NEW DELHI: Japanese clothing giant Uniqlo on Friday (Oct 4) opened its first store in India, one of its largest worldwide, becoming the latest global retailer to plunge into the huge but tough developing market.
The South Asian nation, with its 1.3 billion population and a burgeoning middle-class, is viewed by global brands as a major prize but weak consumer demand has hit the economy in recent months.
The Uniqlo outlet, one of more than 2,000 across the world, is spread over 3,250 sq m - and almost next to global rival Sweden's H&M in an upmarket mall in New Delhi.
"I'm not worried," the billionaire founder of Uniqlo's operator Fast Retailing, Tadashi Yanai, told AFP Thursday ahead of the opening, the first of three planned in and around the Indian capital.
"Fast Retailing has long wished to open stores in India, in view of the tremendous potential of a nation of 1.3 billion people ... (with) an average age of 27," he added in a speech.
Uniqlo is among more than 300 international fashion brands expected to open stores in India in the next two years, according to a November report by consultancy McKinsey and the Business of Fashion trade publication.
McKinsey said that the vast nation's apparel market was forecast to be worth US$59.3 billion in 2022, making it the sixth-largest in the world.
However, India is notorious for its price-sensitive consumers, while ethnic wear still infuses much of local fashion, particularly among women.
Uniqlo is attempting to address the second point by including for the Indian market a "Kurta collection" created in collaboration with an Indian designer.
But on price, Uniqlo so far appears to be selling its clothing at similar levels as in the United States and Australia, and more expensive than in Malaysia.
One signature item, a women's ultra light down vest for women, retails at 3,490 rupees (US$49.10) compared to US$49.90 in the US and 149.90 ringgit (US$35.80) in Malaysia.
"India is a highly competitive market, and a lot of global brands are already here, along with many successful home-grown brands," Edelweiss Securities analyst Abneesh Roy told The Print news website.
"Uniqlo is definitely entering late, and it will not be easy."
On Friday around 500 shoppers of a mix of ages queued up to enter the new store when it opened, with Yanai there to welcome them.