TOKYO — The retail scene in Japan is showing some tepid signs of recovery as consumers reassess their priorities in a post-earthquake world.
As to be expected, March was a dark month for retailers as they absorbed the immediate impact of a devastating earthquake and tsunami and a power shortage. Indications about the future are still mixed. There are some encouraging signs from April and the Golden Week holiday period, which ran April 29-May 6. But last week Isetan-Mitsukoshi warned that it predicts an "extremely serious effect" on the Japanese economy and said consumer mindsets have cooled.
Just Monday, the Japanese government said April's consumer confidence fell to a two-year low, falling at a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.5 percent to 33.1 in April. Japan's first-quarter GDP numbers are due Thursday.
Earlier this month, Fast Retailing said April comps at its Uniqlo chain in Japan rose 4.6 percent as shoppers snapped up summer items. They fell 10.5 percent in March, when the disaster struck the northeastern part of the country. Similarly, both Isetan Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya recovered from double-digit drops in March. Isetan Mitsukoshi saw its April sales rise 0.5 percent while those at Takashimaya fell 0.8 percent.
Also of note, J.Front Retailing, which owns Daimaru and Matsuzakaya, saw its April sales recuperate from March to rise 2.2 percent in April. A spokesman for H2O Retailing Corp, parent of the Hanku and Hanshin chains, said its April comps rose 1.4 percent.
"Overall, fashion items moved a lot. Because of the earthquake, I think people were in a bit of a resigned mood in March, which affected sales, but in April Hankyu and Hanshin saw a surge," he said.
Specialty retailer Beams said sales during Golden Week were up about 8 to 10 percent compared to the same period a year earlier.
"It is difficult to generalize, as the crisis continues to unfold and we are affected in various ways. However, in the less affected areas, we see consumer minds lifting to previous year levels," said a Beams spokesman.
It's still difficult to gauge the longer-term impact on Japanese consumers in such an unprecedented situation, which Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called the country's worst crisis since World War II. Although the power shortage issue- linked to a crippled nuclear power plant north of Tokyo- appears to be under control at the moment, citizens and companies are making a concerted effort to conserve energy. There are also indications that people are spending more time at home, eating in and spending time with their families.
A spokesman for Sogo and Seibu department stores, which are part of Seven & I Holdings Co., said the retailer doesn't have April sales data yet but conditions appear to be recovering.
"April's sales were higher than [the same month] last year, and May has also seen a surge in sales. I think because of lifestyle changes brought on by the earthquake and power shortages, things will remain stable throughout the summer," he said. But we really can't say what will happen after the summer, as it's the first time we're experiencing a situation like this."
A Takashimaya spokeswoman expressed optimism. "I think things will recover and continue to get better," she said.
Mika Ikeda, an economist with Nomura bank, said she doesn't see the quake altering longer-term consumer patterns.
"Overall consumer spending was weak after the quake, especially spending on culture and recreation and [items like] bags, clothing accessories, wristwatches, etc. But it was temporary," she said.
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews