JapanConsuming Headlines: December 2011

Dec 05

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Focus: Ever dynamic: Japan’s apparel market
Apparel consumption by value has halved in Japan since 1991. This massive fall is partially just because people are no longer as frenziedly over consuming as in the 1980s and because more competition and low cost sources have greatly reduced average unit prices – unit consumption of apparel has actually doubled in the same period. What is remarkable though is firstly how many of the old guard of apparel companies survived thanks to some stolid propping up by banks but also how fertile the market is, with new businesses emerging that promise to match the growth rates of the last decade’s winners like Point and Cross Company.

Department stores diversify
Department stores have been experimenting over the past few years. Up to now the focus has been on survival but the latest plans are about something more tantalising: exploiting their brand value in new types of formats ranging from cosmetics specialty chains to hybrid station buildings. All of which indicates the best chains are now stable enough not just to survive but to actually move to expansion mode. Box: Isetan Mitsukoshi to spend ¥90 billion on upgrades

Fast Retailing: pressure to rethink
Fast Retailing has come under unprecedented pressure over the past month, with both sales and share price falling. Despite all the criticism, it remains Japan’s best hope to become a global retail power. The question is whether it can think as globally as it wants to act.

Ito-Yokado: the GMS emperor’s new clothes plan
Ito-Yokado is well into implementing what it is calling its second big merchandising revolution for apparel. This may well be the second largest, but there’s been numerous other major plans in between and, so far, little to show in terms of success. The GMS giant now thinks it can get it right.

Rakuten acquires Kobo
Rakuten has taken a huge leap into the e-book market by acquiring Kobo, a Canadian manufacturer of e-readers and an e-book seller. Rakuten plans to continue expansion of the Kobo reader distribution internationally, and introduce the reader in Japan in 2012. The acquisition will also allow further options to expand the Raboo e-book sales site that Rakuten launched in August.

Dr Ci Labo using in-house SNS to involve customers
One of the leading cosmetics brands is increasing its use of social networking services to better involve customers and enhance loyalty. By having its own question and answer forum, and rewarding customers who give popular answers, it has identified key opinion leaders among its customer base.

New store development regulations not working
About five years ago, the government called a halt to a period of relatively free development of large scale retail facilities, returning to its historical stance of protecting small retailers and adding incentives to redevelop ailing town centres. It hasn’t worked.

Non-store food retailing
Online food retailing is still in its infancy, but the potential is undeniable and almost every supermarket chain has jumped on the bandwagon. There are also new niche markets too, and a series of recent acquisitions and business tie-ups show that high end organic produce is also likely to become a very strong market.

United Arrows sales surge again
It is the great come back story. Slumping sales in 2007-8 followed a questionable brand split just as consumers were taking their business to fast fashion stores, suggested that United Arrows was out of touch and losing its appeal. But UA is back. It continued to expand, same store sales have risen for nearly 24 months, and it looks set to have almost doubled sales in the last six years. UA is expecting strong growth ahead thanks to e-commerce, new formats and some unusual new location strategies, including opening stores in highway service stations.

Start Today invests in used clothing
Buying used clothing has become more acceptable in Japan and more effort has been made to recycle but the country remains way behind other markets like the US and South Korea. Start Today could change all this by making used clothing a key component of its Zozotown portal. If it succeeds, it will have convinced much of Japan’s fashion forward consumers that used clothing is cool.

Will you still feed me when I’m 64? What about 70?
The speed with which Japan’s population is ageing is an increasingly pressing problem for the country. Japan is about to increase the retirement age in stages from 60 to 65, and most salarymen seem happy about it.

Home centres getting into drugs
Over the counter drugs can now be sold by any retailer with the requisite number of qualified sales staff. Home centres, which pride themselves on selling almost everything except food, are keen to expand their share of the market too.

Cross Company launches first menswear brand
Cross Company has built a ¥50 billion business but it is almost entirely dependent on the 20s womenswear market. Next year it will launch its first menswear brand, with an aggressive roll out of 100 stores in the first year.

News in Brief
An At Home Christmas
QVC sells¥10 and ¥15 million rings
Costco to open two new stores
JR Kyushu to open new station SC in 2015
Fashion and station buildings strengthen direct marketing
New Aeon SC for Tokyo in 2014
Scroll invests in TV Shopping
Marui Curren to close
Desigual expanding fast
Megane Top powers ahead, up 21.4%
Cosmetics market to shrink 4.4%
Direct marketing sales up 1%
April opening for Tokyu Plaza Omotesando
Itochu invests in Satisfaction Guaranteed
Lumine and Atre sales up
J Front to open SC on old Matsuzakaya Yokohama store
Sumitomo plans more across Japan and Asia
Tourist sales down 5.4%
Land’s End Japan renews webstore
Familymart opens new concept store in Daikanyama
Mr Max to open in Ibaragi
Seicomart accepts Sapica e-wallets
More brands flock to Ginza
Heiwado announces supermarket acquisition plans
Aoyama acquires Fukuryo
Edia predicts traffic jams a month in advance

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