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Insider Guide on Selling Products in Japan

For European companies seeking to expand in Asia, Japan is the ideal destination. With a flourishing consumer base and a robust e-commerce market, Japan offers unparalleled opportunities. The culture’s commitment to excellence and attention to detail sets it apart. Japanese consumers have high expectations for quality, demanding products that exceed standards. Superior craftsmanship, reliability, and durability are key to success. Loyalty is highly valued, and building strong customer relationships is crucial. European companies should consider Japan’s thriving consumer base, well-established e-commerce market, and dedication to excellence when entering the market. By focusing on quality and fostering loyalty, they can position themselves for success in Japan.

Conducting sales in Japan can be complicated, but we’re here to simplify it for you with our Sales Pamphlet Course which is designed to help you increase sales in Japan.

Typical Japanaese Consumer

Selling products in Japan may seem daunting, but the country boasts one of the largest and most developed e-commerce markets globally. In 2023, Japan ranked third biggest market in the global e-commerce sector and was anticipated to earn around USD 154 billion in revenue for the year. This is driven by Japanese consumers’ strong purchasing power, particularly for meticulously crafted goods.

Japan offers a highly supportive infrastructure, including efficient transportation networks, advanced logistics systems, and reliable payment systems. This creates a seamless experience for sellers and buyers, alleviating operational challenges when entering the market. With Japan’s thriving e-commerce market and favorable conditions, European companies can tap into strong consumer demand. By offering well-crafted products and leveraging the robust infrastructure, businesses can position themselves for success and navigate the intricacies of selling products in Japan effectively.

Who is the Japanese customer?

In Japan, convenience is a top priority for consumers, shaping their product choices. While quality matters when selling products in Japan, seamless and efficient experiences are crucial. For instance, Onigiri, a popular snack, is packaged with a pull tab that opens to reveal separate rice and seaweed compartments. This design preserves the freshness of the seaweed and allows for easy, on-the-go consumption.

Understanding the preferences of different demographics is essential for success in the Japanese market. By recognizing the significance of convenience and staying informed about popular products among target segments, businesses can tailor their offerings to meet the specific needs and desires of Japanese consumers. Integrating convenience into product offerings and adapting to consumer preferences are key strategies for thriving in Japan’s competitive marketplace.

  • Products for children: Bumbo products such as this Bumbo baby seat with an attachable waist are popular because of their materials used. This particular product is lightweight and easy to store.  
  • Products for men: Products such as this ring doorbell are popular among men today who are interested in working on DIY home projects or want a particular bell sound.    
  • Products for women: The Japanese skincare market is well-developed and has new advanced products that are hitting the shelves. One popular product in skincare right now is this Manyo Factory Essence Galactomyces 
  • Products for mothers: Mothers today have fluid plans and usually this requires breast pumps. This Mandela Breastfeeding Machine has been recently popular because of its easy-to-clean design with its lightweight material.

If you would like to know more about entering the Japanese market with an innovative product,  listen to our podcast for an introduction to market entry in Japan. 

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What should I consider when selling products in Japan?

Language and localization

When selling products in Japan, you should take note of the language and localization of your products. This means putting yourself in the shoes of your customers. To do this, work has to be done to tailor your products:

  • Translate your products in all aspects. To ensure comprehensive translation of your products, it is crucial to translate all aspects, including physical and digital information, catering to your customers’ needs. This entails translating various elements such as product descriptions, product manuals, website content, and marketing materials.
    • For affordable localization and translation services, you can consider Gengo or OrangeBird.These platforms provide reliable solutions for selling products in Japan at competitive rates.
    • If you are looking for higher-end translation services, where quality and expertise are paramount, Honyaku Plus specializes in Japanese to English translation. They offer professional translations tailored to meet your specific needs. 
  • Hire Japanese staff. Selling products in Japan without anyone who knows at least the language might be difficult. Hiring Japanese staff allows you to effectively understand trends and help navigate the Japanese market
  • Having a local office or headquarters. Localizing means establishing yourself in the space. Having a local office or headquarters allows you to have an address that can accept mail, build repertoire among locals, and have a point of operations. 
  • Having customer support in Japanese. End-to-end customer support is highly valued in the Japanese consumer market. Without a native speaker, communication may be difficult. However, non-native speakers could still be ideal for sites like Amazon. 

