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Japan Uniqlo Sales Climb as Cool End-August Boosts Autumn Clothing

Reporting by Ritsuko Shimizu

TOKYO, Sept 2 (Reuters) – Fast Retailing Co said same-store sales at its flagship Uniqlo clothing stores in Japan edged above target in the business year ended in August as cool weather late last month spurred an early start to buying of warmer clothing for autumn.

Spending per customer rose a record 15.1 percent in August at Japanese Uniqlo stores open at least a year, the company said on Tuesday. That helped boost overall same-store sales for the month by 3.8 percent, despite a nearly 10 percent drop in customer traffic.

Average temperatures in eastern Japan were about 3 degrees Celsius below typical levels at the end of August this year, meteorological agency data showed. For the company’s financial year to end-August, Uniqlo same-store sales rose 1.9 percent, exceeding the full-year target of 1.6 percent growth.

Autumn-winter items are typically more expensive than summer clothing, and Uniqlo is also implementing price increases of about 5 percent with this year’s autumn-winter collections. The price hike was considered a sign of rising confidence that Japan’s policies to stimulate the economy were boosting consumer sentiment and helping to overcome a decade and a half of deflation.

Uniqlo’s sharp rise in spending per customer was in marked contrast to the 2012/13 business year, when customer numbers rose but spending suffered as it kept prices low. Fast Retailing will release full earnings results for the 2013/14 financial year on Oct. 9.

Japan’s four leading department store operators also received a boost from the unseasonably cool weather, with August bringing an across-the-board sales increase at all four for the first time since a sales tax increase on April 1.

Industry executives remained uncertain, however, whether the early buying of autumn clothing would bring a sustained boost, or simply eat into sales later in the season.

“We’re not pessimistic about consumption, but we’re also not optimistic about this favourable trend continuing,” said a representative from J.Front Retailing Co Ltd, operator of the Daimaru and Matsuzakaya department stores.