5 Insider Tips for Making Online Sales in Japan – Ecommerce Like a Pro

Posted By Jim Kersey

Getting good at making sales online is one thing, but making high volume and sustainable ecommerce sales in Japan is another entirely. Various logistical challenges, varying consumer preferences, and procedural differences for the country’s most popular platforms like Rakuten and Yahoo! Shopping require an added level of attention, skill, and patience.

While you might not get to the level you want overnight, taking on board some insider tips from those who have navigated the complex landscape of Japanese ecommerce before you is a no brainer.

In this blog, we impart some of the most useful and important tips we’ve picked up while helping our international clients succeed in Japan.

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1. Don’t Scare Off Customers with Poor Product Pages and Descriptions

Marketing team handling product shoot for making online sales in Japan

We’re not just talking about avoiding product descriptions that aren’t translated (or translated poorly), which is obviously something you mustn’t do. We’re talking about everything from how your product photography is executed to the specific way you describe how your products work.

The bar is incredibly high when it comes to the kind of presentation and information needed to convince Japanese shoppers that your product is worth the money. Harbouring a healthy amount of uncertainty avoidance and brand scepticism, there’s so much you can do to scare shoppers away it’s unreal.

Why Are Product Descriptions Important?

Japanese consumers will naturally link the quality of your listing with the quality of your product, as well as its suitability for their needs. Good descriptions will also:

  • Convince Japanese shoppers, who are naturally less inclined to buy foreign products, to take a chance on you
  • Remove any room for doubt or suspicion about the quality of your product, how it works, and whether it’s a suitable choice for your potential customers
  • Help you appear better than competitors who are selling the same or very similar products

HB Pro Tip: Price competitiveness isn’t always going to be effective when trying to make online sales in Japan, where customers are far more willing to pay more for assured quality.

How to Create Amazing Product Pages for Japan

  • Always use high-quality images that show as much detail as possible, preferably with examples of people using your items context. Videos or 360 degree interactive images are incredibly effective.
  • Ensure all product descriptions are fully Japan-localized and catered to your target audience. All product weights, sizes, measurements, and categories need to be adapted to Japanese standards.
  • Use Japanese models and location settings whenever possible, to show customers that your products are actually for them, and not Western audiences.
    Use descriptions to help shoppers understand how your products are made, the kind of technology or materials you use, the history of your brand, and most importantly, whether you are trustworthy and reliable.
  • Consider the placement and usage of keywords carefully. Similar to Google, Amazon and Rakuten use search engine algorithms that pull various results for users based on search terms and keywords. As such, using the right Japanese terms and content is extremely important for ranking well in search results and ads.

HB Pro Tip: We always recommend working with Japanese native speakers to implement your product descriptions, focusing on how titles and USPs are optimized for Japanese audiences whose taste and product demands are different. For example, it might be the fact that your products are reliable and commonly used rather than unique and distinct that make people want to buy them in Japan. Also, if you’re selling “sensitive items” like alcohol, they will help you make sure your product description and labels follow regulation and don’t lead to your content being flagged by platform regulators, or even the Japanese authorities.

2. Create a Rewarding Post-Purchase Experience

Customer enjoying rewarding purchase experience from brand making online sales in Japan

Japanese customers are accustomed to receiving plenty of post-purchase support — and reward. This encapsulates everything from giving opportunities for providing feedback, offering highly accurate product suggestions in your email purchase receipts, or handling the returns and exchange process diligently and respectfully.

To succeed with your online sales in Japan, you really have to invest in this final phase of the buying journey, occurring after a customer has completed their purchase. The goal is to leave people with a positive impression of your brand.

Information spreads rapidly in Japan, and not being able to handle complaints properly, or mismanaging returns, can seriously damage your reputation. It might be less common for customers to leave negative feedback on your site or ecommerce product pages than in other nations, but you need to beware of the silent drops-offs and potential negative views about your brand spreading via word of mouth.

How Important is Japanese Customer Support?

