Online users who buy from the internet appreciate the convenience and time-saving aspects of online shopping. This is especially so for online buyers in Japan. According to a TNS study, 65% of respondents said they use the internet as the starting point when doing research while 25% stated that although they will do research online, they will purchase the product offline. Very few Japanese online customers (9%) said they are comfortable buying from foreign websites; justifiably so since many Japanese are not comfortable with content in English. What’s more, almost 80% are not comfortable purchasing products from unfamiliar websites. Whether you are selling to Japanese customers online or in a physical store, it pays to have a localized web presence that Japanese customers trust.
Selling in Japan means having your site show up high on search engine result pages
As the data above point out, an overwhelming majority of Japanese internet users use search engines and price comparison websites first when doing online information gathering. And about half of Japanese users consider search engines as a useful tool in quickly finding sellers of the product they want to buy. This is especially true for Japanese buyers looking to make purchases in the technology, retail, travel and auto sectors. Therefore if you are looking to sell to Japan, the best way to gain customers is with a localized and search engine optimized website that ranks high on search engines for traffic generating keywords.
Build a website that Japanese buyers can trust
Three ways to test the Japanese market before entering
For companies that have done thorough market studies can dive right into creating a localized version of their website and begin SEO campaign. However, not all small businesses have the luxury of hiring a marketing agency to assess the feasibility of the Japanese market. For these companies there are three channels that they can use to test their products before making heavy investments to enter the Japanese market. They are Rakuten, Amazon and Yahoo Japan.
Rakuten is Japan's largest ecommerce site. It is the Amazon of Japan. There are four plans you can choose from to sell on Rakuten. Monthly fees range from 19,500 yen to 100,000 yen ($226-$1,162). On top of the base monthly fee, they also charge a "system usage fee" ranging from 2%-6.5% of your sales. Since Rakuten owns Buy.com, merchants in the US may be able to have their Buy.com listings shown to buyers in Japan. Visit Buy.com for details.
Of the three options, we feel Amazon is the best because they have more information in English about selling on its platform than Rakuten and Yahoo Auction. Furthermore, if you are already selling on Amazon in your home country, then you will be familiar with its selling practice.
Yahoo Japan offers two platforms for selling - shopping and auction. It is the least friendly of the three to foreign sellers. Even though they have guidance in English for listing products, you would still need to use Japanese as the buyers are Japanese. Where as with Amazon, you only need to list your price and product condition if the product you are selling is already being sold by other sellers on Amazon. To sell on Yahoo Auction, you can either pay a monthly fee of 18,900 yen ($220) plus 5% on sales for up to 3000 items or 399 yen per month, 10.5 yen for each listing and 5.25% on all products sold. To sell on Yahoo Shopping, the fees are 20,790 yen to 52,290 yen plus sales commission ranging from 1.9%-4.5%.
Information may have changed since the date of the writing of this article so check each company's website for more updated information.
If you are able to read/write Japanese or have a Japanese partner, then we would advise to sell your products on all three platforms as costs are minimal and can provide huge exposure in Japan without draining your own marketing budget. Once you have established a customer base, then you can slowly direct them to your own website. People have built very successful businesses on these three platforms. But just like any other business, to be successful takes a lot of hard work and a good understanding of the market.