Consumer loyalty in Japan: loyalty programmes add value

Nov 02

Epsilon’s latest study on brand loyalty in Japan reconfirms a high level of loyalty to certain brands in some sectors. Loyalty programmes are popular, with consumers more likely to be members of multiple schemes rather than none at all, but shoppers look for value in their loyalty points, with programmes such as T-Points or Ponta now more commonly used than those for individual brands. The results also suggest an opportunity for more loyalty marketing by luxury brands.

Recently published survey results from Epsilon ( reconfirm high levels of brand loyalty in Japan – but only for certain product categories and particular brands.

In face-to-face interviews with some 600 respondents carried out in May this year, the survey found that in seven out of 11 product categories, only 20% or so of respondents were strongly loyal to particular brands. Toyota was the only brand that stood out head and shoulders above all others, mentioned as one of the top three brands by 16% of the sample.

The second most ‘loyal’ brand was Rakuten, mentioned by 13% of the sample. This was followed by Sony and Panasonic, at 10%, Honda and Apple, with 7%, and Uniqlo and Amazon, both 6%.

Levels of loyalty are different across generations and consumer segments. Older consumers, 55-64, are particularly loyal to major brands of cars and electronics, while 35-54 year-olds are more loyal to cars and fashion. Younger consumers, aged 18-34, are most loyal first to fashion and then to technology brands. In each case, these are key discretionary purchases at that particular life stage.

Overall, it is actually three times more likely that a consumer carries 10 or more loyalty cards than none at all. On average, consumers carry 4.8 loyalty cards – increasing to 5.7 for women alone, and 6.1 for those who claimed loyalty to luxury brands. The results suggest that, although loyalty to luxury brands come through in the results, the relative rarity of loyalty programmes run by major brands represents a missed marketing opportunity.

On the other hand, loyalty point programmes that encourage shopping across brands, such as those offered by credit card companies and e-commerce sites, are unusually popular in Japan.

At the same time, mixed vendor or ‘coalition’ programmes such as T-Points, Rakuten Points, Ponta, Nanaco or those run by credit cards, are especially popular. On average Japanese consumers participate in 2.4 credit card rewards programmes, 2.8 e-commerce loyalty programmes, and 2.4 multi-merchant programmes – 77% of all respondents were members of the T-Points programme.

The top four loyalty motivators were perceived quality (20%), perceived value for money (19%), customer service (18%) and, significantly, Japanese origin (15%). This differs by category, however, with apparel shoppers, for example, looking for a combination of quality and value for money over origin or customer service.

The survey conclusions note that loyalty schemes are used as an indicator – or perhaps as a reinforcement – of ‘value for money’. While price competition is still limited to particular formats and categories, consumers perceive significant value for money through the loyalty schemes they participate in. meaning they actively seek out loyalty rewards. Equally, loyalty schemes offer an opportunity for customer interaction and engagement and the report points out that many brands are still not taking full advantage of such opportunities.