Best Ecommerce Platforms in Japan – Are Some Sites Better than Others?

Updated by Jim Kersey on 01/02/2021

Posted By Caylon Neely

There’s more than just Amazon to consider when launching your products in the Japanese ecommerce market. While the globally popular online selling platform is indeed a logical first choice for foreign merchants who prefer using something already familiar with, other sites like Rakuten, Yahoo! Shopping, and several local shopping platforms offer ample opportunity for high conversions and good returns.

We explore the best ecommerce opportunities in Japan and what you should consider when deciding about the best platforms for goals, whether you’re looking to build a one-platform sales model or a diverse multi-channel ecommerce matrix.

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Overview of the Japanese Ecommerce Market

As the third-largest ecommerce market worldwide with excellent logistics infrastructure and a domestic population with significant purchasing power, Japan is an important consideration for any brand looking to widen its international customer base.

Fashion, consumer electronics, travel-related products, and household items drive a large proportion of sales here, but Japanese consumers have shown a significant appetite for all types of goods.

As well as tapping into one of the most profitable consumer markets on the planet, brands that do well here also have good scope to succeed in the wider Asian region with Japan trends in the country often spreading to other countries in Asia-Pacific.

Forecasted Ecommerce Growth

*Tap or Hover on the graph below to see details.

Source: Statista

A major driver behind future ecommerce growth in Japan is how incredibly easy it is for customers to shop online. As well as a diverse range of products and services, people can enjoy fast and reliable deliveries, widespread high-speed internet (pretty much everywhere), and excellent customer service.

Recently, the rise of C2C platforms is an interesting addition to the ecommerce ecosystem, with people now easily able to sell second hand items for a reasonable price. While some merchants are worried about the effect of this on their sales potential, it can be argued that these channels also make consumers less fearful about making poor purchasing decisions, armed with the knowledge that they can sell on any items they don’t like later.

 

What Are People Buying?

Women using beauty products bought from best ecommerce platforms in Japan

The most popular retail segments online are travel, consumer electronics, furniture and household goods, according to J.P. Morgan’s 2019 Payment Trends – Global Insights Report. Fashion is also one of the top merchandise categories, and many foreign labels brands who have managed to appeal to the Japanese mindset have been able to bolster falling online sales in other markets, even giving their brands new global international appeal as a result.

Products related to food, health, beauty, toys, hobbies and DIY equipment also sell well. And as Japan’s society ages, with birth rates falling, some of the best ecommerce opportunities in Japan are now available to companies selling products that cater to older demographics and who are well-placed to get ahead of shifting consumer preferences in the years to come.

How Are People Shopping Online?

The mobile commerce market, consisting of shopping, services and transactions in Japan, has been rapidly maturing in recent years. Between 2013 and 2019, it’s total size almost doubled, increasing to around 4.55 trillion Japanese yen.

We also know that Japanese people spend a significant amount of time using their phones on trains, with the average working person in Japan spending a total of 1 hour 19 minutes a day commuting for work, or about 39.5 minutes each way. This leaves a significant window for brands to connect with users who frequently browse online stores and social media platforms on their journeys. Take a single ride during rush hour in Tokyo and you’ll know how true this is.

 

Top Ecommerce Platforms in Japan

*Tap or Hover on the graph below to see details.

Source: Statista

 

1. Amazon Japan

Example of Amazon one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Amazon is typically where most international sellers begin their journey into Japan. As well as offering a familiar interface, its handling of certain customer-focused activities on your behalf can save you huge amounts of time when getting set up initially. Oh, and it’s also the most popular platform in the country.

Investing heavily in infrastructure over the last decade, it now has around 12 distribution centers and four Amazon Prime centers in the country. Through the Amazon FBA program, you can deliver your products to customers pretty seamlessly.

Like in other markets, there’s almost nothing that Amazon doesn’t sell here. However, with such an eclectic array of items on offer, and a myriad of both local and international competitors, the competition is high. This can put greater pressure on you to distinguish your product listings and photography in a market where customers are able to view several related products right next to yours.

You may find yourself in a bidding war when appearing alongside competitors in search results. And if you don’t have a strong brand to justify an increased price, you’ll have to be careful your pricing strategy still allows you to make a profit after you’ve calculated local shipping and storage costs.

