” shifting capex allocation towards improving online efficiency and customer reach to push sales amid the pandemic.

“Retailers are looking to take a large part of their businesses and assets online. Both front-end and back-end tech capabilities, including warehouses and supply chains are being scaled up by all retailers to create an omni-channel experience,” it said, adding that people getting more comfortable shopping.

The firm noted that apparel brands such as Pepe Jeans have seen big jumps in online sales, now contributing 8-10 percent to total sales. Max Fashion saw a huge increase in omni-channel customers, from pre-pandemic 20,000 to a staggering 300,000 currently, the firm reported.