UNIQLO Malaysia and Singapore hinges on digitalisation for improved shopping experience

It implemented the "price tag scanner" and the same day Click & Collect service.

UNIQLO aims to provide clothing for all; and customer shopping experience, in-store and online, comes along amongst the top priorities of the apparel giant.

Physical stores remain an important part of the company’s retail operations and UNIQLO continues to refurbish them to give new experiences to their customers. But the company is also employing digital services that will further enhance its customers' shopping experience.

Notable digital tools they are using are the “price tag scanner functions” and the same day Click & Collect service in its online store.

Retail Asia caught up with Yuki Yamada, CEO of Uniqlo Malaysia and Singapore, about the innovations they implemented and trends in the apparel industry.

What does UNIQLO Singapore and Malaysia prioritise in providing service and developing products to its customers? 

Ever since our company was founded, we have regarded our mission as providing clothing to improve the lives of people everywhere. We create clothing for everyone. This is reflected in our slogan, “MADE FOR ALL,” which remains a core element of our LifeWear philosophy. Our priority has always been our customers with a focus on their shopping experience both in-store and online, where they can expect excellent service and seamless transition from one to the other, such as through our Click & Collect service and catering of more sizes through selected physical stores and our online store. 

Our products, under the umbrella philosophy of "LifeWear," reflect very well on customers’ needs in their daily lives. We provide a wide variety of daily essentials for women, men, pregnant mothers and their babies, and young children. They include accessories from face masks to socks and footwear; and clothes for everyday wear at home, work or for leisure, as well as functional sports utility wear, AIRism for cool, breathable comfort and HEATTECH to keep warm. 

How did the pandemic affect the business operations of UNIQLO especially in Singapore and Malaysia? How did you cope?

At UNIQLO, we are always adapting to stay on top of our customers’ needs. With different phases of lockdown and physical store re-opening, the pandemic has naturally accelerated the shift to digital in both Singapore and Malaysia. We pivoted our business to provide our offerings to consumers online, leveraging our established digital presence. 

However, to be successful, e-commerce and physical stores need to achieve synergy, which is why our physical stores remain just as important. We continue to refurbish our stores to provide a better shopping experience whilst upholding high standards of safety through safe distancing measures and regular disinfectant procedures. In Singapore, we introduced UNIQLO Town, which offers three distinct experiences at our stores along the shopping belt Orchard Road to give shoppers an engaging and hyper-local retail experience in-store.

On the e-commerce front, we continue to improve our efficiency and transform our distribution system to ensure swift delivery of online purchases. 

As a business, we are also committed to having a positive impact on society. Last year, we were quick to launch our AIRism masks, and the take-up rate was highly encouraging. We partnered with foodpanda in Singapore and distributed 13,000 AIRism masks to their entire fleet of riders. More recently, we have also partnered with hawerheroes.sg to distribute 15,000 packs of AIRism masks to hawkers around Singapore.

UNIQLO Singapore’s flagship store in Orchard Central will be celebrating its anniversary. What programmes or innovations are you implementing following this feat?

During the month of October, UNIQLO Singapore’s flagship store located at Orchard Central will be celebrating its fifth anniversary. Customers can look forward to a refreshed in-store shopping experience from a pop-up coffee cart and a plant nursery, to weekly in-store workshops, including upcycling workshops and embroidery workshops. Another highlight of the anniversary is a new weekly live streaming series giving customers a first look at the week’s Limited Offer items and ways to style them, as well as the launch of the same day Click & Collect service on our website, where customers can access even more sizes, shortlist items to place on their wishlist, and check the availability of their desired products before heading to stores.

There will also be showcases of some of our product innovations, putting the spotlight on our LifeWear Masterpieces—products from our core line-up that carry incredible technology and are representative of our brand. These include 3D knit items, created using specialised knitting machines that achieve seamless knitwear with beautiful silhouettes, and souffle yarn items that offer fluffy comfort and don’t scratch the skin.

