Uniqlo, the clothing retailer from Japan (the country where you can buy basically anything from a vending machine) have, in fact, introduced vendors as a selling platform for their garments in the US.
It all started with Zara installing self-checkout tills, then Amazon-Go (soon emulated by Chinese start-up BingoBox) came and launched its entirely automated ‘store of the future’. Now, Uniqlo is the latest business to employ technology to simplify and accelerate retail transactions, turning an everyday item into something high-tech. While Calvin Klein and Lee had already experimented with underwear and limited edition T-shirt dispensers, Uniqlo took it up a notch. Their displays allow consumers to choose a model, size and colour of the items in stock (two as of now; a lightweight jacket and a thermal HighTech shirt), that are dispensed in boxes and cans – of course.
“Only time will tell whether this is a breakthrough moment for fashion retail or whether it’s just another gimmick.”
As one of the biggest and most famous clothing brands in Japan, at first, Uniqlo struggled to settle in Europe and America. In a bid to expand its reach and sales channels – besides their recent collaborating with designer J. W. Anderson – the brand is launching a maternity line and incorporating futuristic fabrics in their garments. Clearly, the company has been forced to think of new ways to regain sales in the world’s biggest retail markets, but are vending machines the way forward?
’Uniqlo to Go’ is starting in the USA as a beta version, with vending machines installed in ten cities, including New York, Oakland and Los Angeles. Already tested in some airports— how many times were you about to board a plane only to realise you have forgotten a raincoat? — the machines will be, during the next months, placed in locations with a high affluence of people of different demographics, like metro stations and shopping centres.
Despite adding to the problem of fast-fashion and mass production, it is undeniable that spreading this kind of innovative technology in retail is revolutionary. Selling through a vending machine obviously makes the purchase process a lot easier and faster. It’s practical; reduces, if not erases, queues and solves the problem of busy and crammed stores. It’s on 24/7, which works great in airports when there is no time to explore shops to find a particular item. What is more, and not any less important, is seeing how many retailers are shutting down due to online shopping. It may seem like an odd idea, but in an age where investing in estate property is extremely expensive and maintaining a shop even more money-draining – it helps keeps costs low.
The downside of the vending machines is that they’re not that different from online shopping. You may receive your item instantly but purchasing via a vending machine still prevents customers trying the clothes on before buying them. If you change your mind, which we all do, you’ll have to return your Uniqlo items to a physical store or via post. Just like online shopping, it erases human contact and can cuts jobs. It’s been calculated that it only takes four people to run a vending machine system.
Despite the fascination with technology and the need to look forward, is it worth it to substitute the whole shopping experience of feeling the materials, trying on different outfit combinations and asking a real sales assistant— and not an automated voice— for advice? Perhaps only time will tell whether this is a breakthrough moment for fashion retail or whether it’s just another gimmick.