Fast Retailing (Part 1): Transforming the Clothes Shopping Experience
AWS Japan G.K. invited Fast Retailing Co., Ltd. executives to speak on the theme of “Digital Reform Initiatives at Fast Retailing: Transformation of Engineering Organizations Utilizing AWS” on September 2, 2021. This post is part 1 of a two-part series where they share the key points of their discussion. Don’t miss part 2 – Building an In-House Engineering Organization.
Fast Retailing, best known for its flagship brand UNIQLO, is running its business based on their Mission Statement of “Changing clothes. Changing conventional wisdom. Change the world.” and the concept of “LifeWear = ultimate everyday wear to improve everyone’s daily life.”
In today’s digital commerce landscape, the customer is in control and has a wider array of clothes to buy and more ways to buy them than ever before. To give the customer even more say over what clothes should be manufactured and sold, Fast Retailing launched a project that builds a direct connection between customers and production facilities through digital information.
Known as the ‘Ariake Project,’ the initiative seeks to manifest the idea of LifeWear and fully digitize the customer retail experience. At Fast Retailing, we collect sales, inventory, and customer data from across our more than 3,600 stores in 26 markets around the world, and then build an algorithm that forecasts and optimizes every step of our total process.
The ultimate goal of our project is to connect sales, production, distribution, and planning functions so that customers will ultimately receive what they want, when they want it. We leverage AWS to realize our vision of eliminating boundaries between those who manufacture clothes and the customers who wear them.
Building the IT Foundation for Fast Retailing
Promoting LifeWear through digital transformation requires implementing the following IT strategies:
- Redesigning the system with a cloud-first/multi-cloud strategy: Almost all of our systems run in the cloud. This enables our approximately 130,000 Fast Retailing employees worldwide, including stores and production centers, to work together as one team to access, integrate, and analyze data literally from anywhere.
- Selecting technology that masters the cloud: We are selecting technologies that let us “master” the cloud, rather than old technologies that were simply “used” in the cloud.
- Unifying the technology stack around new open-source technologies: We have adopted highly versatile and advanced technologies that adhere to global standards such as Docker and PostgreSQL, Redis, and Kafka, and we have unified the technology stack company-wide.
- Selecting technology based on leading global trends: We constantly research the IT sector to understand global direction, and we select and use technologies based on these indicators.
- Following in-house architects and engineers for strategic guidance: To realize the steps above, our in-house architects and engineers lead the way in selecting technologies and applying them for practical use.
A Global Digital Commerce Platform Built with AWS
As we optimize our systems for global delivery through E-commerce, physical stores, and warehouses; refine core systems such as SAP; and build a common platform for data linkage, AWS helps us stay nimble. This lets us operate in multiple regions with high stability and scalability in enterprise workloads.
The Fast Retailing Group supports a number of brands, such as UNIQLO and GU, with a small team of IT personnel. Given our staff size, we followed a platform-based strategy called “Global One” that we could deploy horizontally through these five technical approaches:
- Headless commerce: The frontend and backend are separated and run through the API, with the backend able to be developed and operated independently by dividing various functions into microservices. In addition, the backend is shared across Group brands, while the frontend can showcase each brand’s unique identity. We can link not only the e-commerce frontend, but also the backend with various apps such as StyleHint, an app that helps users select clothing and styling tips. By linking the most up-to-date information, we make sure that interested customers can interact naturally with E-commerce.
- Immutable infrastructure: We built all of the services to run in containers. Even as the number of microservices grows, deploying multiple microservices on a shared cluster provides both flexibility and infrastructure efficiency. In addition, by always storing all of the infrastructure configurations in code and automating deployment, we can reproduce the same infrastructure configurations across regions.
- Multi-region deployment: Because AWS allows for the deployment of a single infrastructure configuration, including containers to different AWS regions, we could deploy services in regions closer to customers. When traffic in a given region increased, we could prevent adverse impacts in another region by splitting traffic containers by business unit and monitor usage on a container-by-container basis for proper cost allocation. Dividing traffic and containers helped us share hosting fixed costs, such as database and container cluster efficiently.
- Cloud agnostic: AWS helped us enhance scalability, security, and availability with a thorough combination of open source and managed services. Amazon Aurora, Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon Managed Streaming for Apache Kafka (Amazon MSK), Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS), and others are based on open-source technologies and thus technically standardized.
- Technology standardization: We are focusing on technology standardization and use Java, Golang, Node, Kotlin, and Swift as development languages. For middleware, we utilize AWS services based on open source, using Amazon Aurora as the database, Amazon MSK as the message queue, and Amazon ElastiCache as the cache.
Today, our larger brands UNIQLO and GU fully leverage in-house platforms and now operate in many regions. As a result of refining our order management systems (OMS) based on microservices that integrate E-commerce and physical store inventory, we have also improved security, performance, flexibility, and expansion across channels, functions, and regions. This has been essential to fulfilling our promise to customers of “providing you what you want, when you want it.” For example, if a customer can’t find an item in a given store, then we can find it in one of our stores across regions, or on e-commerce and deliver it directly to their home.
As we work to develop our future direction, AWS has been a key strategic partner in helping us create a world where customers can choose the purchasing channel, inventory location, and delivery method according to their tastes and preferences.
If you are ready to transform your retail business, then AWS is here to help. Contact your account team today to get started. Read part 2 in this series focused on Building an In-House Engineering Organization.
Fast Retailing Group:
Shimpei Otani, Group Officer and CTO, Digital Business Transformation Services Dept., Fast Retailing Co., Ltd.
Yuichi Murata, General Leader – Core Engineering Team, Digital Business Transformation Services Dept., Fast Retailing Co., Ltd.
She Xiao, Core Engineering Team Leader, Digital Business Transformation Services Dept., Fast Retailing Co., Ltd.
Original blog writers from AWS Japan:
Yukako Kunita, Senior Industry SA, Retail
Takuya Kashimura, SA
Takechika Kunimasa, Senior SA