Overall, the tips needed for localization are lengthy and difficult to condense, which is why if you’re looking for more comprehensive guides, you might be interested in our podcast on Types of Sales Frameworks in Japan with Evan Burkosky.

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Partnerships and Customer loyalty

Localization methods, such as partnering with market entry firms or local distributors, can greatly assist in selling products in Japan. These partnerships provide valuable market knowledge and can propel business growth. To delve deeper into the topic of partnerships, it is recommended to watch two podcast episodes featuring Pascal Gerbert Gaillard and Fariza Abidova, which discuss successful partnership strategies. Even large companies with advanced technology often lack business development expertise, making partnerships with corporations a potential win-win situation.

Establishing a partnership often benefits from in-person meetings, as they facilitate stronger connections. Events like the Cambridge Innovation Center’s venture cafe meetings, mentioned in the episode, offer opportunities to connect with a company’s innovation team and pave the way for partnerships. However, email communication has become more flexible today, reducing the reliance on traditional formal events, drinking parties, and business dinners.

It’s important to know that when selling products in Japan, loyalty holds significant value, making it crucial to prioritize obtaining early-launch customer reviews, testimonials, partnerships with local businesses, and customer-centric customer service. Cultivating loyalty among customers can work wonders for product success in the Japanese market.

By exploring strategic partnerships, leveraging in-person and digital networking opportunities, and focusing on loyalty-building efforts, European companies can enhance their chances of succeeding in Japan’s competitive market.

How do I market my products in Japan?

When thinking of how to market your products in Japan, think about the platforms through which you will sell them. For e-commerce selling in Japan, platforms such as Rakuten, Amazon, and Zozotown are popular choices. Conducting business online helps expand the reach of the products and may improve contributions from online funding. Crowdfunding is used to get your products off into the world in exchange for rewards or equity, though many prefer donations-based crowdfunding. Explore more options on crowdfunding in Japan by reading our article all about Crowdfunding Products in Japan.

As of February 2024, there are currently a handful of trends that entrepreneurs might want to venture into. Some major categories of trends for selling products in Japan would be fashion products, beauty products, wellness, and food products.

Fashion trends in Japan range from the classic minimalist style from brands like Uniqlo and Muji to vibrant and bold streetwear influenced by music, anime, and subcultures. Fashion is one effective way for individuals to express themselves, so building a brand that will cater to its target consumers’ preferences is one idea to keep in mind.

Beauty products have also been on the rise. Make-up connoisseurs would take an interest in J-Beauty which focuses on simplicity and natural ingredients by using gentle cleansers and lightweight foundations. One of the most popular and recent make-up styles is the “Igari” look which simply leverages blush to create a slightly flushed look.

Wellness trends are gradually rising as well. Certain trends would include forest bathing (relaxation and stress reduction through nature immersion), mindfulness meditation, and onsen therapy. Individuals must remember how important it is to take care of oneself. Why not start a business that can help people become better versions of themselves?

Food trends, lastly, have been leaning towards a low-carb and plant-based approach recently. Lentil and lupini pasta are becoming popular as they are gluten-free and low-carb alternatives. Plant-based foods have also been produced and consumed in response to rising sustainability concerns.

Top 12 retailers in Japan

The physical consumer market is also densely populated, especially in large cities such as Tokyo. So, it’s important to know about the biggest retailers in the market:

