Japanese Retailer Uniqlo Exploring Online Store for U.S.

Document Indicates October Timeline, But Spokesman Denies Firm Plans of E-Commerce Launch

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Uniqlo is exploring building an online store for the U.S., according to a document obtained by Ad Age . The request for proposal indicates the retailer is looking for partners to help build the e-commerce site, which, if it goes according to the document's timeline, would go live in October.

The Japanese retailer, in the midst of an aggressive global expansion as growth slows at home, is searching for an agency to build what it's calling a "digital flagship" for the U.S. market. It hopes to push Stateside sales to $10 billion with 20% originating online by 2020, according to the document.

Uniqlo spokeswoman Mary Lawton played down the agency outreach, telling Ad Age the company has "no solid plans" to launch e-commerce in the U.S. and that this is the second time Uniqlo has reached out to agencies to explore e-commerce. The document, however, contains a project timeline with all components set to go live Oct. 15.

"We continue to explore the possibility of launching e-commerce. However, at this time, we are a long way away from confirming when specifically this will happen in the U.S.," said Ms. Lawton in a statement. "As we have said in the past, when we launch e-commerce in the U.S. we want to be sure it will benefit our customers, and currently we do not have a plan that meets that expectation."

So far, Uniqlo has only supported e-commerce in Japan and a few other countries, including the U.K., despiteconsiderable consumer demand in the U.S.

The clothing manufacturer and retailer, which is owned by Fast Retailing Co. and headquartered in Japan, has only been available in the U.S. via its three New York stores; an online store could bring the retailer's characteristic colorful basics to the entire country. Uniqlo competitor H&M, a similar purveyor of low-cost fashion, already has more than 200 stores in the U.S. but no online store either. H&M is planning to launch online shopping in late 2012, according to its corporate website.

Today, Uniqlo operates more than 1,000 stores worldwide, with almost 200 locations outside Japan. It opened two flagships in New York last fall. The company opened its first U.S. store in the city in 2006. A San Francisco flagship is expected to open in October.

In the RFP, Uniqlo has asked agencies to build infrastructure that can "provide a universal foundation for future expansion in other global markets," including the European Union, China, Hong Kong and Korea. Uniqlo is also looking for mobile and tablet commerce.

According to the document, Uniqlo is seeking an agency to handle overall marketing strategy, the build and maintenance of the e-commerce site, social media and digital-store signage, among other things. The budget will be between $800,000 and $1.8 million. Uniqlo worked with agencies on a project basis for its U.S. flagship launches.

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