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Business trends

From cars to bedding, coronavirus transforms Japan's online sales

Retailers take advantage of virtual meetings to offer rich customer experience

Jaguar Land Rover sold three cars in May, completing the deals via video conferencing platform Zoom.

TOKYO -- While many businesses are suffering from a decline of customers due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, some businesses are finding themselves better able to respond to customer needs online than at brick-and-mortar stores.

Japanese rock band Southern All Stars on June 25 streamed its behind-closed-doors concert at Yokohama Arena live on the internet for 3,600 yen ($33.5), attracting 500,000 viewers. It shows that powerful content has infinite possibilities.

Though it is difficult to completely convey aspects of quality via the internet, many luxury car dealers have already started selling cars online. Jaguar Land Rover Japan, a dealer for British luxury car brand Jaguar, started online sales three years ago.

The company consolidated inventory data at its import wholesaler unit and nearly 50 dealers across the country. Customers log into Jaguar Land Rover's website and peruse the various models and terms. If they find the car they want, they can book an online meeting with a salesperson.

The company's efforts are beginning to bear fruit. The company sold only one Jaguar car last year, but three Land Rover vehicles in May this year. As a result of offering multiple models that meet customer specifications, the deal was completed via video conferencing platform Zoom.

Jaguar Land Rover Japan, a dealer of British luxury car brand Jaguar, started an online service three years ago.

"Online sales account for 30% of total sales in India and Russia, and seniors in Japan also have a higher level of information literacy skills," said a company spokesperson. "As attracting customers at real shops has become increasingly difficult, we want to eliminate barriers between real shops and online."

Companies are under pressure to provide values tailored to customers, instead of simply selling products online. Lifestyle Accent, which runs Factelier, an online platform of apparel and accessory factory brands nationwide, has operated brick-and-mortar shops to sell domestically-made clothing. But the company has struggled to convey the attractiveness of its products as customer number decline.

To solve the problem, the company in mid-March launched a free 30-minute online concierge service via Line messaging app and Zoom. It turned out that customers feel more comfortable consulting which items match clothes they have via the internet than by meeting in person. They can also learn how to put on a scarf, for instance. For some consumers, online services are more accessible than face-to-face ones.

While only about 30% of customers buy things at streetside apparel shops, some 90% of customers buy things via the company's online concierge service. The company is trying to convey the quality of its products by conducting online factory tours.

Luxury mattress maker Airweave started offering its remote concierge service in May.

The same applies to bedding, which customers prefer to check closely for comfort. Luxury mattress maker Airweave started offering a remote concierge service in May. The company assesses the customer's body shape based on photos of them standing, from the front and the side, which the customer sends from their smartphones. Customers can then chat with counselors online to choose mattress and other bedding that suit their figures.

As most people sleep at home, they feel more comfortable talking about their lifestyles and problems from home than at physical shops.

Simply replacing real shops with online outlets is not enough. Companies need to better understand their customers' lifestyles and identify potential needs.

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About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

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