Customer support team helping foreign brand make online sales in Japan

Japan has some of the highest customer service standards in the world. It is also home to the culture of ‘Omotenashi’, said to represent the deep-rooted Japanese mindset of hospitality centring around proactive care and the anticipation of needs.

Applied to the world of ecommerce customer support, we might see it as the ultimate art of predicting what customers want and the willingness to serve them, based on their needs.

As such, we recommend doing whatever you can to put a reliable customer support system in place, which involves more than just what your platform like Amazon or Rakuten can provide for you.

For instance, while the FBA service does come with basic customer service in Japanese, as well as help handling refunds, requests and returns, this is not a complete localization service, and they can’t do everything for you.

Customers might try to get in touch with you directly about specific issues relating to your product, either pre or post-sale. And you must be prepared with sufficient Japanese language capabilities to answer any questions, field any complaints, and arrange any further shipping requirements yourself.

HB Pro Tip: Out of all the Japanese ecommerce platforms you can sell on, Amazon offers the most support for merchants when it comes to customer service. Rakuten, however, will require you to manage your own inventory and handle most customer service issues independently of the ecommerce platform.

Keep People Coming Back with Loyalty Schemes

We all know that shopping and earning loyalty scheme points is better than just making a one-off purchase. And this truth seems to be baked into the fundamental way Japanese consumers shop. Loyalty programs and promotions are seen pretty much everywhere in the country.

For those selling online in Japan, they are one of the best ways to enhance the customer journey and encourage shoppers to come back again. If you’re selling on platforms like Amazon or Rakuten, you can simply sign up for their loyalty schemes and start benefiting today.

Alternatively, offering post-purchase upsells, either as part of your own loyalty scheme or separately, is also smart. These can include additional prizes, seasonal discounts, special promotions, and other bonuses you might want to offer your customers after they’ve made their first purchase.

Are Some Japanese Ecommerce Platforms Better than Others?

3. Build Credibility and Reputation Any Way You Can

Japanese couple window shopping and reviewing products for quality and credibility

Japanese consumers are more risk-averse than those in many other parts of the world. On Hofstede’s Uncertainty Avoidance Index, they hold one of the highest scores of all societies, registering as high as 92/100.

One of the implications of this is that customers are less willing to take a chance on brands and products they know little about. As a foreign brand new to the market, this can be challenging with many shoppers willing to pay a higher price for a well-known domestic brand, even though you might be offering the same product for cheaper.

Finding ways to build trust and improve your reputation among Japanese consumers is paramount. It’s crucial to reducing any ambiguity or confusion surrounding your products. And one of the best ways to do this is to invest in a product review strategy where you focus on building a strong bank of online reviews from past shoppers who can vouch for the quality of your products.

As Japanese shoppers are avid researchers and regularly check review sites and in-platform review boards, this can help turn “I’m not convinced” into a cautious “I’m willing to take a risk”.

The Amazon Vine Program

If you’re selling on Amazon Japan, look into the Amazon Vine Program as a way to get the ball rolling with your review strategy. These reviews, made by some of the most trusted top 500 reviewers on Amazon, are typically comprehensive, detailed, and come with multiple images attached, which is great.

As “professional reviewers” individuals in this program are also aware of the kind of things customers want to hear about when evaluating the quality of new products, such as faults and inconsistencies.

Build International Listings (BIL)

Building international listings, or BIL, is another effective tool for those using Amazon. It helps you create and update offers from a single source marketplace to one or more target marketplaces (e.g. the US and Japan). This can help save time managing your listings, and when keeping multiple variations under one parent listing (size/color/style variations), it can help to aggregate and improve your product ratings.

However, be mindful that if you’re selling with an international listing, you will only be able to choose one set of images, which can reduce your localization and customer experience potential for your individual target markets. As your product will be using the same ASINs in different marketplaces, there’s no real way around this.

HB Pro Tip: If you are selling a product that needs to be shown being used by models (clothing) then we would suggest creating separate listings where you can upload product photography that is adapted for the Japanese market. However, for certain devices and tools that don’t need to be shown being used by real people, or within geographic context, opt for centralized listings that aggregate your reviews.

