Japan is the world’s third-largest ecommerce market following China and the United States. However, it is often overlooked by foreign online merchants because of an unusually low cross-border purchase rate and a somewhat insular approach to online shopping.
Only 10 percent of Japanese consumers buy goods on foreign websites. Nevertheless, with a population of 126.5 million, a 93-percent internet penetration rate, and 75 percent of those making purchases online, Japan is an enticing market for cross-border online sellers.
Research firm Statista anticipates that Japanese ecommerce sales in 2020 will amount to approximately $100 billion, a diminished estimate due to global economic changes. An unpopular sales tax increase in 2019 is also dampening consumer spending.
After a contraction in the last quarter of 2019, the Japanese economy continued to shrink in the first quarter of 2020. Japanese consumers, once considered extremely brand-loyal, are now more cost-conscious and showing an increasing willingness to try new brands in their quest for bargains.
Japanese Online Consumers
- Most Japanese do not read English or other foreign languages and buy only from Japanese language sites.
- Japanese consumers prefer detailed information about the product they are considering.
- Forty-four percent use price comparison sites.
- Japanese consumers are avid mobile users. More than half of online purchases are on a mobile device.
- While credit cards are the payment method for most online sales, the Konbini cash convenience-store-payment system is also popular, with 50,000 locations across the country. Locally-issued credit cards are much more popular than Western-brand cards.
Japan is home to a rapidly aging population, but seniors use the internet at a level similar to younger persons. Japan is losing people because of a low fertility rate, so targeting the older population — which comprises 28 percent of the total population — makes sense.
Revenue opportunities exist for those merchants who can address the needs of older consumers. For instance, prepared meals are a $20 million and rapidly growing market with growth attributable mostly to seniors, according to Statista. The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to a spurt in online sales by this vulnerable segment.
Three marketplace platforms — Rakuten, Amazon, and Yahoo Shopping — account for over one-third of online transactions in Japan. Rakuten and Yahoo Shopping require non-American foreign companies that wish to create accounts to start a local company or work with a local intermediary on their behalf.
Rakuten. Japan’s largest marketplace in revenue has more than 100 million members and is strongest in fashion and food. American brands that sell on Rakuten’s platform have their own storefront and product listings. They can also advertise via sponsored product listings and leverage other advertising features on Rakuten, such as coupons, newsletter ads, and banner ads. Rakuten has its own fulfillment service called Rakuten Super Logistics.
Amazon Japan ranks first in site visits and sales. It provides a relatively easy way for foreign merchants with an Amazon seller’s account to market products directly to Japanese consumers. Amazon requires that all sellers provide customer support in Japanese. Amazon handles fulfillment from Japan, but companies must have a Japanese company as an importer of record to deal with customs.
Yahoo Japan Shopping is the ecommerce arm of the diversified web portal of Yahoo Japan, which is owned by Softbank and Alibaba and is separate from its American parent. Yahoo Japan Shopping provides a wide range of products, including cosmetics, electronics, apparel and footwear, home equipment, and furniture.
Zozotown is an offshoot of a mail-order company, Start Today. It is the largest specialized fashion and footwear ecommerce platform and offers products from many local and international brands. Yahoo Japan acquired a majority stake in Zozotown in 2019.
Qoo10. This online marketplace has a broad portfolio of products in fashion, beauty, sports, digital, mobile, home living, life, food, baby, entertainment, and books, Operated as a joint venture with eBay, Qoo10 also sells in other Asian markets and is especially strong in Korea and Singapore.
Wowma was founded by KDDI, one of Japan’s largest mobile phone providers. The site offers more than 20 million products, including cosmetics, decorations, clothing, electronics, and personal care services.
C2C marketplaces. Japan has a thriving consumer-to-consumer market that has significantly expanded in the last few years. It consists of second-hand marketplaces and online auction sites. The two major players are Mercari, which operates via a downloadable application, and Yahoo Auctions. Rakuma is a C2C flea market application owned by Rakuten.