44% of consumers shopping online

Jul 15

The government’s Consumer Bureau recently completed a survey of consumer mindsets and problems. Many of the problems identified will be of little surprise, but the results confirm once again a continued shift towards online shopping – including purchases overseas – and how much that will effect the market as a whole.

The Consumer Bureau surveyed 10,000 consumers in January and February this year in a nationwide door-to-door questionnaire from which it got more than 6,500 responses. Consumers didn’t fully trust retailers’ product displays and explanations, with 73.7% saying stores needed to provide better information to help them make good purchase decisions. This response was partly due to better information being available online rather than in-stores, but also reflects concerns when online shopping doesn’t always live up to expectations either. Other major issues raised were security of personal information and concern for the environment.

When asked what were their main purchase motivations, 93% said price, while 90.9% said product function and 82.3% product safety. Only a third of respondents added things like advertising or loyalty point promotions. The level of interest in price has increased in the past 12 months, but consumer concern with price has always been higher than it would appear from market conditions. The growth of price competition in areas like apparel and food has simply enhanced these expectations over the past 10 years.

Another key result was the high usage of online shopping. From the sample, 43.9% said they had made at least one purchase online in the past 12 months. In comparison 37.3% said they had bought from catalogues, and 12.7% from TV shopping channels – this last result is encouraging for TV shopping companies given the low profile of the channel. Less than 5% of the sample had bought from either door-to-door sales or from telephone sales.

Asked why online shopping was so popular, 66.9% said it was more convenient, open 24-7 and available anywhere, but almost 60% also pointed out the large range of items available online, with many products not available elsewhere. More than 50% also pointed to lower prices online, the ease of product comparisons, and plentiful information on products. A further 48% noted that shopping at stores bore a cost of travel and carrying the product home, a factor that is expected to grow in consumer minds in the future.

Only 8% of respondents said they’d experienced a problem with a purchase over the past 12 months, with the majority of these referring to lower than expected quality and misleading advertising claims. This was particularly the case for higher priced items, with the average cost of problem purchases recorded at ¥149,298. However, the highest number of problems occurred in lower priced items between ¥1,000 and ¥4,999.

Separately last month, the Consumer Bureau also issued data showing a steep rise in complaints from customers buying from websites outside Japan. Although not a good sign, many of these complaints were again related to misunderstandings and excessive expectations when buying overseas, including the problem of cancellations and returns. It also points to the fact that more and more Japanese are shopping offshore, again because many items are simply unavailable or too expensive at home.