If you’re looking for information about ways Amazon can help you when selling in Japan, take a look at our blog: Why Sell on Amazon Japan? Pros, Cons, and Tips for Western Brands

4. Plan Your Japanese Ecommerce Funnels and CX Strategy Holistically

Girl consuming content marketing from brand making online sales in Japan

Japanese customers will typically interact with your brand on multiple platforms before they commit to a purchase. Not building a holistic customer experience strategy and well-defined funnels between your online channels can undermine your investments on any single platform, when trying to make online sales in Japan.

For example, focusing too heavily on conversion-focused search ads without building a strong following on your social channels could be a huge waste when prospective shoppers are likely to check your Instagram account before making a purchase.

If your presentation there is poor, and you have a weak following, you might well lose out on many potential purchases, even if you have a solid PPC strategy in place and a decent website that is localized for Japan.

Similarly, going all out on social and not adapting your website for Japanese consumers will create a disconnect that will hurt your conversion rates.

HB Pro Tip: These best practices apply to pretty much every ecommerce market worldwide, but when selling online in Japan, remember that you’re fighting an uphill battle against people’s aversion to buying products from foreign merchants they’re not familiar with. If you want to have a chance, you need to make sure your branding and overall online experience across your channels (as well as synergy between them) are tight. This means ensuring consistency of design, overarching themes, and unified marketing messages.

Understand Platform SEO

As each platform, whether it’s Amazon, Rakuten or Yahoo! Shopping, has powerful search functionality and its own advertising features, spending some time optimizing your pages for ecommerce SEO is also vital.

As mentioned above, this means thinking carefully about the keywords you use and how you categorize your products. Weak titles or descriptions will mean you won’t show up in user’s searches when you need to.

Go Mobile-First

Japanese commuters browsing ecommerce sites and making purchases online

If you didn’t know already, most Japanese consumers make purchases on their mobiles. The mobile commerce market size in Japan is worth over 4.55 trillion Japanese yen and more than doubled between 2013 and 2019 with many urban city dwellers spending many hours on their phones each week while commuting to work and back.

Your content needs to work perfectly optimized for mobile and images and product descriptions should always be designed with mobile-first best practices in mind.

5. Make the Most of In-Platform Advertising Features

It would be a mistake not to make the most of your in-platform advertising features. They’re there to help you, and when used right, can help you make strong gains in competitive Japanese markets and product categories. You may not have needed them before in your home market, but every little helps when making online sales in Japan.

  • Sponsored ProductsSponsored Products on Amazon can help your products get discovered by searchers looking for specific items while using specific search terms to look for them. You can easily measure your performance within the seller account and adjust your bids for specific keywords as you go.
  • Points and Loyalty Systems – Loyalty schemes and points systems are available on most ecommerce platforms in Japan. Rakuten Super Points, for example, can help you tap into a vast network of Japanese shoppers who are already invested in collecting points with this ecommerce giant.
  • Run Deals and Promotions – Promotions like Amazon’s Lightning Deals can be a great way to move higher volumes of stock, or get attention when making online sales in Japan. Integrating short term sales promotions around seasonal holidays is always a popular tactic used by Japanese brands.

HB Pro Tip: For greater success with Amazon sponsored products, get really detailed with niche ad groups that are built around very narrow topics, with whole ad sets related to one specific selling point of your product. This allows Amazon to learn quickly who to serve your ads to and will make it easier for it to redistribute budget to your best-performing ad sets.

Learn Which Japanese Ecommerce Platforms Offer the Best Features for Merchants

Build the Right Team for Making Online Sales in Japan

Japanese marketing team supporting a foriegn brand in making online sales in Japan

The best piece of advice we can offer is to get a good team behind you when establishing the important processes and systems your ecommerce operations need to succeed.

Whether you’re looking to work with a local partner who handles everything from deliveries to customer services, or just a marketing agency who can help you adapt your product pages, website and ad strategy, having people on the ground who are already well-versed with the complications and challenges that come with making sales in Japan is priceless.

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