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Shopping with Ecommerce in Japan

Guide to Ecommerce in Japan

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is experiencing a surge in ecommerce. This digital revolution, fuelled by technological advancements and changing consumer behaviour, is reshaping the country’s retail landscape. The importance of ecommerce in Japan cannot be overstated. It not only offers consumers the convenience of shopping from anywhere at any time but also opens up new opportunities for businesses, both domestic and international, to reach a wider customer base.

The Japanese ecommerce market is unique due to its blend of traditional and modern shopping cultures, and its diverse market segments such as B2C, B2B, and C2C. This uniqueness offers a wide range of opportunities for businesses to thrive. Furthermore, the top ecommerce platforms like Rakuten, Amazon Japan, and Yahoo Shopping are not only popular but also highly competitive, each offering distinct features and catering to specific consumer demographics.

Japan’s ecommerce landscape is continually evolving, shaped by trends such as advances in technology, changing consumer behavior, and regulatory shifts. The future of ecommerce in Japan is expected to be characterized by the rise of AI, VR, social commerce, and other innovative technologies. This evolution presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses seeking to succeed in this vibrant market. 

In the following sections, we explore deeper into the intricacies of the Japanese ecommerce market. From understanding consumer behaviour and the digital payment landscape to navigating regulatory requirements and strategies for success, this article offers a comprehensive guide for businesses looking to tap into Japan’s thriving ecommerce sector. Join us as we explore the future of ecommerce in Japan and why it might be the next big opportunity for your business.

What is so special about Ecommerce in Japan?

The country’s journey into ecommerce began as early as the late 90s, with the inception of Rakuten, an online marketplace that would become a frontrunner in the industry. Japan’s ecommerce market has always been at the forefront of technological adoption. From the early days of desktop ecommerce to the current era of mobile commerce (m-commerce), Japan’s digital landscape has constantly evolved to embrace new technologies.

A crucial turning point was the widespread adoption of mobile internet around the mid-2000s, which brought about a significant shift in consumer shopping behavior and cemented ecommerce’s place in Japan’s retail sector. The subsequent entry of global players like Amazon in the early 2000s further propelled the growth of ecommerce and m-commerce. This has been driven in part by the country’s high rate of smartphone penetration and robust digital infrastructure. Today, m-commerce is not just a trend but a significant force in Japan’s ecommerce sector, with a majority of online purchases happening via mobile devices.

The Japanese ecommerce market stands out due to its unique blend of modernity and tradition. An embodiment of the country’s high digital literacy and commitment to service excellence, the Japanese online retail space thrives on a culture of precision, efficiency, and a customer-first approach. It’s a market where cutting-edge technology meets traditional shopping values, resulting in an ecommerce environment that is as unique as it is dynamic. For more insights on eCommerce in Japan, check out our podcast with an experienced consultant Arisa Ueno on e-commerce in Japan.

The B2C Segment within Ecommerce in Japan

The Business-to-Consumer (B2C) sector is a major component of Japan’s ecommerce market. Companies like Rakuten and Amazon Japan dominate this segment, offering everything from electronics and fashion to groceries and daily necessities. The Japanese consumer’s inclination towards quality, variety, and convenience drives the success of the B2C sector. For example, the demand for high-quality, authentic, and diverse food products propels the growth of online grocery shopping.

The B2B Segment Adopting Ecommerce in Japan

Business-to-Business (B2B) ecommerce is another vital segment in Japan. Here, businesses sell products and services to other businesses through digital platforms. Companies like Alibaba Japan and Rakuten B2B have found success in this space. The growth of this segment can be attributed to the need for efficiency, cost savings, and the ability to reach a wider market. For instance, a small business in rural Japan can source materials, products, or services from larger suppliers in urban areas, saving time and reducing costs.

