Each year, Rakuten Ichiba’s consumer insights guru, Jun Shimizu (aka the Trend Hunter), sifts through mountains of e-commerce data to identify Japan’s most significant shopping trends. As always, this year’s ‘Hit Banzuke’ list offers unique insights into the comings and goings of consumer culture in the land of the rising sun.
Beat the tax hike!
Japan’s long-delayed second consumption tax hike, which saw the rate raise from 8 to 10 percent, finally hit consumers in October 2019. During the two months preceding the hike, consumers scrambled to make last-minute purchases for high-value items such as TVs (+131%) and home renovations (+70%).
At the same time, the Japanese government introduced incentives for people and businesses going cashless, offering up to 5% back on purchases made with e-money, credit cards and other digital services. During the same period, Rakuten Books saw a 92% rise in people reading guide books on how to make the most of the cashless economy.
One area of commerce exempt from the consumption tax is second-hand goods. Research conducted by Rakuten’s C2C (consumer to consumer) app Rakuma recorded that around 58% of shoppers said they felt more inclined to explore second-hand options because of this.
Consumption for a new era: Reiwa
Since Japan welcomed the ‘Reiwa’ era earlier this year, people have been flocking to one of Japan’s holiest sites: The Ise Grand Shrine. Rakuten Travel recorded a 110% increase in bookings to the region over the first nine months of the year.
At the same time, Japanese couples are apparently looking to cash in on the auspiciousness of the occasion, with Rakuten Ichiba recording a 40% jump in orders for wedding invitations.
The choice of the name ‘Reiwa’ has also sparked an interest in old Japanese poetry — the oldest Japanese poetry. In fact, Rakuten Books saw a leap of 948% in sales of books relating to the poetry collection ‘Manyoshu,’ (or ‘Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves’) from which the name ‘Reiwa’ was taken.
The Trend Hunter’s data revealed an interest from consumers in sustainable living.
Japan seems to be finally catching on to the reusable bag trend, seeing a 123% increase in sales on Rakuten Ichiba. More unique to Japan, however, was a 56% rise in sales of personal delivery lockers, into which packages ordered online can be deposited in case the delivery truck visits while nobody is home. This approach eliminates the need for repeated redeliveries, cutting down on vehicle emissions and lightening the load on Japan’s overtaxed delivery workers.
Audiophiles unite for ASMR
Over the first nine months of the year, Rakuten Ichiba saw a 478% increase in demand for high-quality microphones — a jump that the Trend Hunter attributes in part to the rising popularity of ASMR content on Japanese social media.
Audiophiles also bought 130% more wireless earphones — perhaps in part due to the disappearance of earphone jacks from smartphones around the world — and 491% more second-hand record player needles on Rakuma.
The Trend Hunter also brought attention to how Japanese people are spending their time off — namely with highly instagenic pursuits, such as glamping and home theater systems.
A 119% jump in orders for home projectors suggests there were more consumers looking to ‘chill’ at home in style, while conversely, a 236% jump in sales of second-hand tents on Rakuma and a 46% rise in reservations for glamping on Rakuten Travel indicated that there were still plenty of people looking to maximize their time in the great outdoors.
Looking ahead to 2020: High-tech home life and a possible Olympic exodus
Despite this push into the great outdoors, Shimizu expects indoor entertainment to take center stage in the future.
Rakuten Ichiba saw a 50% rise in sales of laptop PCs, perhaps due to a rise in people opting to work from home. Meanwhile, both the Rakuten Seiyu Netsuper online supermarket and Rakuten Delivery saw sharp increases in orders for meal kits, at-home catering spreads and smart home appliances (+26%) as well as VR headsets (+29%).
The one exception Shimizu highlighted was a potential mass exodus from Tokyo during the Tokyo Olympics. Rakuten Travel recorded a 141% increase in reservations for trips out of Tokyo by people from Tokyo during the weeks of the Olympics. Sports crowds aren’t for everyone, after all.