Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Tale of Two Retailers

A 3in1 phone-lens at Miniso - solid Value for Money

"Oh, Miniso?", said the sales-person at Muji, "You could call them our 'poor cousins'. Our prices are higher because we sell high quality products".

We have all heard this quality spiel before. Every fruit vendor in Delhi uses that line to sell his wares. At Muji, apart from sounding contrived and utterly unconvincing, it also presumes that the Indian customer is a fool.

Miniso and Muji are two retail brands with a lot in common. Both proclaim their Japanese pedegree in design aesthetics and quality while getting most of their products manufactured in China; both have 'affordable quality' as their USP, and both represent the changing face of Japanese FDI in India which is trying to diversify from its hitherto narrow focus on the automobile sector.

In their approach to the Indian market, however, Muji and Miniso could not be more different. 

Muji @DLF Mall of India, NOIDA

Muji is a company that started in the early 1980s in Japan. It is 
positioned as a "reasonably priced" brand, keeping the retail prices of its 'no-brand' products "lower than usual" by the materials it selected, streamlining its manufacturing processes, and minimising packaging. However, in India, it has chosen to tie-up with the Reliance conglomerate and positioned itself as an upmarket brand. 

Miniso, on the other hand, is a relatively young company, started in 2011 by Miyake Junya, a Japanese designer, and a Chinese entrepreneur, Ye Guofo. Unlike Muji, its sells quality products at prices that are actually reasonable by Indian standards.

The difference between the two retailers is quite telling at the DLF Mall of India, in NOIDA. Here, Muji has take up a large space on the first floor ('International Boulevard') while the Miniso outlet is about a fourth in size on the lower ground floor, at the same level as other budget shops, BigBazaar and Store99. While the Muji store exudes a lavish sense of space and luxury, Miniso is cramped with overflowing shelves and narrow aisles. 

Perhaps the biggest difference is that while Miniso is full of customers stuffing their baskets and lining up at the payment counters, Muji remains desolate in comparison. A handful of people saunter in as though they are visiting a museum, and most of them walk out without making a purchase.

Miniso @ Mall of India, NOIDA
What expains this difference? The price-tag could be one. In India, Muji's products have drifted far from their motto of being "reasonably priced". Most of the products in fact come with a two price-tags, and, amazingly, the Japanese JPY price is less than the equivalent INR price! For instance, a simple ruler carries a Japan price of JPY150 (INR93)and its India price is INR150! 

It is when I asked the Muji guys about this that I got the Miniso-is-our-poor-cousin comment. When I ask them about the rush in Miniso stores compared to Muji, their answer was - "Oh, that must be because this is NOIDA, where people cannot afford Muji quality!". 

Having lived in Japan for two years, and interacted with the impeccably polite and tactful staff at Muji stores at Tokyo and Tsukuba, one thing is certain: For all the investments they are making in India, staff training in India is far below Muji standards.

This summer, while Muji tries to weave a snooty cocoon for itself and attempts to attract customers with "upto 50% discount", Miniso, the 'poor cousin', has already expanded to 19 stores in NCR Delhi alone, and is laughing all the way to the bank.


* (2017) - How Miniso became a mega success -

* (2017) ET - Japan's investments in India is getting diverse -

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