Selling in Japan with Crab Gimmick

  • Loft. This is a chain store in Japan that now has 117 operational branches nationwide. They care about a variety of lifestyle products so your product may just fit right in. 
  • Tokyu Hands. With an emphasis on a craft and DIY store, this chain has expanded into items such as umbrellas, stationery, and even cameras. To learn about the top things people buy at Tokyu Hands read more from tsunagu Japan.
  • Marui. Marui is another multinational chain department store with a focus on female clothes and accessories for young and working women.  
  • Kaldi. Kaldi specializes in coffee but also carries a variety of both imported and domestic food brands.
  • Hankyu, Hanshin, Takashimaya, Isetan. These Japanese luxury stores are some of the largest in the country and sell worldwide fashion goods, anything from ties to statement piece bags. 
  • Xebio and Sports Authority. These two retailers are the largest retailers currently in Japan for sports-related goods. Xebio, for example, has over 800 stores nationwide that can provide a wide reach for your products. 
  • Toys R Us. Despite losing traction in the US, Toys R Us remains one of the largest toy retailers in Japan with just under 200 retail stores nationwide.
  • Matsumoto Kiyoshi. Well-known for its blue and yellow coloring and its range of goods from pharmaceutical drugs to popular makeup brands, this drug store is all over Japan.  
  • Kyukyodo. This stationary shop had its humble beginnings over 400 years ago and still goes strong in major cities in Japan. It specializes in Japanese traditional stationery such as Japanese calligraphy tools. 
  • Convenience stores. Locally known as konbini, these stores are literally on every corner. Popular convenience stores are Family Mart, 7-11, and Lawson, each with different products under their belt
  • Village Vanguard. This chain bookstore goes beyond books, also selling products in Japan such as pop-culture collaborations in the form of CDs, DVDs, figurines, comics, and other memorabilia. They now have over 300 bookstores around the nation.
  • Yamada-denki and Bic Camera. Japan is well-known for its electronics and the products sold at these stores show just the level of quality that you would expect. These stores cover the country and are popular for just about every electronic need. 

How to use SEO and social media to market your product

Relevance of SEO marketing

SEO marketing plays a pivotal role in Japan’s digital landscape. In the modern era, optimizing websites, content, and online presence is essential to enhance search engine rankings. Employing effective SEO strategies enables businesses to expand their reach, increase brand visibility, and attract relevant organic traffic.

For European companies aiming to penetrate the Japanese market, a well-optimized website with localized keyword targeting is key. Learn more about other European companies in Japan that could help you orient yourself to selling products in Japan. This approach improves search engine rankings, enabling businesses to connect with Japanese consumers actively seeking their products or services. By embracing the nuances of SEO marketing in Japan, companies can effectively engage their target audience, amplify online visibility, and propel business growth.

To get you started, why not listen to our podcast on SEO Marketing with Jeff Crawford? Through this podcast, you will gain an understanding of the fundamentals of SEO and the wonders it can do for your business!

Social media Channels in Japan

In the digital space, social media channels are also important to invest in. Data Reportal gets an in-depth look at the stats that each media site has. It’s important to understand the reach that each platform allows you to have when selling products in Japan:

  • Line: 89 million users (2022 data)
  • Facebook: 15.5 million users (2022 data)
  • YouTube: 110 million users (2022 data)
  • Twitter: 58.95 million users (2022 data)
  • Instagram: 46.10 million users (2022 data)
  • Tiktok: 15.19 million users (2022 data)
  • Facebook Messenger: 5.85 million users (2022 data)
  • Snapchat: 825 thousand users (2022 data)

In our podcast, Social Media in Japan with Dustin Ikeda, we explore social media platforms that are popular in both the West and Japan, highlighting many unique platforms in Japan. You will also be able to learn about the pros and cons of agencies versus freelancers, along with common marketing mistakes.

Relevance of influencer marketing in Japan

Influencer marketing has experienced significant growth in Japan, particularly among millennials and Generation Z, due to several key factors. Firstly, young Japanese consumers highly value authenticity and personal connections, making influencers, known as tarento or “talents,” influential figures whose opinions and recommendations are trusted by their followers. Secondly, Japan boasts a vibrant social media culture, with platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok enjoying immense popularity.

This provides influencers with fertile ground to engage their audience and authentically showcase products for selling products in Japan. Lastly, the Japanese market’s niche interests and subcultures allow businesses to partner with influencers who specialize in specific areas and have a dedicated and loyal young fan base. By collaborating with these influential figures, brands can leverage their established credibility, expand their reach, and foster genuine connections with Japanese consumers, leading to increased brand awareness, engagement, and ultimately, sales.

Word-of-mouth in Japan

In Japan, traditional marketing methods such as word-of-mouth and billboards continue to hold significance. For sellers entering the market, word-of-mouth can be a more accessible approach. Building brand awareness and trust through word-of-mouth relies on cultivating an authentic brand image and being a genuine person. Customers evaluate trustworthiness based on the brand image and then rely on the product itself to assess credibility. Delivering exceptional quality is crucial, considering the availability of substitutes in the market. Continuously evaluating and improving credibility is essential until a network of advocates who spread the word about the products is established.

