Japan - Commercial Guide

Describes how widely e-Commerce is used, the primary sectors that sell through e-commerce, and how much product/service in each sector is sold through e-commerce versus brick-and-mortar retail. Includes what a company needs to know to take advantage of e-commerce in the local market and , reputable, prominent B2B websites.

Last published date: 2019-10-13

Visit the U.S. Commercial Service’s eCommerce Innovation Lab (https://www.export.gov/eCommerce).
Japan is the third largest—and one of the fastest growing—eCommerce markets in the world. The growth rate has become stable over the past few years, with annual growth estimated at 9.1% in 2017. With Internet penetration estimated at 93.3% of the population, Japan represents a significant market opportunity. According to the Ecommerce Foundation’s Japan 2017 report, the E-GDP was forecasted to rise 1.59% in 2017, with 74% of the online population shopping online. Japan’s developed economy, highly urban population, and single language make the market attractive to online retailers. Highly developed distribution infrastructure and small country size make delivery easy and convenient. Market growth is expected to be steady for the foreseeable future.

Current Market Trends
Aiming to investigate the breakdown of the total expenditure, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) divided the ecommerce expenses into three categories; A) sales of goods, B) service, and C) digital. 

  1. Sales of goods account for 52.1% of the total ecommerce expenditure. In this category, clothing items hold the first place. The market size has grown by 7.6% from the previous year of 2016. Enterprises such as ZOZOTOWN, Amazon, and UNIQLO have successfully fulfilled the customers’ needs by incorporating internet technology to their strategy. The flea market application, MERCARI also has its influence on the clothing market. Food and beverage sales are continuing to grow steadily, as well.
  2. Service accounts for 35.4% of the total ecommerce expenditure. The most popular trend in this section involves travel. Travel service has grown 11.0% from 2016. These include the online booking service, such as RAKUTEN travel. Food and beverage service was fourth and has a high potential. These can be seen from the online reservation and rating system. However, there are problems with unnotified cancellations and not being able to apply reservation systems into fast food stores.
  3. Digital accounts for 11.7% of the total ecommerce expenditure. The most popular trend was online gaming. Since online games are not only popular in Japan but also in other Asian countries, there will be continuous demand. E-books were the second highest digital ecommerce expenditure. The dissemination of smartphones contributes to the growth of both online game and E-books sales.

One notable trend is that although a large percentage of purchases are conducted online, only 12% of Japanese shoppers purchased from abroad in 2015.

Spending Holidays
Japan consistently has higher online spending in the summer months when Japanese firms are known to give yearly summer bonuses. Average worker bonuses are nearly $3,000 and the spending of that bonus is primarily focused on luxury goods, leisure, and travel. Additional spending holidays include White Day (March 14) and international holidays such as Christmas and New Year.

Selling Considerations
U.S. companies using ecommerce channels to reach the Japanese consumers or businesses must consider:

  • eCommerce platforms
  • Payment methods
  • Shipping logistics
  • Customer service, returns, after-sales service

Companies looking to enter the market should be able to advertise, brand, and provide customer support in Japanese. The major ecommerce companies in Japan include:
eCommerce Platforms in Japan

 Department Stores and Retail Outlets

Apparel eCommerce Websites

Supermarket eCommerce Sites

  • Ito-Yokado (http://www.itoyokado.co.jp/index.html)                             
  • Maruetsu (https://www.maruetsu.co.jp/)                                     
  • Daiei (https://netsuper.daiei.co.jp/index.php)                                   
  • Apita (https://www.apita.co.jp/)                                         

Books and Media eCommerce Sites