Uniqlo has had a store at the upscale Place de l’Opéra since 2009 and it serves as a flagship for the French market (although this is a particularly small fleet, currently composed of just three vessels).
Address 17 rue Scribe, 75009 Paris
Current designer collection Celia Birtwell
Number of floors Three
Uniqlo stores in France Three
As such, it is something of a fixture on the Parisian retail scene and, oddly, seems to serve as a must-visit place for Japanese tourists when their wallets are approaching empty - having paid the obligatory visits to nearby Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.
There is good reason for them to do so, however, as more or less every time you visit this store there will be something new to take a look at. At present, it has a major promotion with textile designer Celia Birtwell, T-shirts influenced by US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and a collaboration with Disney, and all of them have been carefully merchandised.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
From the moment you walk through the doors and encounter the polished steel stairs with scrolling red dot matrix displays on the rise of each step, you know you are in for something different. Like other Uniqlo branches, this store uses internally lit free-standing vitrines in which mannequins adopt varying poses to accompany the outsize props. Practically, this means a bunch of mannequins crowding around a giant cardboard cassette tape, which extols the virtues of the Basquiat T-shirts. The two vitrines on the ground floor are home to the ditsy prints of the Birtwell collection. Overall, it’s a simple VM strategy, but it’s hard to find particular fault with anything that’s been done.
02 - CONCEPT
Although there are clearly defined areas for men and women in this shop, it is designed, lit and merchandised in a manner where that distinction is blurred, owing to the consistency of equipment used and colour palettes. This is actually a positive and makes wandering around this shop unshackled from the demands of gender division something of a pleasure. There is also something Tardis-like about the manner in which the narrow frontage gives way to space.
03 - SERVICE
Well, pretty much there is none, unless you want it. This is determinedly self-service and the staff have their work cut out keeping the displays tidy and running to get sizes if you really do need to ask. That said, perhaps the best demonstration in this kind of store of the way in which the service works is when you come to pay for something. In spite of it being a relatively busy day, there were no queues at the retro space-age supermarket-style checkouts and the staff were both pleasant and efficient.
04 - PRODUCT
Cheap and bright. You know where you are with Uniqlo - so if you want a polo shirt or a pair of summer bright trousers, you’ll probably find what you need. And it is pretty good at telling in-store merchandise stories, so teaming up items is also straightforward. It is not, however, all about commodity. The Celia Birtwell designs dominate at the front of the shop and if you need an abstract floral print, look no further. It’s also a good place to shop for denim, with three basic body shapes offered at varying price ranges.
05 - COMPETITION
On the other side of the opera house, next to Galeries Lafayette, sits Paris’s H&M flagship. Just along the street is a name familiar to British shoppers of yesteryear: C&A. And around the corner from department store Printemps is Citadium, a three-floor multi-brand skate and streetwear proposition that may not be the cheapest but which is still affordable. All of which means there is substantial low-price competition for Uniqlo - in spite of the area’s reputation as a destination for ritzy department store retailing. Uniqlo does not have things all its own way in central Paris.
06 - VERDICT: THE PROSPECTS ARE GOOD
Uniqlo’s Parisian flagship is not as in-your-face as its central London stores, principally because the building precludes a loud street-facing shout. It is off the main Boulevard Haussmann drag - shoppers may spot it, but they may not. Inside, however, this is a good-looking space, if a little confusing in terms of what’s where. The mass of intersecting levels and Starship Enterprise-like displays do make for an interesting panorama, but in-store navigation is an issue. The positive, however, is that this is different from the local run-of-the-mill offers.