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Business

Japan shops stop waiting for Chinese customers to come to them

TOKYO -- For many Japanese retailers, attracting Chinese customers used to be as simple as: If you sell it, they will come. But Chinese tourists are not shopping like they used to, and this is forcing retailers to adjust.

Instead of relying on travelers, some are turning to the internet to reach Chinese consumers at home.

Takeya, a discount store in Tokyo's Okachimachi district, has done just that.

The store, housed in a conspicuous purple building, is known as a prime bakugai spot -- a place where Chinese tourists engage in "explosive buying." Although Takeya says it welcomes 430,000 foreign tourists a year, its president, Soji Taketani, wanted a way to stay on Chinese customers' radar after they return home.

The answer was Tenso, a Tokyo-based agency that sells goods on overseas e-commerce sites on behalf of Japanese clients. Tenso translates Takeya's online product listings into Chinese and sends orders to overseas destinations.

In addition to the Chinese website, Takeya plans to launch a new service using Chinese social networks. This could start next month, and the store hopes it will increase its name recognition in the country.

"Now or never"

In 2015, foreign travelers shelled out 3.4 trillion yen ($33.4 billion) in Japan, led by Chinese visitors. This year, even more Chinese are landing in Japan -- arrivals were up 34% on the year in the January-August period.

Each visitor, however, is spending less. In the April-June quarter, Chinese travelers spent an average of about 220,000 yen, down 23% on the year. The drop is being blamed partly on changes in China's taxation system.

In any case, the situation has retailers like Takeya shifting from passive to active strategies.

This month, mid-tier Japanese cosmetics company Utena launched a shop on Tmall Global -- an international shopping website run by China's Alibaba Group Holding. It sells 44 products, mainly facial masks, that are popular among Chinese travelers to Japan.

It all started in May, when the head of Utena's marketing division thought it was "now or never." Utena conducted research in China and found that 90% of women use facial masks every other day. It also found that imitations of its products were being sold there.

The marketing manager made the case for selling Utena's products to Chinese shoppers online, prior to their scheduled debut at local retailers next spring.

Meanwhile, leather wallet manufacturer Erina has teamed up with Bolome, a Shanghai-based venture that introduces Japanese goods to Chinese consumers on e-commerce sites. In August, Bolome staffers visited Erina's workshop in a corner of Tokyo that was once a haven for artisans.

"How do you make the wallets so smooth?" one of the visitors asked an Erina craftsman, while another filmed the interview on a smartphone and translated the answers. The 45-minute tour of the workshop was streamed live online and watched by some 3,000 people. Viewers posted comments such as, "The design is good" and "I want it!" Erina quickly received some orders.

Erina developed a following among Chinese tourists by selling its products at Tokyu Hands -- a popular chain of variety stores. But the company's chairman sees an urgent need to extend its reach abroad. "We cannot survive with the domestic market alone," he said.

(Nikkei)

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