Uniqlo is installing 10 vending machines in airports and malls — including in New York, Houston and Oakland, CA, among other U.S. cities — stocked with jackets and other basics, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Japanese apparel retailer already runs the machines elsewhere in the world, according to the report.
The machines are six feet tall and their limited selection of basics are dispensed in boxes and cans, according to the Journal.
If an item doesn’t work out, it can be returned to a store or by mail.
Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing, has clearly and often expressed his ambitions to overtake Zara as the largest apparel retailer in the world. But the force and speed of Uniqlo’s expansion in the U.S. has proven to be too much, too soon.
Last year, Yanai said that Fast Retailing plans to "rebuild" its U.S. operations, although he didn’t divulge many specifics of what that would entail. The company has been hoping to make the Uniqlo name better known outside of New York and other big cities in the U.S. After faltering in U.S. malls, the Japanese apparel retailer scaled back its U.S. expansion plans last year from 15 new stores to just five, for a total of 44. Uniqlo previously has indicated a goal of having 200 U.S. stores by 2020.
While vending machines in the U.S. are mostly relegated to sales of snacks and beverages (with some airport concessions of typical travel needs like earbuds, makeup and toothpaste), they're used widely in Japan to sell a variety of consumer goods.
The new machines might help to push the Uniqlo name, boosting visibility in the U.S., which was flagged by the retailer last year as a priority. But the machines come with their own complications for U.S. consumers. There's no place to try on the clothes, and if the last-minute purchase doesn't pan out, a traveler is stuck with it for the time being, as an item can only be returned to a store or online.
Still, self-service retail in the U.S. is growing, as self-checkout and in-store pickup of online orders increasingly show up in stores. It may be just a matter of time before several retailers here have six-foot-tall dispensaries of their top-selling items scattered in spots far from malls and their flagship stores.