To gain further insights, listening to episodes on growing your business through word-of-mouth and seeking guidance from marketing experts like Scaling Your Company for entering the Japanese market are recommended. Additionally, creating physical hype, such as long queues outside a restaurant or shop, serves as marketing in itself, capturing attention and generating buzz.

Word of mouth for selling products in japan

Online and Offline logistics in Japan

When selling products in Japan, understanding how to reach your customers is crucial. This involves considering the concept of product fit, which requires evaluating the venues that your target customers frequent. In a podcast episode featuring Vincent Nicol discussing distribution in Japan, venue evaluation based on product fit is highlighted. It’s important to align the selling venue with the nature of your product. For instance, health drinks wouldn’t be suitable for sale at a nightclub. By creating a map of selling venues based on your criteria, you can generate a shortlist of channels. Categorize them based on your business model, such as B2B and B2C.

Additionally, compile a list of intermediaries, like distributors, who can help bring your products to the forefront. While having multiple distributors may not foster as close of a relationship as sole distribution, it offers better diversity and wider market coverage.

Selling products in Japan through e-commerce sites is highly appealing to sellers due to its stability during times of disaster like the COVID-19 pandemic and frequent typhoons. The versatility of e-commerce in reaching various customer segments is also crucial. Hence, creating a dedicated website outside of online retail stores can be beneficial.

However, it’s important to note that website design in Japan differs from Western countries. Japanese consumers often prefer content-rich websites with a maximalist approach and multiple call-to-action buttons. Prioritizing convenience and utilizing transportation services until establishing partnerships with distributors are key strategies for success.

4 Types of Distributors to Boost Your Sales in Japan?

When selling products in Japan, it’s important to partner yourself with the right hands to push your products. We’ve compiled a list that provides some of the best and most easily accessible distributors in the country: 

  • Trading houses, such as Mitsubishi, Itochu, and Mitsui, play a pivotal role as a robust route to market in Japan. They have strong partnerships with major wholesalers and even own many of the prominent wholesalers and retailers themselves. When engaging with trading houses, it’s important to note that they prioritize price competitiveness. Their focus is on scalability and the potential for high sales volumes. As a result, their interest in innovative products that are new to Japan may be limited. However, established brands with proven success in other markets selling products in Japan, like Alpro’s Oat Milk, can be an exception to this trend.
  • Large importers, such as Kataoka, Tominaga, and Lead Off Japan, have a significant presence across various F&B categories in Japan. They establish partnerships with major wholesalers and food service channels, offering a wide distribution network. Due to the multitude of options available to them, these importers are selective in choosing whom to work with. They receive numerous inquiries from potential clients and actively participate in trade fairs. 
  • Specialized importers, like Alishan Organics, Allied Corporation, and Monte Bussan, focus on niche markets within the import industry. For instance, Allied Corporation specializes in importing products from Thailand. These specialized importers can be highly valuable for small businesses as they are more open to innovative products. One notable characteristic of specialized importers is their passion and genuine interest in the products they import. However, it is important to recognize that specialized importers may have a more limited distribution reach than larger importers and trading houses. 
  • Wholesalers, such as Mitsubishi Foods, Kato Sangyo, and Nippon Access, play a significant role in Japan’s market by operating their own direct imports. Collaborating directly with wholesalers can provide valuable access to numerous retail channels. However, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the distribution network of the wholesalers you choose to work with. 

If you want to learn more about distributors for selling products in Japan, read more from Gourmet Pro.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, selling products in Japan offers immense opportunities for businesses looking to tap into a well-established consumer and e-commerce market. The commitment to excellence, attention to detail, and the value placed on superior craftsmanship make Japan a unique and rewarding market. Building relationships and earning customer loyalty is paramount, while convenience in product packaging is highly appreciated by Japanese consumers. The supportive infrastructure, including efficient transportation networks and reliable payment systems, further enhances the selling experience.

Leveraging SEO marketing, influencer partnerships, and traditional marketing methods can help businesses effectively connect with their target audience. Adapting to local preferences, translating content, hiring Japanese staff, and establishing a local presence are crucial for successful market entry. By understanding the Japanese customer, targeting the right platforms, and exploring various distribution channels, businesses can start selling products in Japan, navigate the Japanese market, and thrive in the dynamic and ever-evolving business landscape.

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