Retail in Japan is steeped in ritual. The Japanese notion of omotenashi, or hospitality, is imbued in every step of the sales process, where customers are treasured guests.
Compared to the lacklustre service in many other countries, this has become a defining characteristic of Japan.
But with the advent of online retailers such as Amazon and Rakuten, the shopping habits of Japanese consumers are changing.
Online reviews, quick comparisons, and cutthroat price competition have led to a new demographic of shoppers who want a decent product at the lowest price, and none of the unnecessary ritual that comes with making a trip to the store.
SEE ASLO: Japanese retailers boosting their ability to take online orders
In the context of a long-stagnant economy, more young Japanese are excluded from the relative security of a corporate job. Amazon’s new one-hour delivery service allows them to order on their commute home and schedule delivery for their arrival, freeing up precious time between part-time jobs and errands.
Even the older generation is turning to online shopping. In a country where 30 percent of the population is over age 60, delivery is fast becoming a necessity.
Compare Rakuten’s website with that of boutique personal care product retailer, Aesop. Rakuten confronts users with a heap of banner ads and unsolicited recommendations, forcing them to dig deep to find the products they need.
Aesop, on the other hand, adopts the calm and organised approach evident in its physical stores, gently offering advice about each product category, and respecting the consumer’s need for concise and well-presented product information. The Aesop site better reflects the Japanese ideal of omotenashi.
Opportunity lies in merging the values and sense of being a treasured guest, which traditional Japanese retailers are so expert at, with the speed, convenience and flexibility of the online retail world.