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Business trends

Uniqlo and Shiseido among Japanese brands to lose luster in China

Local and South Korean names win fans through 'strategic' social media marketing

Pedestrians in face masks walk past a Uniqlo casualwear store at a shopping complex in Beijing.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- It seems like yesterday when Chinese tourists were flocking to Tokyo and beyond to grab Japanese products ranging from electronics to cosmetics. But loyalty to these brands may now be eroding, an analysis of microblog posts shows.

Japanese brands may be falling behind social-media-savvy rivals from China and South Korea that leverage a trend in the Chinese e-commerce market: Products that draw interest on social platforms enjoy a subsequent spike in sales.

"Chinese and South Korean brands are stepping up their strategic marketing of generating buzz on social media," said Tomonari Hamano, CEO of TrendExpress, a China-focused marketing company in Tokyo.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding's annual Singles Day event was a smashing success in 2020. Gross merchandise volume set a record just shy of 500 billion yuan ($77.3 billion) in the first 11 days of November, showing a healthy recovery in consumption.

Consumers were apparently most excited about buying gadgets and cosmetics from non-Japanese manufacturers, according to an analysis of topics that trended on the Twitter-like microblogging platform Weibo during a monthlong period that included Nov. 11.

TrendExpress tracked brands that appeared in posts with a keyword for Singles Day and "bought," finding that the three most popular names were all for smartphone makers: Apple, followed by Chinese competitors Huawei and Oppo.

A screen shows cumulative sales of 498.2 billion yuan for the 2020 edition of the Singles Day shopping event.   © Kyodo

Casualwear seller Uniqlo and beauty giant Shiseido, in ninth and 29th place, were the only Japanese companies in the top 30. They slipped from the year-earlier No. 8 and No. 21, meaning that they were mentioned less frequently by Weibo users.

South Korean cosmetics brands The History of Whoo, from LG Household & Health Care, and Sulwhasoo, from Amorepacific Group, surged to 12th and 19th place. In 2019, they did not even make the top 30. Chinese beauty startup Perfect Diary jumped to fifth place from No. 15.

The TrendExpress rankings -- a leading indicator of sorts -- contrast with the continued strength of Japanese companies on Alibaba's list of top-selling imported brands during the Singles Day shopping period.

Ya-Man, a manufacturer of face massagers, topped Alibaba's rankings, while cosmetics companies Kao and Shiseido were in fourth and fifth place.

Japanese companies seek to make up for the plunge in Chinese tourists with cross-border e-commerce. Despite strong sales in November, they may want to remember that Chinese consumers are always looking for something new.

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