Chinese retailer Miniso is no longer calling itself a "Japanese-designed" brand

Aug 19 2022, 10:08 pm

Nearly a decade after Miniso was founded in China as a Japanese-designed lifestyle brand, it is now looking to do a bit of a rewind on its image.

In an open letter to Mainland Chinese consumers, published on Miniso’s official Weibo account on Thursday, the company issued an apology for marketing itself as a Japanese brand and has engaged itself in an official policy and process of “de-Japanizing” itself by the end of March 2023 through changes to its store design and marketing materials.

This early strategy was due in part to an earlier cultural perception that Japanese producers were of higher quality in terms of both design and the actual physical product, especially when compared to products made in the motherland. The Guangzhou-based discount retail chain also previously claimed its chief designer was Japanese.

But a rising sense of nationalism in recent years, expressed through social media platforms like Weibo, has increasingly caused Mainland Chinese consumers to quickly turn against foreign brands. This trend of consumer nationalism accelerated during the pandemic, rekindling an anti-Japanese sentiment that has existed since Japan’s invasion of China during the Second World War.

The company states it has replaced all Japanese-style shopping bags since 2020 and has already completed the renovation of 3,100 brick-and-mortar store locations in China. In October 2021, it also changed the Japanese characters on its logo to Chinese characters.

Efforts will also be made to revamp Miniso’s international operations and to hold company executives responsible for creating the Japanese brand approach.

Throughout its existence, Miniso has faced some criticism for imitating Japanese retailers such as Daiso, Uniqlo, and Muji.

“We used wrong brand positioning and marketing campaigns during the early days,” reads the letter translated from Chinese. “We feel regret and guilt.”

Some Chinese netizens criticized Miniso for its “too late” reversal, with comments to the letter stating that the company went as far as hanging Japanese flags at its public events, corporate ceremonies, and store openings.

“Now you say that you are a company rooted in China and developing globally? So, are you a Japanese brand or a Chinese brand at the beginning? Please clarify whether it is Chinese brand positioning or other positioning in the future? Your executives go overseas to sign contracts to fly the Japanese flag. How should you explain it?” read one comment translated from Chinese.

Miniso’s Canadian division opened its first store location in Canada in Vancouver in early 2017. At the time, the company indicated it had plans to open 500 stores in Canada within a few years.

That first store location at 1256 West Broadway has since permanently closed, amongst a sweeping number of store closures for the chain across the country following an initial over-expansion and the impacts of the pandemic.

In late 2018, Miniso Canada declared bankruptcy and faced claims that it was engaged in fraudulent business activities through its transfer and hiding of assets. The Canadian division reportedly had debts of over $20 million. Miniso’s current operations in Canada are made possible by the Chinese parent company’s takeover of Miniso Canada.

According to an October 2021 press release, Miniso is re-expanding within the North American market, doubling the number of its store locations. At the end of 2021, it positioned itself to have 55 stores in Canada and 53 stores in the United States. Currently, Miniso has over 4,500 stores in more than 90 countries.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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