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Talking strategy: selling apparel in Japan
published in Issue 6, 2nd Quarter 2009
Observers in the West may be surprised to read that, according to forecasts made by the Economist Intelligence Unit on August 28, 2009, demand for clothing and footwear in Japan will grow by 3.2% in 2009—despite the fact that the country’s economy has been in recession for much of the year. This apparent paradox can be explained by the fact that clothing shopping in Japan is relatively insensitive to swings in economic growth—and this is a key benefit for clothing firms which are active in the country.
However, entering the Japanese market is not without its challenges. One of the key areas of complexity for Western firms is that of culture. Specifically, Japanese buyers prefer to take time over negotiations. Also, they are meticulous about quality, and they would choose to carry out research and evaluate a sample in-depth rather than rush to get a product in the stores in time for the start of a new season. This behaviour stems mainly from the fact that Japanese retailers are fastidious about retaining customers, and they fear that those customers would be lost if they bought defective clothing.
Another cultural characteristic is that of loyalty. Customers tend to remain faithful to their favourite brands for many years—as long as retailers meet their expectations with respect to quality and service. Having said that, Japan is renowned for its high levels of quality and service, so meeting those expectations is not easy.
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