The Japanese shipper will transport goods from companies doing business on Alibaba's TMall.com platform to China, while an Alibaba affiliate will handle home delivery. Goods can either be flown across the sea when ordered or shipped by surface in advance and stored in warehouses.
Nippon Express is Japan's largest business-to-business and international shipper, enabling it to hold down costs by purchasing space on ships and aircraft in bulk. In teaming up with TMall, which controls 60% of China's online retail market, the shipper aims to handle half of all online purchases headed there from Japan.
Currently, Japan Post ships 90% of online purchases traveling to China via airmail with its express-mail service. But a fee hike of around 30% in June to 1,400 yen ($13.68) for packages up to 500 grams has raised headwinds to the service's use. Nippon Express will keep fees for similar items around 1,000 yen, aiming to pick up customers put off by the increase. Both services take four to six days for delivery in China.
Nippon Express and Alibaba will also take on the complex business of dealing with customs for companies on TMall. China updated rules on cross-border e-commerce in April and now requires such information as what is being shipped, prices and logistics to be submitted electronically. Nippon Express will be the first Japanese logistics company to create a digital link with Alibaba allowing this data to be combined and submitted in one neat package.
China's cross-border e-commerce retail market is expected to grow roughly twelvefold from 2014 levels to $245 billion in 2020, according to U.S. professional services company Accenture.
A number of Japanese companies are competing to offer better and cheaper shipping options to China, creating new chances for even smaller businesses here to access that enormous market. Yamato Holdings inked a partnership in April with companies including JD.com, TMall's smaller rival, to offer international shipping and home delivery. ANA Holdings plans to offer a service handling everything from customs procedures to delivery starting in September.
Such Japanese products as cosmetics and household goods have gained a sterling reputation for safety and quality in China. Consumers there are on track to buy 2.33 trillion yen ($22.8 billion) in goods from Japan online in 2019, according to the Japanese trade ministry. This is roughly triple the 2015 level.
E-commerce is growing more important to Japanese companies as a source of continuous demand from China. This stands in contrast to consumption by Chinese tourists in Japan, who have been spending less per capita of late.