The C2C Segment Expanding Ecommerce in Japan

In Japan’s Customer-to-Customer (C2C) sector, platforms like Mercari and Yahoo! Auctions allow individuals to sell used or handmade goods to others. This segment thrives due to the Japanese ethos of ‘Mottainai’, a term expressing regret over waste. This cultural value encourages the resale and recycling of goods, thus boosting the C2C ecommerce segment. For instance, the Japanese are more inclined to sell used fashion items or electronics rather than discard them. The Japanese people’s propensity for online shopping is also fueled by their high digital literacy, extensive smartphone usage, and the convenience of secure digital payment methods.

Furthermore, the continuous advancements in technology and logistics make online shopping an increasingly attractive option, contributing to the expansion of these ecommerce segments. In conclusion, the Japanese ecommerce ecosystem’s diversity and segmentation, rooted in the country’s cultural ethos and consumer habits, contribute to its unique character. The growth of the B2C, B2B, and C2C segments is a testament to the adaptability of the Japanese market and the opportunities it presents for businesses.

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Top 10 most popular Ecommerce Platforms in Japan

1. Rakuten: Japan’s largest ecommerce platform, offering a wide range of products and services with a unique customer loyalty program. 

2. Amazon Japan: The Japanese arm of the global giant, known for its vast product selection and reliable delivery services. 

3. Yahoo Shopping: A popular platform with an auction feature for second-hand items, reflecting Japan’s ethos of waste minimization. 

4. Zozotown: The country’s largest online fashion retailer, catering to the fashion-forward demographic with trendy and high-quality apparel. 

5. Mercari: A mobile-focused C2C marketplace, popular for its user-friendly interface and robust system for selling second-hand items. 

6. Uniqlo Online: The ecommerce arm of the popular clothing brand Uniqlo, offering comfortable, innovative, and affordable clothing. 

7. DMM.com: A diverse online service platform offering everything from online games and ebooks to solar panels and robots. 

8. PayPay Mall: An online mall offering a wide variety of products, operated by PayPay, a popular mobile payment app in Japan. 

9. Qoo10: A Singapore-based ecommerce platform popular in Japan, known for its competitive prices and a vast array of products from international sellers. 

10. LINE Shopping: Operated by LINE, Japan’s most popular messaging app, this platform offers a seamless shopping experience within the app, using LINE Pay for transactions. 

Each of these platforms has carved a niche for themselves in Japan’s robust ecommerce market, offering distinct features and services that cater to the diverse needs of Japanese consumers.

Giants of Ecommerce in Japan

Giants of Ecommerce in Japan

The country’s journey into ecommerce began as early as the late 90s, with the inception of Rakuten, an online marketplace that would become a frontrunner in the industry. The subsequent entry of global players like Amazon in the early 2000s further propelled the growth of ecommerce. A crucial turning point was the widespread adoption of mobile internet around the mid-2000s, which brought about a significant shift in consumer shopping behavior and cemented ecommerce‘s place in Japan’s retail sector.

Rakuten

Rakuten, established in 1997, is often referred to as “the Amazon of Japan”. It’s the largest ecommerce platform in Japan and has diversified into numerous other industries. While actual market shares fluctuate, as of my knowledge cutoff in 2021, Rakuten held a significant portion of the ecommerce market in Japan. Rakuten’s user base is diverse, appealing to a broad age range. However, it’s particularly popular among the younger to middle-aged demographic who are comfortable with online shopping and attracted by the loyalty program. The Rakuten Super Points loyalty program is a unique feature that distinguishes it from competitors. The program rewards users with points for every purchase, which can be used for future transactions.

Amazon Japan

Amazon Japan is the local branch of the global ecommerce behemoth. It has seen steady growth in Japan and is one of the top competitors of Rakuten. Amazon Japan has a wide user demographic. However, it’s often favored by users who value fast and reliable delivery, a vast product range, and the convenience of the Prime service. Amazon Japan offers a vast product selection, reliable delivery, and services like Amazon Prime, which includes Prime Video and Prime delivery. The ability to read reviews and compare products is another feature users appreciate.

