Japanese Consumers: Why They Buy 

Have an idea for a business in Japan? Let’s look at what the research has to say about consumer tastes and preferences.

Why do consumers reach for certain products and not others?
Why do consumers reach for certain products and not others?

Japanese consumers want affordable luxury

Japan used to have an enormous appetite for luxury goods, but these days most luxury shopping in Japan is done by Chinese visitors. Research shows that Japanese shoppers are turning away from conspicuous consumption and towards ‘affordable luxury’, with more emphasis on personal style than exclusivity. Over half of Japanese women surveyed recently by McKinsey agreed that ‘showing off luxury goods is in bad taste’, up from just 25% in 2010.

Attract Japanese buyers by positioning your product as an ‘affordable luxury’, regardless of the category.



Japanese consumers rarely engage with promotions

They may have dialled down the spending, but Japanese buyers still demand sophistication. Research commissioned by Adobe reveals that social media users in Japan are most likely to share high-end products that demonstrate refined taste. And they’re least likely to engage with a post based around a special offer or promotion. Japanese consumers DO expect companies they follow to contact them with special offers, just not in a way that broadcasts the fact to others.

Use private channels like email and coupons to reach Japanese consumers with promotions.



Japan is a low-trust society

The Edelman Trust Barometer ranks Japan among the bottom nations for levels of trust in business and the media. It also finds that verification behaviour is especially high in Japan, with search engines the most trusted source of information. So don’t expect Japanese consumers to take your marketing messages at face value. Expect them to search online instead for evidence of what other people are saying about your products.

Pay close attention to search engine results for your brand, including YouTube, a popular tool for brand research.


Japan is a low-trust society where individuals look to their peers for guidance.
Japan is a low-trust society where individuals look to their peers for guidance.

Customer ratings are king

According to research commissioned by Adobe, Japanese consumers have more faith in customer ratings than expert reviews. In fact, Japan was the only country where users were valued more than experts as a reliable source of information about a product. So yes, you need testimonials. But even better are independent reviews on third-party platforms.

Give your customers free samples or other incentives to leave reviews on sites like Amazon, Kakaku and Yodobashi.



Rankings are a great promotional tool

You may have noticed that many shops and restaurants in Japan display a weekly product ranking or label top-selling items. Dentsu PR reminds us that rankings are a time-tested strategy to generate buzz. While consumers in other countries may be on a quest to find the product that best matches their personal needs and self-image, Japanese consumers pay much closer attention to what their peers have chosen.

Help your Japanese customers make a purchase decision by guiding them to the top-sellers.



Japanese consumers are ‘queue-rious’

When the Research Plus monitor group (via What Japan Thinks) asked Japanese people for their reaction when they notice a queue, 88% said they would be curious. Of this group, 60% said they would stop to investigate, 25% would be curious but not stop, and 3% would join the queue without knowing why. Just 12% would be completely uninterested. Japanese ‘queue-riosity’ has informed the market entry strategy of a number of foreign brands.

If you ever have customers queuing for your product, take a photo and use it in your marketing!


A queue like this means there must be something good nearby.
A queue like this means there must be something good nearby.

Japanese consumers love cute, simple designs

When Goo Ranking asked Japanese people what they like most about Apple products, the top answers were: 1. Stylish design, 2. The ‘kawaii’ logo, 3. Ease of use, 4. Sense of fun, and 5. Uniform design across products. Cuteness and fun were considered as important as style and uniformity when it comes to design. Some foreign brands can be too edgy or intimidating for Japanese consumers. As the success of Apple shows, cute allied to good design is a winner in Japan.

Create a playful, non-threatening brand identity and put good design at the centre of your product.



When selling to Japanese consumers, use word-of-mouth marketing to spread a message that your product is already popular. Reliable strategies include customer reviews, product rankings, and stylish designs that let people show off their good taste.


Words: David Willoughby/Workers U

Images: Thomas Au/Flickr

Workers University

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