If you haven’t already looked into selling to online shoppers in Japan, now’s your chance to see why the market is ripe for opportunity. That is, if you know how to navigate the market’s landscape.

For starters, the country with the fifth-largest economy also hosts the fourth-largest e-commerce market in the world, with a total of almost $80 billion in e-commerce sales last year (equal to around 10% of all global e-commerce sales) according to a 2015 report by Remarkety.

Sure, that figure may be dwarfed by China’s $560 billion market and is around a quarter of the size of the US e-commerce market. But with Japan’s e-commerce market growing by 14% in 2015 alone, and with statistics researcher Statista expecting the market to swell 50% to $134.1 billion by 2019, there’s plenty of opportunity for international online sellers to grow there.

Japan chart

It’s no surprise that Japan is a prime target for overseas sellers. A staggering 86% of the population is online according to the CIA Factbook, which is on par with the market in the US. More importantly, almost 80% of the country’s population (100 million) shop online according to a late 2015 report by online data measurer comScore, besting the US market’s online shopper rates of around 70% last year.

The country also happens to be a relatively easy place to set up shop and reach a large audience online, especially since Japan’s shoppers use just a handful of large online marketplaces. In fact, Japanese marketplace giant Rakuten alone hosted 27% of all e-commerce sales in the country last year as reported by WSJ, while Amazon Japan and Yahoo! Japan Shopping split another nearly 20% of the market. The less time you have to spend checking your sales across different storefronts, the more time you have to spend growing your business.

Of course, just because the country’s fundamentals are good doesn’t mean all overseas sellers will see success. Here are a few ways you can make the biggest inroads among Japanese shoppers.

1. Know the culture.

Almost all of the 125 million people living in Japan speak Japanese exclusively according to the CIA Factbook, with one scholarly source pegging the exact figure at 99% of the population. In other words, you’d be well served to have good translators who also understand the Japanese cultural and consumer trends working on your product listings and online sites.

To offer service that’s a cut above, you may also want to employ Japanese-speaking customer service staff as well. This tip may actually be enforced depending on where you sell — Amazon Japan requires sellers to have Japanese-speaking customer service staff to keep their ratings in good standing with Amazon.

2. Showcase the most popular items.

The four most popular types of products sold on Rakuten – Japan’s largest marketplace – are food and beverages, drugs, beauty care, and consumer electronics according to a report by marketing research firm McKinsey & Company. Shoppers favor relatively lower-priced items, too — according to late 2015 research by comScore, more than half of all shoppers bought goods and services that were priced less than ¥20,000 (around $195), on average.

3. Use overseas warehousing to ship your goods fast.

Because Japan’s geography spans an area smaller than the state of California, it only takes 1-2 days for local sellers to ship to their customers. If that isn’t pressing enough, a 2013 survey by Accenture found that 26% of Japanese consumers think same-day delivery is important. Not to worry, you can speed up your delivery times by utilizing overseas warehousing services or choosing to use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).

4. Have top-notch help channels to foster future business.

It’s simple: customers who can easily get help – online or offline – are more likely to leave a good review and thus spur more business for you down the road.

According to a late 2015 survey by Worldpay, 65% of Japanese shoppers consulted an online shop’s FAQ section for help with a payment-related query, while over one-third used email customer support, contact us forms, and/or customer service via phone. To keep your shoppers happy, you may want to check in on these channels periodically to make sure all of your support systems are current and running smoothly.

5.Have mobile-friendly pages to boost your conversion.

Believe it or not, there are more mobile phones than people living in Japan – so you need to be mobile-friendly. Crucially, 84% of the population shops through their mobile phones, and some $44 billion worth of sales – half of all e-commerce sales in the country – were made through mobile devices in 2015 according to e-commerce services provider PFSweb. Mobile is important for potential shoppers, too: Amazon Japan says there are more than 25 million mobile visitors (and counting) browsing its marketplace every month, compared to just 20.9 million browsing through their PCs.

In other words, if you want to reach the widest-possible shopper base, make sure your product description and support pages (and preferably your entire website!) are designed to be “responsive” and viewable on smart phones and tablets.


Selling on Japanese Marketplaces

Now that you know more about Japanese shoppers, success feels like it’s just around the corner. So how do you start selling? If you don’t have an online storefront or solid payment infrastructure, you may find it easiest to sell through Japan’s three biggest marketplaces — Rakuten Japan, Amazon Japan, and Yahoo! Japan Shopping.

While almost half of Japan’s online sales are made through these marketplaces, some providers are easier to register and work with than others. Rakuten, for example, may be the nation’s largest market, but requires sellers to register as a Japanese company first and submit documents to get started. Amazon Japan on the other hand is a bit easier to register as there are dedicated teams to help overseas merchants register.

This article comes from our magazine “E-Commerce Solutions – Insights for Online Sellers.” Download now to read lots more best practices on selling online!

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