How would these services benefit both the business and the customers?

They reinforce the product innovations that UNIQLO has continued to offer to our customers—simple clothing made to better suit the evolving needs of the community and enable them in embracing new lifestyles and values. At the same time, the workshops and weekly live streaming shows aim to inspire customers in styling their own looks with our collections whilst adding to their experience with our products by giving pre-loved clothes a new lease of life.

As the CEO, how would you describe leading a business during the pandemic compared to the times before the health crisis?

The pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes in the way we live. It is most important to us that we continue to meet our consumer’s needs with our products. Even before the pandemic, there have been three principles that guided me in leading the business: 

Be open with our employees. At UNIQLO, we have always aimed to be open with our employees as we empower them to adopt the mindset of a business leader and be part of the decision-making process with our Global One and Zen-in Keiei management principles. This openness is also important during the pandemic when we aim to share information early and often to minimise uncertainty. This transparency of information sharing and open communication encourages an environment that allows staff to feel more involved and engaged with the business.

Making decisions with our customers in mind. With the pandemic bringing about unprecedented changes in the way we live, what has been most important to us is that we continue to meet our consumers’ needs with products at an affordable price. In this new normal, we’ve observed that they are pivoting towards essentials and increasingly prioritising comfort, value and quality. We believe that UNIQLO LifeWear is well positioned to cater to the new lifestyle needs, providing high-quality and affordable everyday clothing to cater to all occasions, be it telecommuting, indoor workout, lounging at home, or playtime for kids.

Revisit our shared brand value to contribute to the community we operate in. Having lived in five different countries has helped me learn about working with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. UNIQLO is a global business, but it respects the culture and the traditions of each community and neighborhood in which it operates. We strive to build stores with strong local connections and contribute to the community and economic development in the countries and regions we operate in. 

What current trends have you observed in the apparel retail industry?

With the acceleration towards digitalisation, we continue to identify ways to leverage digital tools to engage our customers and support them with a seamless shopping experience. For example, we have an in-depth and comprehensive guide on our website to inform them on how to measure clothing and body dimensions so the clothes they buy are a good fit. 

From late last year, we have implemented the "price tag scanner" function, where customers are able to view details and information of a product simply by scanning its price tag; and a new payment function where customers are able to pay for an item in store to secure stock of an item online. Additionally, with the recent launch of our same-day Click & Collect service, customers can easily secure their desired stock at the physical store ahead of time via our online store.

In general, with people spending more time at home, we have also seen a pickup on apparel that is suitable for “work from home” and therefore an increase in purchases of smart-casual wear and loungewear. Ultimately, we continue to see customers who seek comfortable and functional clothing that offers great value for money. 

What’s next for Uniqlo Singapore and Malaysia?

We will be opening more retail stores as part of our expansion plan to continue to meet our customers’ needs. We will also continue our efforts to promote sustainability and support the community. Apart from collecting pre-loved UNIQLO items and donating them to underprivileged communities, we also work with low-income women to upcycle fabric scraps recycled from our alteration service.

In Malaysia, we will continue supporting the next generation through educational opportunities. We will expand our Retail Training Programs to provide people with disabilities, marginalised, and refugee youth with retail skills, as well as school outreach to educate students about sustainability. Meanwhile, we also aim to assist vulnerable groups through providing digital literacy and entrepreneurial skills training, alongside donating functional LifeWear clothing to support their daily lives. We will also accelerate our environmental efforts, particularly in upcycling and recycling initiatives to make efficient use of resources and promote conservation through collaboration with NGOs.

In Singapore, we are looking to expand the presence and awareness of our sustainability initiatives through our Sustainability Corners in stores, which highlight our commitment to the sustainable stewardship of valuable resources. We currently have these Sustainability Corners in our stores at Orchard Central, Plaza Singapura and Tampines Mall, Jewel Changi Airport, Great World City, and Bugis+, and are looking to replicate these in more of our stores.

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