Yahoo Shopping

Yahoo Shopping is one of the significant players in Japan’s ecommerce market. They have been able to stay competitive by offering a unique blend of products and services. Yahoo Shopping distinguishes itself with its auction feature, which facilitates the purchase and sale of second-hand items. It’s also integrated with Yahoo’s other services like Yahoo News and Yahoo Mail. Yahoo Shopping’s demographic is diverse, but the auction feature is particularly popular among users who are interested in second-hand items, reflecting Japan’s ethos of waste minimization.

In conclusion, while Rakuten, Amazon Japan, and Yahoo Shopping are all major players in Japan’s ecommerce market, each platform has carved its niche and appeals to its unique demographic through a mix of services, product offerings, and unique features. These differences in strategy reflect the diversity and competitiveness of Japan’s ecommerce landscape.

Consumer Behaviour with Ecommerce in Japan

Sucess with consumer purchasing and shopping

Japanese consumer behavior in ecommerce is characterized by discernment and digital sophistication. Shoppers in Japan often have a high standard for product quality, customer service, and overall shopping experience. Popular product categories in ecommerce include fashion, electronics, and household goods. There’s also a significant market for online grocery shopping, driven by a demand for high-quality, diverse food products. Moreover, the second-hand goods market thrives in Japan, particularly in the fashion and electronics segments, reflecting the cultural ethos of waste minimization. 

Japanese consumers are known for their high expectations from ecommerce platforms regarding product quality, customer service, and overall shopping experience. They are meticulous shoppers who often read reviews and compare prices before making a purchase. When they find a platform that meets their high standards, they tend to show high levels of brand loyalty. This behavior underscores the importance for ecommerce platforms to continually strive for exceptional service quality and user experience.

Trust and security play significant roles in defining consumer behavior in Japan’s ecommerce landscape. Japanese consumers tend to prefer shopping from platforms that have established a strong reputation for secure transactions and respect for customer privacy. Ecommerce platforms that can successfully demonstrate these qualities are more likely to attract and retain customers. Therefore, ensuring transaction security and protecting customer data are key strategies for ecommerce businesses in Japan.

Cultural values also shape consumer behavior in Japan’s ecommerce sector. The culture of ‘Mottainai’, or the sense of regret over waste, drives Japanese consumers towards second-hand and recycled goods, particularly in the fashion and electronics sectors. This cultural trait has led to the success of C2C platforms like Mercari and Yahoo Auctions, which facilitate the sale of used goods. Another cultural value, ‘Omotenashi’, or the spirit of selfless hospitality, influences the high service standards expected by Japanese consumers. Ecommerce businesses that can embody this spirit in their customer service are more likely to succeed in the Japanese market.

The Rise and Influence of Mobile Commerce

Rise of Mobile Shopping

In recent years, mobile commerce (m-commerce) has become a significant force in Japan’s ecommerce sector. This trend is propelled by the country’s high smartphone penetration rate and robust digital infrastructure. A majority of online purchases are now made via mobile devices, and ecommerce platforms have adapted to this shift by optimizing their mobile interfaces, enhancing security, and simplifying the transaction process. Japan’s m-commerce growth can also be attributed to the convenience it offers – allowing consumers to shop anytime, anywhere.

Moreover, the integration of various mobile payment solutions, such as Rakuten Pay, LINE Pay, and PayPay, has streamlined the mobile shopping experience further. As a result, m-commerce is not just a trend, but an integral part of the ecommerce landscape in Japan. This increased reliance on mobile devices for online shopping is expected to continue driving the growth of Japan’s ecommerce market in the foreseeable future.

Digital Payment Landscape around Ecommerce in Japan

The digital payment landscape in Japan has been rapidly evolving in recent years. While Japan has traditionally been a cash-based society, the rise of ecommerce and mobile commerce has led to an increase in the adoption of digital payment methods. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, popular digital payment methods in Japan include credit and debit cards, bank transfers, and an array of e-wallets and mobile payment apps.

