Like all other countries, Japan too has all kinds of businesses. So there is no one-size-fits-all kind of recommendation or analysis that can be conjured. Having said that, there is definitely a case that can be made for the value of looking at aggregate information about a market. With that in mind, let us look closer at Japan.
The Japanese Economy
Japan boasts the world's third largest economy, at $5,000,000,000,000 GDP. I know I could just have said 5 trillion, but internationally it is not agreed upon that 1 followed by twelve zeroes is called a trillion!
Over 70% of the total population uses the Internet. Would we expect any less from a country that has made significant contribution to the technology space? The per capita online spend is over $500 every year. This per capita figure is second only to the American number of approximately $700*.
And here is an interesting statistic that helps us understand the significance of those numbers: Approximately 99% of Japanese population fully comprehends only websites with content in the Japanese language. Are you beginning to see an obvious hurdle, or should I call it an opportunity?
The Cultural Context Is Important in Japan
The Japanese enjoy western products and lifestyle, but these goods serve as novelty items. For most goods, they are attached to their own culture. This creates an opportunity to sell western products that are given a Japanese look.
Along with cultural context, comes the Japanese craving for beauty and cuteness, "shibui" and "kawaii," respectively. These are highly desirable qualities in the Japanese psyche, so your ecommerce website should reflect these.
High Price Points and Low Price Points Do Well, Not the Ones in Between
Choose to sell either high or low, but not in between. This is because the Japanese consumer either buys for status or functionality. Status dictates that the price should be sufficiently high to imply exclusivity, and functionality dictates a low price.
There is a particular logic to the way the Japanese business wins over customers, too.
- befriend and empathize with the customer
- prove your trustworthiness
Choose Colors Carefully
As in other cultures, colors have specific connotations in Japan. Red represents luck, while yellow is a sign of courage. Contrast these with American culture, where yellow is cowardice and red is anger or danger. The Japanese consider blue to be a color of peace, stability, and loyalty. Black along with white represents mourning. Purple is a symbol of danger. In American culture purple is a symbol of royalty, while black represents fear and the unknown, and white is purity or chastity.
It is important to note that the intensity of emotions associated with colors is greater in Japan than in the US.
Get a .jp Domain Name Extension
We have already established that the layout, language and color of your website should be localized for Japan. In addition, I would strongly recommend that you go for a .jp domain name extension. Also, you can employ Japanese letters in the domain name.
In addition to striking a cord, selecting a domain name with a .jp extension might play a role in improving your local SEO.
Try Out PPC Advertising in the Top Japanese Search Engines
The top Japanese search engines that you should pay attention to are Yahoo.co.jp, Google.co.jp, Bing (http://www.bing.com/?cc=jp), and Goo.ne.jp. You should strive to get listed in these places, for higher visibility with the Japanese consumers. Also try out PPC campaigns in these search engines to see which ones seem to work for you. In addition evaluate getting listed on Rakuten if that makes sense to your setup.
This article is clearly not the definitive and comprehensive guide to ecommerce in Japan. Instead it is just an initial thought piece. If you are about to make serious investments in Japanese ecommerce, you will need substantially more research. I hope this proved to be a good starting point.
* A lot of this data will get outdated rapidly. But the conclusions being drawn will not necessarily be altered.