JapanConsuming Headlines: December 2009

Dec 03

Bonuses slump, gift giving declines, department stores wail
Department stores are in dire straights. This is hardly news after 20 months of ongoing decline and forecasts of the lowest annual sales total since 1985. Department store obituaries have been written numerous times already, not least in JC, but the death of their role in the key December holiday market marks the final nail in the coffin. December may mean Christmas for many, but in Japan it usually also means strawberry cakes, dating, bonuses and sucking up to your superiors with prestigious gifts from department stores. The problem is that bonuses are falling, and currying favour with superiors is no longer such a priority, especially with gifts from department stores.

Familymart to acquire am/pm
Familymart has agreed to acquire am/pm, creating the largest concentration of convenience stores in Tokyo and taking the number three chain slightly closer to Lawson in terms of national selling volume. Although the price Familymart is reported to have agreed is less than the one offered by Lawson for am/pm back in the Spring, a further fee has been paid to the US trademark owners to free up the brand for renaming. Familymart will move quickly to integrate systems and branding, meaning that the am/pm name is set to disappear.

Abercrombie & Fitch: will it work?
Abercrombie & Fitch is nothing if not controversial back home in the US, and its reputation precedes it. A 12 story tower housing a store will open December 15, which the company believes will be a launch pad for expansion in Asia.

Entertainment Toilets
There probably aren’t many countries in the world that have a Toilet Symposium, but if any country is likely to, it is Japan which has symposiums and associations for just about every conceivable human activity. And indeed it does, with Sendai hosting the 5th Toilet Liaison Conference under the sponsorship of the Japan Shopping Centre Association last month. It was a two day event so there was clearly a lot to discuss, and as well as the usual in depth discussions on hygiene, security and cleaning management, the hot topic was the new trend in retail toilet offerings: paid for powder rooms, the latest addition to Japanese retailing services.

Forever 21: 3 million customers in 6 months
Forever 21 is off to an impressive start in Japan, with 3 million visitors to its Harajuku store in just six months. From next Spring it will begin to expand with its second store taking up a space vacated by Gucci no less.
Box: J Front invites specialty sports chains to open stores

Shimamura: slow fashion
Shimamura is often compared to the flashier, splashier Uniqlo. But its utilitarian stores sell practical apparel at appealing prices and always has, recession or no and its sometimes dowdy image helps to underline its low price appeal. It outsells Uniqlo in 33 prefectures out of 47 and in the last year has even begun to attract young fashion devotees to its recently opened city centre stores.

Web market place for apparel industry launches in January
Two of the biggest names in apparel and web and social networks have joined forces to create a new trading platform for the apparel and accessories industry. Launching in January, the new service from World and DeNA could radically alter the trading relationships between suppliers and retailers, and certainly widen the choices of customer available to both. It could also benefit foreign brands wanting access to Japanese retailers and overseas retailers wanting to buy from Japan – although for now they will need help navigating in Japanese.

Department stores down record 10.5%
Department store sales continue to fall in double figures nationwide, with Tokyo stores performing worse than the national average. A concern for department stores will be the fact that traffic to department stores hasn’t fallen by much, but rather the problem is that customers visit but don’t buy. Many are calling on apparel firms to help by delivering lower prices.

Retail therapy: I shop therefore I smile
As with shoppers all over the world, Japanese consumers visit stores to relieve a bit of stress and provide some enjoyment to their lives. Nothing new in that except that a recent survey quantifies just how much it is true here. It also shows that shoppers even enjoy their trips to the supermarket.

L’Occitane: reaching customers
French cosmetics brand, L’Occitane, continues to grow rapidly 10 years after first entering Japan. For the past four years, it has employed a multi-channel marketing approach with its stores emphasising the brand, its history, and very traditional European design, while direct sales target specific customer types. The combination of branding, limited edition products, and clever direct marketing has led to considerable recent success.

Retail Stores: brand ranking
Eight overseas names appear in Nikkei’s latest survey of consumer evaluation of stores as brands. While local names, notably Uniqlo and Aoyama Flower Market, feature prominently, a number of foreign retailers are included. Some department stores did not fare so well.

Seibu Ikebukuro gets some long overdue improvements
Seibu Ikebukuro is one of the most prominent stores in the Seven & I Holdings owned Millennium Retailing group. Once Japan’s best selling retail store bar none, the huge store on the east side of Ikebukuro station is at last receiving the benefit of some intelligent rethinking of its tenants.

News in Brief
Zara: 50 stores in Japan
78,000 visit Daimaru Kita Kan on first day
Victoria’s Secret to open flagships in Japan
Move Corp wants to buy 100 fashion brands
Circle K Sunkus expands inner city merchandising
Parco bets on watches
Christian Louboutin sets up in Japan
Valor wholesales own brands to Korea
Golla brings Finnish design to Japan
ABC Mart introduces heat range to compete with Uniqlo
Toyota Tsusho to open 90 tenant mall in Kyushu
Japan to promote fashion overseas
QVC Japan launches 24 hour mobile shopping
A bra and a putting green all in one
York Mart, Tesco: bring your own shopping bag
Mitsubishi brings apparel OEM in house
Onward buys Island, licenses Tocca
A wall of advertising for Gap
Venus Fort: Tokyo’s first outlet mall
Kose signs Adidas license with Coty
Start Today nabs Onward too
Ageha fashions in Shibuya
Muji ties with Lego
Swarovski in Omotesando
Paris Miki buys Kimpodo
Mitsukoshi Christmas tree goes green
Tiffany prices fall
Orla Kiely signs Japanese accessories manufacturer
UNIQLO established executive training scheme

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