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How can UK businesses sell online to Japan?

With a population of 127 million, Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. A leader in technology and innovation, e-commerce has been thriving in Japan for the past decade; online sales hit the £78 billion mark in 2016, and are expected to exceed £105 billion by 2021.  To give those figures some perspective, over 70% of Japanese citizens shopped online in 2016.  By 2018, eMarketer predicts that this figure will rise to 72%.

We know that the internet is used extensively for shopping in Japan, but how?  In a  2015 survey, Google asked 2,645 respondents over the age of 18 how they made their most recent online purchase. Only 7% of respondents used a smartphone or tablet, with 92% reporting that the last purchase they made was with a desktop PC or laptop.  

The rate of product returns are extremely low in Japan. In fact, some retail sites don’t even have a returns policy (not something we advise). What this shows is a highly developed trust between marketers and consumers.  Promotions and loyalty reward schemes are also extremely popular in Japan, with almost every online retailer offering special promotions for their best customers.

Line beats Twitter and Facebook in Japan

Line, owned by South Korean company Naver, is the most popular social media platform in Japan. Similar to Facebook or WeChat in China, it’s an instant messenger app that’s rich with features. As of 2016, Line has 218 million monthly active users across Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. Supersize emoji or ‘stickers’  are a key feature with the app which sees billions exchanged daily. It’s even possible to order goods and services by sending a sticker to a business. Pepsi is one non-Japanese brand which has used  LINE’s own popular characters Brown and Cony to create a range of branded stickers for users to share and interact with.

Third party online marketplaces are extremely popular

In order of market share, the 3 biggest online retailers in Japan in 2016 are Rakuten, Amazon Japan and Yahoo Japan Shopping (established by Softbank which purchased use of the Yahoo name in Japan from US based Yahoo).  These 3 websites online account for nearly 50% of total Japanese online sales.  It’s relatively easy for a vendor to list their products on these sites and create a ‘e-store’, and could prove to be the fastest route to market for many.  Each of the online marketplaces have dedicated support staff to help vendors and educate them on the best ways to list their products.

Even if you’re planning on selling directly from your website and competing online in Japan, getting your products listed on these third party marketplaces will net you valuable exposure and be a quick route to market.

Credit cards lead, but cash on delivery is a popular method of payment

Over 44% of all online shoppers use a credit card to pay online, with 15% using direct bank transfers. What’s more surprising however, is that 16% of online shoppers pay for items in cash   upon delivery.  Unless you’re ordering a takeaway, ‘cash on delivery’ is not an option you  expect to see on e-commerce websites in the UK, so this is something that UK brands will need to adapt to – particularly if they want to tap into the teenage market (who may not have easy access to credit cards).

Geographically, Japan is a small country.  As such, product deliveries are incredibly fast, with most packages arriving the very same day.  Typically, if an order takes more than 2 days to arrive a Japanese shopper will start to enquire and seek an explanation from the vendor.

“Big delivery companies like Yamato and Sagawa allow you to pick date and time of delivery during day, but Japanese people work hard and get home late, so they don’t know when they can be at home. Even in small towns, there are usually more than 2 convenience stores in 1km radius, and one at train station. It’s easy to pick up at convenience store.” – Masaharu, Oban local in-market expert, Japan

Rugby World Cup and Olympics provide opportunity for non-native brands

The 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics are both set to take place in Japan, providing an excellent opportunity for UK brands to enter the marketplace. Japan is often seen as a place of tradition and heritage, hailed by many as the ‘gateway’ to eastern culture.  That focus on heritage spills over into the perception of the UK, with some shoppers even willing to spend 7% more for a coveted ‘Made in Britain’ tag.  

  • Made in Britain – British made products are sought after and highly revered in Japan
  • Get active on Line – Japan’s largest social media and messaging platform.
  • Cash on delivery – This is a popular option in Japan, as well as convenience store pickups


Contact us today to see how we can help your business explore new markets like Japan.

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