Key Features:

  • A collection of advertising options that let you put the spotlight on your products, such as Amazon Sponsored Products (ASP).
  • Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) provides good basic customer service support in Japanese.
  • Gift wrapping options can be made available for your products, which is a huge advantage when selling products around popular Japanese holidays and events.
  • The platform has its own Amazon Points system that allows buyers to use earned points to pay for products.

HB Pro Tip: The Amazon Algorithm (A9) can be somewhat unpredictable and ranking organically in search results can take a considerable amount of time. Success takes a long-term plan dedicated to specific keyword targeting and increasing sales velocity. However, in the meantime, Amazon’s Ads and Deals are a great way to quickly reach your audience within the platform by targeting branded, non-branded, and competitor-related keywords; whole product categories or specific product ASINs. This can make it much easier to scale initially.

Looking for More Information About Selling on amazon in Japan? Check Out Our Comprehensive Review of the Platform

2. Rakuten

Example of Rakuten one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Rakuten is Japan’s homegrown ecommerce giant. It is the second biggest platform in Japan with around 49,000 shops and a quarter of Japan’s total ecommerce market share. This might be enough to tempt you, but as the platform requires heavier investment of time and effort to set up and optimize your storefront for the Japanese market, many foreign merchants are reluctant to start selling here.

If you’re not familiar with Rakuten, the most important two things worth noting are that, firstly, it’s marketplace looks and functions quite differently to Amazon’s. Some have likened the style to an online “shopping mall” experience, where Amazon uses is more like a virtual “vending machine”.

This is largely because, on Rakuten, brands create their own digital storefronts and have the power to adapt layouts, visuals, design and messaging to engage with their customers in a less “generic” way than Amazon allows. Conversion potential can be higher here if you’re able to leverage strong brand credibility.

Secondly, Rakuten operates a partnership approach, allowing business owners to manage their own inventory and handle customer service issues independently of the ecommerce platform. This lets you offer a more personalised service to your Japanese customers, but also places greater pressure on your localization and customer service capabilities.

Key Features:

  • Brands have control over how they present themselves to potential customers through the virtual storefront, with the power to adapt the design and visuals for greater impact and conversion potential.
  • Rakuten’s Super Points loyalty-based rewards program is extremely popular in Japan, with members receiving benefits like cashback and discounts.
  • International merchants can opt for in-country warehousing models such as the Rakuten Super Logistics solution.
  • Much like Amazon’s FBA, it offers cross-border freight management, multichannel order fulfillment, and return management for online orders.

HB Pro Tip: Companies willing to invest considerably in their online Rakuten presence and branding through their storefront and listings can benefit from up-selling their products through their presentation and promise of quality. It can offer foreign merchants a unique opportunity to build brand presence and control how you are presented to your customer, potentially making sales more achievable when you’re not able to beat competitors on price alone.

Learn How to Sell on Rakuten

 

3. Yahoo! Shopping Japan

Example of Yahoo Shopping one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Yahoo! Shopping is the third biggest ecommerce platform in Japan, estimated to attract around 28 million monthly visitors. It sells anything from electronics to toiletries from thousands of merchants, domestically and across borders.

One of the reasons this has remained one of the best platforms in Japan is because it offers several integrations with other SoftBank and Yahoo-owned channels. For instance, searchers are redirected through Yahoo! search engine results, service pages, and yahoo-owned apps to the ecommerce platform.

It’s also worth noting that older demographics grew up in a time where Yahoo was the foremost online platform, with many work desktops using it as the default browser. Famous for their loyalty to brands and services they know and trust, this could mean that targeting older demographics may be easier through Yahoo’s suite of online services and channels.

Key Features:

  • Yahoo! Shopping now lets brands set up a virtual storefront and control the overall layout of their page, with a number of basic templates available for building a store.
  • The platform offers PayPay Bonus, PayPay Bonus Lite, and T points which have large user bases in Japan.
  • Merchants can access an analytics suite that tells them about traffic to their pages, which keywords were used to reach their page, demographics of visitors and overall behaviour history.

Amazon, Rakuten, or Yahoo! Who’s Better?

