5 Step Guide to Successful E-commerce In Japan

If you’re looking to take your e-commerce site global, you really ought to consider selling in Japan. Japan currently has the third largest economy in the world, surpassed only by the US and China.

With blossoming beauty and technology industries, and many favouring their careers over family life, the average Japanese consumer has more disposable income than their European counterparts. An open-minded youth culture combined with curiosity for the West makes Japan an ideal market for foreign e-commerce.

As with all cultures, there are specific consumer habits and behaviours to be aware of. Famed for having a culture built on etiquette and respect, how can you as a foreign brand uphold these values? What do you need to know about Japan’s changing value systems to help you sell effectively?

In this six-point blog, I will guide you through all you need to know to succeed in the Japanese market and better understand the modern Japanese consumer. 

1. Gain trust through social influencers

It’s important to quickly establish trust with your new consumers. As a foreign e-commerce website, you’ll have to work harder than local competitors to convince your new customers to try your brand over a Japanese one they are familiar with.

This is where social influencers come in.

By reaching out to a trusted brand influencer who is already known, customers are more likely to trust you, as they’ll associate your brand with a personality they’ve already built a relationship with. Better yet, if you work with a popular influencer who suits your brand, you can even sell directly to their pre-built audience, which could be in the millions.

There are plenty of tools available to help find the perfect people to promote your brand. Little Bird is a paid for tool that helps you find experts via Twitter, while Ninja Outreach is ideal for sourcing bloggers and Instagram influencers.

Remember, getting influencers onboard is a skill in itself. There are definitely right and wrong ways to go about it. Remember to personalise messages, be polite, and double check your translation.

2. Don’t get lost in translation

Japan is a vibrant, modern country with a real curiosity and interest in other cultures. However, about 99% of the population only speaks Japanese. Therefore, translating your e-commerce site is of critical importance.

There are plenty of ways to translate your product and website copy into Japanese, from using translation tools such as Linguee, to downloading the Fluency Now plugin. However, these techniques are time-consuming and often inaccurate.

One of the simplest ways to get your e-commerce site Japan-ready is to install the Panda Language Translate app available on Shopify. Panda is a popular and easy-to-use tool that allows customers to select their language from a choice of over 100 — enabling your store to reach its global potential.

3. Know what Japanese audiences want

Japanese consumers are changing. Once considered very different from their North American and European counterparts, modern Japanese consumer habits are now more reflective of our own. However, as with breaking into any new market, it’s very important to do your research into what your new customers want and need.

The average Japanese home is much smaller than the average British home. This, partnered with long working hours, has for years affected how much time Japanese people spend in their homes, and in turn, how often they will go out for entertainment.

However, a recent change in behaviour has found the younger generation leaning towards staying in more. Many put this down to a shift in trying to achieve work/life balance, as well as the economic crisis. The financial crisis has also been blamed for Japanese consumers preferring cheaper, more readily accessible products – a vast departure from the premium product doters of past generations.

To better understand what Japanese customers want, be sure to do your research and answer these questions:

●      What are they using Google and other search engines to look for?

●      Who are your competitors, and what are their top selling products?

●      What do your new customers care about?

Did you that Japan is full of dog lovers? Japanese dogs are some of the most spoiled in the world when it comes to luxury pet products. Finding qualitative data like this is the perfect way to tailor your products and content around consumer needs.

Photo by nomao saeki on Unsplash

4. Embrace Japanese etiquette

Famed for their incredible politeness, Japanese culture is steeped in etiquette and respect. With hundreds of new rules and social faux pas to be aware of, it can be confusing and daunting to the British mindset.

However, there is no need to panic. Most Japanese people understand the West don’t follow the same rules and are forgiving. Instead, why not try to embrace a few simple Japanese etiquette examples? There is plenty we can learn from this highly respectful culture.

●      Use polite language. When it comes to your listings, writing text in Japanese is not only a matter of producing grammatically correct sentences, but also of choosing the right phrasing and appropriate forms. Be sure to check with a Japanese-speaking friend that your copy will not cause offence

●      Uphold the ‘customer is always right’ motto. Speak to your customers with the utmost respect, elevating them and humbling yourself wherever possible

●      Send your products fast. Japanese consumers consider next day or same day delivery very important and know they can get their orders quickly from local merchants. To compete with this, offer a high standard, speedy delivery by selecting a trusted shipping company

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

5. Be mobile-friendly

Surprisingly, Japan is behind China, Europe and the USA in regard to buying on mobile devices. However, these figures are set to change, with more and more Japanese consumers turning over to mobile commerce in heat of feature phones being switched for smartphones and an upheaval in Japanese cyber security.

At the moment, 84% of the population shops with their mobile phones, while half of all the e-commerce sales in the country were made through mobile devices in 2015, according to e-commerce services provider PFSweb. Therefore, it’s integral that your e-commerce site is mobile-optimised.

When creating your online store, be sure your site is optimised for the best possible user experience. Have easy-to-use navigation, large buttons for touch screen, and compressed, fast-loading images.

Due to a lot of media coverage on cybercrime, many potential Japanese customers are put off buying through their mobiles. To counteract this, be sure your security features are in plain view, be clear about your returns policy and assure your users that their information is safe with you.

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

With a booming economy and a shift in consumer values, it has never been a better time to break into the Japanese market. You needn’t be deterred by cultural differences or high etiquette standards, instead, embrace the Japanese attitude and improve your customer relations for all.

By raising your customer experience, investing in quality translation, researching your audience and utilising social influencers, your brand is sure to catch the attention of Japanese consumers who are ready to try new global products.


Victoria GreeneVictoria Greene: Writer & Ecommerce Entrepreneur

When I’m not running my own successful online businesses I’m at home doodling in my notepad or playing with my new puppy. I live for everything digital and love sharing my knowledge with other entrepreneurs.