Japanese retailer Uniqlo is looking to upgrade its image by adopting artificial intelligence solutions and hiring more experienced technology specialists, among other aims, according to a Nikkei Asian Review story.
Tadashi Yanai, founder of parent company Fast Retailing, reportedly believes that AI-based systems could help factories, distributors and Uniqlo stores analyze data on consumer behavior to drive decisions around inventory and logistics, the story stated.
According to the report, Yanai wants to hire a number of engineers with capabilities around data and image analysis who can build and operate systems to help the retailer improve operational efficiency.
Yanai acknowledged that one of the big challenges Uniqlo faces in becoming more technology-enabled is that it has previously not been known as a tech-savvy company. If that sounds like a chicken-and-egg problem, it's a common one faced by companies trying to recast themselves for the digital age. When you don't have an identity as an innovator, that makes it hard for you to recruit the kind of talent that can help you acquire an identity as an innovator.
Understanding this challenge, Yanai reportedly turned to Masayoshi Son, chairman of Softbank Group — a global technology juggernaut with investments in China's Alibaba Group and India's Snapdeal, among others — and a company for which Yanai himself serves as an outside director. Yanai joined Son at a recent engineer recruiting event. Recruiting tech talent is only one aspect of Uniqlo's image makeover, however. With that talent in place, the retailer will then have to "walk the walk."
That being said, Uniqlo might not be giving itself enough credit as an innovator. Evidence of Uniqlo’s digital ambition can be seen in its apparel vending machines, a concept it has invested in around the world — and earlier this month began introducing in the U.S. with the installation of 10 vending machines in airports and malls in New York, Houston, Oakland and other cities. In early 2016, Uniqlo also became one of the first major retailers to sell apparel through Google-backed mobile commerce marketplace Spring.
Uniqlo obviously isn't the only retailer chasing digital dreams these days — just one of the most recent (along with J.C. Penney, whose CFO thinks the retailer should spend more on technology.) More and more retailers want to be identified as digital companies, technology companies or mobile-first companies. But it's not just for appearances: These retailers recognize that their future success depends on how they evolve their technological capabilities.