LINE dominates instant messaging in Japan. It is now beginning to exploit the value of its database, helping brands and retailers reach new audiences and finding ways to engage with consumers that, potentially at least, will entertain rather than annoy. The new LINE@ service makes it easier than ever to deliver promotions as well as conduct opinion polls and get real time feedback from fans and customers – and even broadcast live fashion shows from Burberry in London.
LINE launched a new app late February to help brands connect with fans and customers. Called LINE@, the service consists of a mobile app for both iOS and Android. Brands can use the app to send batch messages (including images) to followers on LINE as well as chat with them directly. They can also share posts on their timeline and home pages similar to Facebook. The app comes with stats on new friends, and responses to posts.
The same services can be accessed via a browser on a PC, where additional features are also available such as page creation, coupon offers and other promotions, opinion polling and related services.
LINE@ is offered as a freemium service; free for up to 1,000 messages, then paid plans of ¥5,400 per month for 50,000 messages (a 10% discount on the US price at present) and incremental costs of ¥1.08 per message thereafter. Brands can also buy a premium ID for a nominal fee.
As well as brands, LINE@ could clearly help service businesses. Hotels and restaurants can easily chat directly with a customer to make a booking, creating a more fluid way to handle non-standard queries and requests. Since LINE already has money transfer and payment services, these can also easily be linked to the marketing promotions LINE@ offers.
For brands the sheer size of LINE’s network of 55 million users in Japan, of which 35 million use the service every day, should provide significant opportunities to engage with existing and potential customers – worldwide LINE has 600 million users of which 180 million use the service actively. 30% of LINE users are in their 20s, 14% teens, 27% in their 30s, 17% 40s and 15% over 50.
Not surprisingly a host of brands and retailers, big and small, are using the LINE platform. For example, in February Burberry tied with LINE globally using its real-time communication functionality, LINE Live Cast. The livecast on February 23 offered LINE users access to a fashion show featuring the A/W 2015 collection of Burberry Prosum. To mark the venture, LINE produced a special in-app sticker featuring its characters Brown and Cony wandering around London dressed in Burberry trench coats and scarves.
Other fashion brands with large LINE user bases include Honeys, which has some 500,000 LINE friends, Anap with 170,000, and Cecil McBee with 120,000. Many stores now have QR codes by the till and at counters making it easy for shoppers to scan and instantly become a friend of the store on LINE. During the New Year holidays some stores even limited their traditional lucky dip bag promotions (fukubukuro) to LINE users. One chain claims that the message read rate was in excess of 60%.
Other stores which have used their own apps or web pages to post pictures of shop staff wearing new collections are now using LINE as well to send direct messages to show off new collections. With comments from users common, using LINE in this way also means instant feedback on new merchandise.
LINE planning listing on TSE sometime this year
LINE is planning to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange this year. With Japan Post also going public with half of its business in the Autumn, LINE’s IPO will only be the second largest in 2015, but it is still expected to well exceed ¥1 trillion in funding. LINE is also looking at a separate listing in the USA.
An initial plan for an IPO last Autumn was shelved after some wrangling with LINE’s parent company, Naver in South Korea.
LINE is reported to have seen sales increase 2.1 times in the past year alone, to ¥86.3 billion as of December 2014.
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