E-wallets and mobile payment apps have gained significant popularity in Japan due to their convenience and security. These payment methods offer seamless transactions, often with a single tap or scan of a QR code. Popular mobile payment apps include Rakuten Pay, LINE Pay, and PayPay. These platforms not only allow users to pay for their online purchases but also for in-store purchases, utility bills, and even public transportation in some cases.

The Japanese government has been actively promoting cashless transactions, with the aim of increasing the cashless payment ratio. Initiatives such as offering tax breaks and subsidies for businesses that adopt cashless payment systems have played a role in the increased adoption of digital payments. The COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to this trend, as consumers have shifted towards contactless payments for safety reasons.

The rise of cashless transactions has had a profound impact on ecommerce in Japan. It has made online shopping more convenient and accessible, leading to an increase in online sales. Ecommerce platforms that offer multiple payment options, particularly mobile payment solutions, are likely to attract more customers. Furthermore, the integration of loyalty programs with digital payment methods, as seen with Rakuten Super Points or PayPay Bonus, has also enhanced customer engagement, encouraging repeat purchases. The digital payment trend in Japan is expected to continue, further propelling the growth of the ecommerce sector.

Navigating Regulatory Requirements with Ecommerce in Japan

Navigating regulatory requirements is crucial for operating a successful ecommerce business in Japan. The country has established a comprehensive regulatory framework to ensure a fair and secure ecommerce environment. The Act on Specified Commercial Transactions is the primary legislation governing ecommerce in Japan. It mandates businesses to provide accurate information about the product, price, payment method, delivery time, and the return policy. Any changes in these parameters need to be communicated promptly to the customers.

Data protection is a critical aspect of ecommerce regulations in Japan. The Act on the Protection of Personal Information (APPI) is the central legislation governing data protection. It requires businesses to obtain user consent before collecting personal data and to ensure the data is securely stored and appropriately used. Breaches of data protection can result in significant penalties, including fines and imprisonment.

Consumer rights are heavily protected in Japan’s ecommerce sector. The Consumer Contract Act allows customers to cancel a contract if the business has used deceptive methods to sell the product or service. Furthermore, the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions requires businesses to provide a cooling-off period, during which the customer can cancel the purchase without any charges.

In the competitive ecommerce market of Japan, delivery speed plays a significant role in consumer satisfaction. Japanese consumers hold high expectations for quick and reliable delivery. Some ecommerce platforms like Amazon Japan have set a high bar with their same-day or next-day delivery services. To meet these expectations, businesses need to comply with the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions, which mandates them to deliver the product within the delivery time specified at the time of purchase.

Understanding and adhering to these regulations is essential for ecommerce businesses operating in Japan. It not only ensures smooth operations but also builds trust with consumers. However, compliance can also pose challenges, particularly for foreign businesses unfamiliar with the Japanese regulatory environment. Therefore, businesses are advised to seek local legal expertise to ensure they navigate Japan’s regulatory landscape effectively while maintaining high levels of consumer satisfaction.

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Strategies for Success in Ecommerce in Japan Market

Businesses looking to enter the ecommerce market in Japan need to consider several factors for success. Understanding the local consumer behavior is the first step. Japanese consumers are known for their high expectations regarding product quality, customer service, and delivery speed. Therefore, businesses need to ensure they can meet these standards. Localization is another critical factor. This includes not just translating the website into Japanese, but also adapting the product offerings, marketing strategies, and customer service to suit local tastes and preferences. Additionally, businesses need to navigate the regulatory landscape effectively, ensuring compliance with laws related to data protection, consumer rights, and delivery.

