Isetan-Mitsukoshi to relaunch in Europe, open more stores in Japan

Jun 14

The amount of copy devoted to Isetan-Mitsukoshi in recent months is the result of the pace of change and innovation at the formerly dowdy department store group. As well as small stores and services like travel and health clinics, the group’s latest ideas emphasise its determination to reach out to customers wherever they are. This includes crowdfunding new projects, new stores in Europe, more stores at home and more online marketing.

Just a month after opening the first in a chain of 10 Isetan Salone stores and launching test stores in Osaka for mid-market accessories and fashion chains, Isetan-Mitsukoshi has now confirmed plans to target foreign customers, both at home and overseas.

Although Mitsukoshi once operated stores in London serving flocks of Japanese tourists, Isetan-Mitsukoshi will now launch proper retailing in Europe for the first time. The first store will be an 87 sqm select shop in the Japanese Cultural Centre in Paris that will open this Autumn as part of the wider campaign to promote Cool Japan. It will focus largely on Japanese brands and design; Isetan already promotes Japanese design in the domestic market through its project ‘This is Japan’. Once the store has been tested, Isetan-Mitsukoshi plans to open similar small format stores across Europe in key cities, a major step in promoting the Isetan brand overseas.

Isetan-Mitsukoshi trialled an overseas boutique in 2013, using a pop up store in New York called “Nipponista” with the tag line, ‘Fashion, Art, Design’. This winter Isetan will also remodel and rebrand its Malaysian store, offering a broad range of Japanese fashion, interior design and other craft brands.

At the same time as expanding overseas, Isetan-Mitsukoshi is working hard to pull in tourists at home. Key to this will be its new 3,300 sqm duty free store in Mitsukoshi Ginza due to open this Autumn. The eight floor store will focus on luxury fashion and cosmetics brands, with tourist customers able to pick up their purchases at the airport. The group expects the dedicated space to help Mitsukoshi Ginza increase sales from ¥74 billion last year to ¥100 billion.

At the same time, Isetan-Mitsukoshi’s small format store division continues to look at a variety of formats to see what works where within the domestic market. The aim is to design stores suited to particular customer targets, rather than fix on specific formats and look for locations to suit.

The latest result of this process is a plan to launch a men’s only select shop chain, with the first due to open in Marunouchi in December. Located on the street level of Shin Tokyo Building and targeting the large number of prosperous businessmen in the area, the 900 sqm store will be a men’s version of Isetan Salone and similar to the men’s store at Haneda Airport.

The store makes a lot of sense, expanding on the success of Isetan Shinjuku’s men’s annex; in other words it is yet another way to extend and exploit the considerable latent potential of the Isetan brand across multiple formats, taking the stores to customers rather than hoping they will make the trek to the Shinjuku flagship.

Isetan Salone, the men’s store and the upcoming 3,000 sqm store in Nagoya, are just the start of a programme that will see at least 10 select shops opened through 2018 with sales projected at around ¥10 billion. In addition, Isetan-Mitsukoshi expects to have six airport stores by then.

Isetan-Mitsukoshi’s other small format chains are also growing solidly. Since launching in 2012, the cosmetics store Isetan Mirror has grown to 10 stores and will double through 2018, with the next store opening in Tokyu Plaza Omotesando in November. MI Plaza, for senior consumers, now has 70 stores and will also double to 140 through 2018, meaning that the total ‘satellite store’ business will increase from 92 stores now to 180 through 2018 with sales of ¥60 billion.

Isetan-Mitsukoshi is not just reaching out through stores. It is also tying up with major online partners to attract new customers, particularly to its Isetan brand. Last month it agreed to promote its recently updated Isetan online store through Yahoo! Search, meaning its products now display within Yahoo popularity rankings.

It is even collaborating with convenience stores, agreeing with JR East’s NewDays conbini division to host Isetan-Mitsukoshi gift selections in its catalogue. Isetan and Mitsukoshi remain two of the most popular brands for o-chugen and o-seibo gifts, but ordering at stores is inconvenient. By making ordering available at all of JR East’s stations it is again taking its brands to customers.

The group has also widened its ties with Cyber Agent. As previously reported, this Spring Isetan began promoting its online store through popular bloggers on Cyber Agent’s Ameba in a bid to reach a younger demographic. It will now get into crowdfunding. It has agreed a deal with Cyber Agent’s Makuake crowdfunding platform to promote Makuake projects in fashion, design and related services. To do this it will use its event space in Isetan Shinjuku to promote the crowdfunding project, and enlist shoppers to invest.

Isetan says that this will really help bring such crowdfunded projects to life because many potential supporters are sceptical of merchandise-related projects if they can’t see and touch the product. Shoppers will be able to see items on display in store, view videos and other promotional material, as well as talk to the founders during special events. Given the store’s 25 million visitors a year, being taken on by Isetan should prove a major fillip to many aspiring fashion entrepreneurs.