Japan's Fast Retailing enlists robotics startups to automate warehouses

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese fashion group Fast Retailing Co Ltd (T:), owner of clothing chain Uniqlo, on Wednesday said it has partnered two robotics startups to help improve efficiency in warehousing and distribution.

Asia’s biggest fashion retailer by sales, and the world’s second-biggest after Zara owner Inditex (MC:), last year said it would invest 100 billion yen ($916.59 million) to increase automation at its facilities.

Japanese robotics controller maker Mujin Electronics Co Ltd [MUJIN.UL] and French robotics startup Exotec Solutions SAS will help introduce more automation at global warehouses, including in picking and shipping processes, Fast Retailing said in a statement.

Known for its affordable line of casual clothing such as lightweight down jackets, Fast Retailing’s Uniqlo has grown through decades of weak consumption in Japan.

It is currently enjoying strong growth in China, with the brand logging over 1 billion yuan ($142.98 million) worth of sales during the 24-hour Singles’ Day shopping festival of e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (N:).

However, the unit has struggled with inefficiencies, occasionally blaming unseasonable weather for poor sales and excess inventory – an issue Fast Retailing hopes to address with shorter lead times and improved logistics.

“Not making, shipping or selling anything unnecessary – this is a goal for retailers. Unfortunately, it’s something that’s not been achieved,” Executive Vice President Takuya Jimbo told reporters. New technology could change this, Jimbo said.

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