Case Study: Mercari

Mercari, launched in 2013, is a mobile-focused C2C marketplace that has achieved great success in Japan. By 2021, it had become Japan’s largest C2C platform, with millions of monthly active users. Mercari’s success can be attributed to its user-friendly interface, strong focus on mobile commerce, and robust security measures. It has met the demands of Japanese consumers for an easy and secure platform to buy and sell used goods, aligning with the country’s cultural ethos of waste minimization.

Case Study: Zozotown

Zozotown is a leading online fashion retailer in Japan that has enjoyed sustained success. The platform offers a wide range of local and global brands, catering to diverse consumer tastes. Zozotown’s unique proposition is its ZOZO suit, a body measurement suit that consumers can use to order custom-fitted clothing. This innovative approach to online fashion retail has resonated with Japanese consumers, leading to Zozotown’s continued growth.

The Future of Ecommerce in Japan

The future of ecommerce in Japan looks promising, with several emerging trends likely to shape the sector, these trends include the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and social commerce. AI is expected to play a pivotal role in personalizing the shopping experience, predicting consumer behavior, and optimizing logistics and supply chain management. VR, on the other hand, can offer immersive shopping experiences, particularly in categories like fashion and furniture, where consumers often prefer to ‘try before they buy’.

Social commerce, the integration of ecommerce into social media platforms, is another significant trend. As social media usage continues to rise in Japan, platforms like Instagram and LINE offer immense potential for businesses to reach and engage with their target audience.

The Japanese ecommerce market is one of the largest in the world and continues to grow. As of 2021, the market was worth over $100 billion and was expected to continue expanding at a steady pace. The growth is driven by high internet penetration, a shift towards mobile commerce, and the increasing adoption of digital payment methods. These trends and growth patterns offer numerous opportunities for businesses. AI could enable them to better understand their customers and offer personalized experiences, thereby improving customer satisfaction and loyalty.

VR could help overcome the limitations of online shopping, reducing return rates and increasing conversion rates. Social commerce opens up new channels for businesses to reach and engage with their customers. It allows them to leverage the power of social media to drive brand awareness, customer engagement, and sales.

However, these trends also pose challenges. Businesses need to stay abreast of technological advancements and consumer behaviour changes. They need to invest in technology and skills to leverage AI, VR, and social commerce effectively. Furthermore, as these technologies involve the collection and use of customer data, businesses must ensure they comply with data protection regulations. In conclusion, the future of ecommerce in Japan looks bright, with plenty of opportunities for businesses that can adapt and innovate. However, success will require a deep understanding of the market, effective use of technology, and a strong commitment to customer satisfaction and data protection.

Final Thoughts

We’ve explored the dynamic landscape of ecommerce in Japan, covering its regulatory environment, key success strategies, notable case studies, and future trends. We’ve seen how Japan’s robust regulatory framework ensures a secure ecommerce environment, protecting consumer data and rights while promoting fair trade. The success stories of Amazon Japan, Rakuten, Mercari, and Zozotown have shown the importance of understanding local consumer behaviour, effective localization, and compliance with regulations. Future trends, including the rise of AI, VR, and social commerce, promise exciting opportunities for businesses. With the Japanese ecommerce market continuing to grow, these trends offer vast potential for businesses to innovate and succeed. However, they also present challenges that require businesses to stay updated with technological advancements and regulatory changes.

Japan’s ecommerce market offers immense potential. Its technological sophistication, high consumer spending power, and growing trend towards online shopping make it an attractive market for businesses. However, entering this market requires careful planning and strategic execution. From understanding local consumer behaviour and regulations to adapting to technological advancements and trends, there are various factors to consider.

We hope this post has given you valuable insights into the Japanese ecommerce landscape. If you’re considering entering this market, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment, share this post with your networks, or contact us directly for more personalized advice. If you found this article helpful and are interested in similar content, we recommend subscribing to our email newsletter for more information ranging from finding investors to doing sales in Japan! Our team of experts is ready to help you navigate the fascinating and challenging journey of entering the Japanese ecommerce market.

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