4. Au Pay Market (Wowma)

Example of au Pay Market one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Au Pay, formerly Wowma, is extremely popular in Japan today. Founded by the mobile phone company KDDI, it benefits from its mother company’s large share of mobile users in Japan, with the au brand having over 38 million registered customers, over 14 million subscribers to its ‘smart pass’ app, and over 2500 physical stores.

5. PayPay Mall

Example of PayPay mall one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Owned by Yahoo Japan, PayPay Mall was launched to revitalise the company’s presence in the Japanese ecommerce landscape, as Yahoo! Shopping struggles to contend with Rakuten and Amazon. It moves further towards the style used by platforms like Rakuten and Alibaba’s Tmall in letting merchants open and manage branded digital storefronts.

The platform also allows users to collect points using PayPay for their purchases, as well as additional points if they are Yahoo Premium Account holders. This, similar to Yahoo! Japan, allows the company to capture greater revenue market share from shoppers who are already invested in the SoftBank/Yahoo ecosystem.

PayPay, which functions like any other easy-to-use cashless payment method, is steadily gaining traction in Japan reaching 25 million users in 2020.

With the mobile payments market forecasted to increase to around 4.4 trillion yen by 2023 and as the cashless payment trend continues, we’re likely to see further growth from PayPay Mall as a result of Japan’s growing appetite for touchless payments and points-based reward shopping programs.

6. ZOZOTOWN

Example of ZOZOTOWN one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Featuring both local and international brands, ZOZOTOWN is the largest specialized fashion ecommerce retailer in Japan. Fully launched in 2004, it amassed a significant following through its intuitive design and careful selection of featured brands on its platform, with keen attention paid to the current trends in Tokyo.

Offering users a more premium experience, it is the best ecommerce platform in Japan for shoppers hoping to find new-to-market items from coveted brands like the popular United Arrow, Issey Miyake and APC. In addition to the ZOZOTOWN website, the brand also operates its “WEAR” stoppable magazine and launched a new app under the same name, where users can look for fashion inspiration and user-generated fashion content. It now hopes to become the “Facebook of fashion”.

Notably, this isn’t the place people generally go to when looking for a bargain, and its appeal is admittedly narrower than other platforms that cater to the mass market. Nevertheless, it’s a great option for western designers seeking to establish their products in Japan and reach younger customers.

HB Pro Tip: If you want to reach a fashion-forward audience, ZOZOTOWN might be your best bet. However, you need to be aware of its higher royalty fees than other platforms as well as the qualifications you need to meet in order to sell on the platform, which might require you to prove sales potential and brand credibility.

7. Qoo10 Japan

Example of Qoo10 one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Qoo10 sells products in pretty much all genres, such as fashion, beauty, sports, digital, mobile, home living, living, food, baby, entertainment, and books. It claims to be “fun, convenient, price competitive and secure” and welcomes all kinds of sellers, whether you’re an individual seller in Japan or a foreign brand.

One of it’s most effective strategies is the prioritisation of user-generated reviews, with regular promotions to entice shoppers to leave their comments. This is useful in persuading shoppers of your credibility and trustworthiness, assuming you’ve done a good job at providing quality products and reliable services.

The platform also covers the cost of various discount coupons designed to help attract customers from other platforms with better prices, with merchants not having to worry about covering the cost of the discount themselves.

8. Lohaco

Example of Lohaco one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

Compared with Amazon Japan and Rakuten, Lohaco’s market share is small, but it does well to cater to younger female demographics by understanding buying preferences and adapting to trends in the market. The platform also employs a carefully considered design, functionality, and an appealing brand image to promote lifestyle content related to its products.

The site oversees the Style Lohaco blog where it publishes reviews, lists, inspiration, interviews and more, even developing exclusive products jointly with brands, based on the concept of lifestyle-oriented design. Finally, this is nicely wrapped up with engaging multichannel campaigns that tap into audience aspirations.

The Rise of the C2C Platform

Example of Mercari one of Japan’s best ecommerce platforms

The consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace market has exploded in the last few years with shoppers using apps and online platforms to sell items directly to other consumers.

Consumer trends in the C2C market and platforms like Mercari — now one of the best ecommerce platforms in Japan — are giving people a new way to shop.

