Selling online in Japan’s ecommerce marketplace – two interviews and some thoughts

Date: October 26, 2016

Topics: Legal / Regulatory, Logistics, Payments, Technology

私のものを買う – Watashi no mono o kau

This is our sophisticated attempt at Japanese consumer marketing. According to Google Translate, it means “buy my stuff.” If you speak Japanese, feel free to improve our strategy or correct any translation errors from Google in the comments below.

In this post, Getting to Global takes a deep dive into the Japanese market, interviewing a Japanese consumer and going behind the scenes with a visit to the U.S. HQ of the largest eCommerce marketplace in Japan.

If you’re growing your global ecommerce sales, Japan should definitely be on the radar. With $89 billion in ecommerce revenue in 2015, Japan is the 4th largest ecommerce market in the world. To put this into context, it is larger than Australia and larger than any market in Europe.

What is a Japanese consumer like?

Here’s an interview our very own Carl Miller, Co-Founder of the Global Retail Insights Network, conducted with Midori Kono, a Japanese consumer, to discuss her purchasing habits.

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Why are international online marketplaces in Japan important to consider when building your strategy?

By leveraging online marketplaces, you meet consumers where they are without having to spend time and money localizing an in-country site and/or optimizing a current home-market website.

There are numerous ecommerce and online retailers operating in Japan, including niche sites focus on a narrow range of products. Here is a list of online retailers and sites you may find useful. This comes from our partner’s site at the U.S. Commercial Service.


Department stores:



What is Japan’s Social Media environment as of 2015*?

LINE, Facebook, and Twitter are the most common social media sites. Instagram, Ameba (a blogging site), Mixi, and Google+ also are commonly  used.

  • LINE: 52 million users, 30 million daily  users
  • Facebook: 24 million monthly users
  • Twitter: 19.8 million monthly users
  • Google+: 15 million users Source: GaiaX Social Media Lab, 2015.

An interview with Rakuten as a marketplace case study

Often SMBs find the most challenging aspect of “getting to global” is understanding consumer expectations in foreign markets. Rakuten leverages its massive data in-take to help you identify opportunities and test your strategy. A marketplace and its team can help cut down this learning curve, but it does come with a cost. Commanding the attention of account managers can be dependent on the marketing budget you are offering. 

Yaz Iida, Rakuten USA President

For the inside scoop, host Josh Halpern, sat down, stood up, and walked around with Rakuten USA’s President, U.S. Exports Biz Dev Manager and U.S. Account Manager;  to hear their insights and better understand how a U.S. business could sell through Rakuten to build its brand and engage with Japanese consumers.  

With over 44,000 merchants and $73 million USD daily transaction volume, Rakuten offers sellers the largest concentration of both buyers and total transactions. That does not make Rakuten the only marketplace to explore (shout out to eBay Japan for example) but it makes it a very powerful channel for U.S. brands trying to enter the Japanese market. To learn more about working with Rakuten, here is our deep dive behind the scenes at Rakuten USA.

Our discussion reveals a number of challenges to consider.

Reid Wegner, Cross-Border Sales Strategy Consultant at Rakuten Ichib

Channel strategy and customer acquisition are a couple. Third-party logistics providers, customer-facing content and customer service are others.  In this video, we chat about some of these areas and taste-test some of the Japanese food served at the Rakuten cafeteria. We look at how companies work with Rakuten, and whether or not you need a ping pong table to build a creative strategy. 

Can promotions and discounts help you build your brand in Japan?

Most ecommerce companies in Japan offer loyalty or frequent-shopper programs. Most stores use a point system that can be redeemed to buy goods or get discounts. Usually, 1 point = 1 yen. Yahoo Shopping and Rakuten have had loyalty point programs for many years, and Amazon Japan started its program in May 2015.
Yahoo Shopping cooperates with Tsutaya, a large firm that operates rental stores and convenience chains, participating in the Tsutaya “t-point” system that partners with many stores, the third-largest convenience store chain, hotels, and online travel sites. Since 2013 the partnership has enabled Yahoo Shopping customers to spend t-points earned through purchases at their local convenience stores.
Rakuten has a Rakuten Super Points program that allows 1 percent of the purchase price to accrue as points. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Super Points rate is doubled. Rakuten partners with Japan’s #4 and #9 convenience stores, gasoline stands, and even funeral homes.
Rakuten also has a credit card program that provides a 2 percent return on purchases made at Rakuten. Signing up for the credit card is easy, even for foreigners, who usually have difficulties obtaining a Japanese credit card.
What is Japan’s current demand for overseas goods? *

The percentage of Japanese consumers who report some cross-border online purchases is a relatively low 59 percent, compared with a global average of 82 percent, according to market research by Forrester Research ( Communicating with consumers  in Japanese, providing high-quality customer service, and understanding Japanese consumer behavior are important factors to consider. U.S. merchants and exporters may, therefore, find it advantageous to collaborate with Japanese ecommerce platforms to reach Japanese consumers. Some market analysts estimate the number of cross-border purchases to be in the 10 percent to 20 percent range.

*Prepared by the U.S. Commercial Service. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting