LINE is expanding its online retail operations through a new social shopping function, offering opportunities for overseas brands to target the Japanese market. The LINE messaging app will act as a social shopping platform, allowing users to digitally window shop for carefully selected brands not currently available at home.
Messaging app company LINE introduced a new online store in July. The new service, called LINE Trip Bazaar, offers fashion and bag brands not currently sold in Japan. Trip Bazaar aims to alleviate the need for Japanese customers to wade through overseas online stores in English, worry about customs, or pay too much above the original retail price, and it is all accessible through the main LINE app.
Most of the 15 brands on offer at launch are from the US, including Melie Bianco bags and Los Angeles based jewellery brand Marida. The company plans to expand to more than 100 brands by the end of the year, including sourcing from Europe and Asia. It also plans to introduce food items in addition to more fashion.
LINE says it wants to build a social shopping service, whereby friends can exchange information, reviews and ‘likes’ through the app, and window shop digitally before buying. LINE’s global user base and real time communication functions provide ample opportunity for comparisons and reviews, and for the service to be made available internationally in the short-term.
For Japanese shoppers, it is one of the first brand import services that specifically aims to cut out middleman margins, providing an interface directly between brands and customers. Others, like Buyma use Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) models to source overseas fashions, but LINE has based Trip Bazaar on a carefully thought out sales system. Laso has tried something similar, making direct deals with overseas retailers for example, but has nothing like LINE’s reach.
The Trip Bazaar system requires participating brands to keep a guaranteed stock of items on sale for short periods so as to ensure all orders can be met and to avoid customer disappointment. Brands will then rotate items on sale every two weeks, providing a stream of fresh content to pull in repeat visits and provide opportunities for marketing. Customers find products by sharing likes and comments, and have access to brands they might not otherwise find through the usual online search function.
Yamato Global Logistics Japan will fulfil orders, dealing directly with vendors and taking care of any customs issues. Using its new integrated system, Yamato says delivery from the US will take only six days, about half the average for products ordered directly as a personal import.
LINE says the only hard part has been convincing US brands to come onboard and getting them to understand the system. Access to the Japanese market for these smaller brands is, however, compelling for most. For LINE, the store is another potential source of income to show investors as it prepares for its IPO.
The unique idea is backed by LINE’s massive base of 200 million users and Yamato’s logistics – not to mention Yamato’s recently announced aim to grab a large share of the SME e-commerce business in Japan. While still in its infancy, in theory at least, Trip Bazaar could offer significant opportunities to overseas brands too small to deal directly with Japanese importers, or simply those looking to dip their toe in the market.
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