Uniqlo in Japans Shinjuku Maruikaren department store

Uniqlo in Japan's Shinjuku Maruikaren department store

In an ever-changing global environment it is no surprise that consumer attitudes and behaviours are constantly changing and adapting. Shoppers in eastern countries like Japan are no exception.

The reason for change in eastern consumers’ behaviour comes from numerous underlying factors that range from the digital revolution to new cultural activities and a less materialistic younger generation.

In the global market, it is essential to understand how and why consumers are changing in order for brands, designers and manufacturers alike to adapt to reflect consumer needs.

Knowing this, businesses must take steps to grasp opportunities created by this new consumer.

In order to make the most of this change, one must start to rethink relations with customers and become more flexible about their sales directions.

For decades, eastern consumers have been steady and distinctive.

Unlike western countries such as the United States and Europe, consumers from countries such as Japan turned away from low-priced goods and often enjoyed pricier products by shopping in expensive supermarkets, preferring a high-end department price.

Their willingness to pay for quality assured luxury goods created the idea that wearing high-end brands and other expensive products was vital rather than aspirational.

This mixture facilitated a tremendous boost in Japanese retail sales, overtaking the USA on a global scale.

Rapidly changing
However, eastern consumers are rapidly changing. A September 2009 ‘MyVoice’ internet survey found that 37% had cut overall spending, while a further 53% proclaimed they were more likely to ‘spend time to save money’ rather than ‘spend money to save time.’

This behaviour has shocked high-end departments and they are now beginning to lease space to affordable brands such as Uniqlo and Forever 21 as a way of reviving customer sales.

But it’s not just affecting apparel sales; even leading beauty companies are promoting their lower priced products as luxury goods, as companies battle a year-on-year sales decline of 10% to 30%.

It is not only customer preferences that have changed the eastern consumer, but also the activities they choose to partake in; they are spending more and more time at home.

Almost 50% of age groups and geographies are now changing their habits by spending an increased time at home.

This change has also created the nickname ‘sugomori’ which we understand to be ‘chicks in the nest’.

Shopping shifts
This change doesn’t only apply to what the eastern consumers are buying but interestingly how they are buying it.

Online shopping has been key as eastern consumers have increasingly spent time at home, as opposed to at the major department stores.

There also appears to be a trend for visiting boutique and standalone stores, which has seen the birth of increasingly individual styles rather than the well-known brands we’re used to seeing on the eastern shopper.

Consumers are now favouring venues that satisfy needs beyond shopping, such as eating and entertaining, creating the perfect opportunity for new business and innovative stores to start up.

As lifestyle choices transform, health is another factor in the eastern behaviour change.

Being considered one of the healthiest countries, thanks to a combination of diet and lifestyle, the eastern consumer is becoming more health conscious.

This has led to the sports and recreational sector being the most steadfast in the east during the economic difficulties, as supported by a survey by ‘MyVoice’.

All these changes are creating serious opportunities for both domestic and international companies.

Because this behaviour is beginning to reflect a more western perspective, retailers are looking at western attitudes for guidance.

The focus is becoming wider, as online retailers are now paying as much attention to their low-end prices as they are to the high-end goods.

For decades, western companies have struggled to tempt shoppers in the east. So signs of change are certainly welcome.

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