Engaging user interfaces on smartphone applications, a growing network of participating stores, more exchange kiosks, and the ability to get almost-new products for a fraction of the price is enticing many shoppers away from B2C online marketplaces.

 

So What’s the Best Ecommerce Platform in Japan for Your Business?

Amazon Japan mailer padded envelope and delivery notice from Yamato delivery company

If you’re willing to jump through all the hoops in bringing your business operations to Japan, a multi-channel ecommerce platform offers you the greatest exposure for your brand and more opportunities to reach users.

However, juggling multiple platforms can be much harder for foreign businesses without extensive Japanese language support and spreading yourself too thinly can make it harder for you to ensure consistency of service across all channels.

We recommend considering the following questions when making up your mind:

  • Do you need logistics support from your platform, such as Amazon’s FBA service?
  • Can you make more money by partnering with someone who can manage sales on one or multiple Japanese ecommerce platforms?
  • Are you equipped to handle the various localization processes of each platform, including product listings and virtual store set up?
  • Do you have enough Japanese language capabilities to handle customer service demands from your customers?
  • Does any one platform offer you a chance for higher ROI, based on an increased ability to sell to your specific target market?
  • How competitive are the platforms you’re considering? (In markets that are saturated with similar products, it may be more profitable to sell your products on more niche channels)

How Can Foreign Brands Improve Success on Japanese Ecommerce Platforms?

Most developed countries have higher rates of cross-border shopping than Japan. This could be due to one of the many aspects of the Japanese consumer mindset, including a distrust of organizations, high uncertainty avoidance, and highly selective purchasing behaviour when it comes to brands.

Although skepticism in domestic brands can be high too, being foreign adds another layer to this if you are not yet established in Japan. And it’s a safe bet your products will be met with a certain amount of distrust on their first encounter with Japanese shoppers.

Having a localized website and marketing strategy is necessary to lower some of the natural barriers you face, giving customers more confidence in your brand, and increasing the conversion potential of your online listings. Good platform localization is also crucial.

HB Pro Tip: Failing to localize and establish yourself properly in Japan will elicit a lack of trust and reliability from your potential customers, while losing any benefits you could have gained from connecting with new users through highly targeted product listings.

Marketing on Japanese Ecommerce with PPC and SEO

As each platform has powerful search functionality and its own advertising features, spending some time on ecommerce SEO is also vital. Whether you want to compete against similar products, show up as sponsored products in search results, or simply make sure your items are categorised properly, diligence in this area will go a long way.

However, PPC is probably the most effective method for new merchants to develop sales in the initial stages of ecommerce expansion into Japan. This is largely to do with the low barrier to entry, quick scalability potential, and the fact that, even with minimal local language expertise, pretty much any brand can plan and execute a digital PPC campaign on platforms like Facebook or Google.

At Humble Bunny, we’ve used PPC to support several brands like Aigner to drive up ecommerce sales in Japan with a strategy that carefully considers brand market positioning, user preferences, and optimal ad deliveries. For example, as a well-established luxury European fashion brand, we were able to leverage their brand credibility and convey a greater sense of value and appeal to targeted demographics with PPC ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Google.

Take a look at our Aigner case study for some useful takeaways you might be able to implement in your current or future ecommerce strategy.

HB Pro Tip: For those who choose not to leverage an existing online marketplace and want to open up their own ecommerce websites, SEO becomes even more crucial for building up your reputation and making sure people actually land on your pages through organic searches. Nevertheless, we also recommended all brands invest in PPC during the initial stages of their market entry strategy, to drive immediate traffic to their website.

Not Sure Which Platform Is Best for Your Products?

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Building a Japanese Ecommerce Strategy?

Once you’re set up and operating on one or several of the best ecommerce platforms in Japan, there’s still a significant amount of maintenance and ecommerce marketing needed to make sure your products sell well.

Admittedly, there’s no right answer when it comes to choosing the absolute best ecommerce platform in Japan for your needs, but by understanding your capacity and willingness to handle the various localization, customer service, and logistics obligations and requirements for each platform, this will help you determine what you’re comfortable in trying.

If you’d like to talk through your options, whether you’re already operating in Japan or plan to be in the near future, get in touch and we’ll happily discuss how we can help you start making sales on one of the country’s popular ecommerce platforms.

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