Ryerson profs dish on Uniqlo’s Canadian expansion

Concerns about Uniqlo’s entry into the Canadian retail market following Target’s massive failure are misplaced, according to fashion and business professors at Ryerson University.

The Japanese retailer will be opening two flagship stores in Toronto—one in the Toronto Eaton Centre and another in Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

“There’s already a lot of comparisons being drawn between Target and Uniqlo and I think that is misplaced,” said Robert Ott, the chair of Ryerson’s school of fashion. “Uniqlo is following what is a much more reasonable (approach). Dip your toes in the water, make that work, understand the customer, understand the demographic and gradually expand.”

Target’s foray into Canada was the retailer’s first attempt at expansion here and it was done on a huge scale. Uniqlo, on the other hand, is starting off small in Canada after seeing success in international cities like Berlin, New York and London.


Uniqlo's flagship store in New York City.  (Courtesy InSapphoWeTrust, Flickr)

Uniqlo’s flagship store in New York City. (Courtesy InSapphoWeTrust, Flickr)

The clothing and accessory store is known for its affordable, casual styles, available in its 1,500 locations worldwide. It will be opening beside H&M in Toronto’s Eaton Centre and will neighbour the upcoming Nordstrom in Yorkdale Shopping Centre, which is also scheduled to open in 2016.

With Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue’s future expansions to Canada, Uniqlo will have to stand out from the influx of foreign retailers entering the market.

Ott says that the retailer’s product reputation and large demographic will help its success.

“They are targeting the younger generation, but their things are friendly to a more diverse demographic, broader [in] size range and more culturally sensitive,” he said.

Uniqlo isn’t the only Japanese retailer attempting to woo Canadians.

Muji, known for its minimalist offerings ranging from furniture to fashion, recently opened near Ryerson University at Yonge and Dundas Streets.  Target’s failure won’t deter foreign retailers from expanding in Canada, according to Norman Shaw, an assistant professor at the Ted Rogers school of retail management, but will serve as a cautionary tale.

“The fact that Target left Canada will make non-U.S. retailers think carefully about entering the (Canadian) market,” Shaw said. “You’ll see them doing it … slowly.”

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