Japan is a major luxury market generating tens of billions of dollars every year. From fine wines and unique jewellery to bespoke leather goods and premium personal care items, the Japanese luxury market is the third largest in the world, ranking behind China and the United States.
Many companies are interested in tapping into the sector’s exceptional potential and growing a following for their products among its discerning buyers.
However, the journey can prove to be a challenging one, even for established multinational businesses. When it comes to market entry, often missing from companies’ approaches is the recognition of the unique requirements for the Japanese market. Specifically, there is often a failure to recognise what this market’s buyers expect in terms of deep localisation, and contextual and social relevance. Yet succeeding in these domains is not only possible, but readily achievable, given a few guidelines.
Exclusivity: a key purchase driver
In Japan, exclusivity is key – and a major purchase driver. According to Croud’s 2022 International Localisation Report and Statista, exclusive content or services are the elements most likely to increase the likelihood of an online sale. This differs to many Western markets where the shift towards environmental consciousness has begun to surpass the lure of exclusivity. Brands looking to develop a meaningful relationship with Japanese luxury consumers will do well to bear in mind that exclusivity reigns supreme, and shape their content and strategy accordingly.
Localisation and contextualisation: crucial for customer connections
Making a website feel intuitive, welcoming and easy-to-use means ensuring that all text and, crucially, measures are familiar to the end user. Factors such as clothes sizing, measurement and currency should be closely tailored and relevant to the consumer. It should not be assumed that, for example, centimetres, UK sizes or the US dollar will be accepted by Japanese consumers.
In fact, to explore why there was a significant bounce rate on a high-end clothing brand’s Japanese website, we asked a focus group to browse their site. Although they liked the idea of the ‘made-to-measure’ service of the brand, the website’s level of personalisation and local tailoring was subpar. Complaints included that there was no Japanese sizing, which affected Japanese buyers’ ability to imagine themselves wearing the clothing. Multinationals offering Japanese sizing on websites – as well as familiar Japanese payment methods such as Paidy and PayPay – have a clear leg up.
Well-translated copy: making it meaningful
Just as native English speakers might struggle to trust a website that’s been written in poor English, a study carried out by Croud revealed that 44% of Japanese respondents would trust a brand less if it used badly translated copy. Not only does language convey key facts about a brand and its products, but it also conveys the company’s tone. Failing to include text that reads well by native speakers means that not only are key facts often lost, but the brand’s persona suffers as well.
Moreover, local relevance doesn’t stop at language – native imagery is equally key. 70% of Japanese respondents say that they would expect tailored visual content on a brand’s website. At Croud, we’ve seen the value in creating highly localised Japanese language websites, and switching away from less relevant (and less understood) English-language options.
Big in Japan: getting to grips with Japanese uniqueness
As a highly populous island nation with a strong culture, rich history and unique value set, Japan is set somewhat apart among developed nations. Thus, it’s important for luxury brands looking to break into the market to spend some time on deeply understanding the Japanese consumer, and putting any assumptions about buying behaviours and expectations aside.
“The Japanese market is unique in a way that no other country is,” says Ayako Mansell, Croud’s Senior Digital Account Manager. “Success stories from outside Japan are not necessarily accepted by the Japanese. If the nuances and formatting are not native-like, you will not win credibility. Phrasing, culture and current trends are also essential for localisation in Japan.”
In short, Japan is a formidable market, in terms of both sheer size and buyers’ precise expectations. Yet, for companies that are prepared to put in the work, ensuring their offerings are tailored and relevant to what buyers expect to see, the results can be tremendous.
Want to read more about breaking into Japan’s luxury market? Check out our full research report on Digital journeys for the luxury consumer in Japan.