TOKYO — As the Chinese New Year season begins, retailers in Japan are amping up efforts to reap the benefits of increased numbers of tourists from elsewhere in Asia. Many stores are offering special products or promotions in order to make the most of an already busy shopping season.
Last year the number of foreign visitors to Japan increased 47.1 percent over 2014 to a total of 19.74 million, according to preliminary figures released by the Japan National Tourism Organization. February was one of the months that showed the largest growth, at 57.6 percent. The number of visitors from China that month more than doubled. While growth is expected to slow this year, the numbers are still expected to be greater than in 2015.
“Airline reservation data indicate that the number of inbound visitors over the Lunar New Year and cherry blossom season might rise 40 percent year-on-year overall, with Chinese numbers doubling. Despite ongoing falls in per customer spend from the weaker yuan and a higher percentage of repeat visitors, we expect a greater boost from inbound demand in February,” research analyst Masafumi Shoda wrote in a report published by Nomura on Feb. 1.
Kazuki Kojima, who works in sales promotion for Takashimaya, said the retailer is expecting sales over the Chinese New Year period to increase by around 20 percent compared with the same period last year.
“In the case of our company, about 60 percent of all our tax-free sales are to Chinese tourists, so we expect that during a time when the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan increases, our sales and customer numbers will also increase,” Kojima said.
Takashimaya has produced a series of collaboration items featuring the characters Hello Kitty and Doraemon, which are popular even outside of Japan. It has also begun accepting Alipay, the Chinese payment platform launched by Alibaba, and is running a campaign to try to get more Alipay users into its stores.
Kojima predicts sales of popular brands such as Hermès, Chanel and Louis Vuitton will remain strong. He said sales of fine watches such as Rolex, which have been strong before, will slow slightly due to stricter customs checks. He expects strong growth in sales of Japanese cosmetics brands including Shiseido, Clé de Peau Beauté and Kose. Cosmetics generally make up about 20 percent of Takashimaya’s total tax-free sales, but Kojima thinks this share will increase over the Chinese New Year season.
A spokesman for Sogo & Seibu said the company is aiming for a year-on-year sales increase of more than 25 percent during the Chinese New Year period. It is hoping for an increase of more than 40 percent in customer numbers.
“We believe [sales and customer numbers] will grow thanks to the effects of inbound tourism; however, we can see a change in buying patterns,” the spokesman said. “Rather than spending extravagantly on one big shopping spree, we are seeing an increase in repeat customers who like to enjoy their shopping in a more leisurely way, appreciating the good quality of items such as cosmetics and food products.”
In order to cater to this new kind of international customer, Sogo & Seibu has revamped the tax exemption counter in its Seibu flagship store in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district. It has selected 88 products that showcase the best items on each of its floors, allowing customers to make their purchases in a more relaxed way.
A spokeswoman for Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings said while it is not specifically aimed at Chinese New Year shoppers, a campaign entitled “Discover Tokyo” is being held by the retailer’s three main stores and will run through the middle of February. The aim is to give both domestic and international customers an inside look at Tokyo’s culture and fashion and the event will introduce a wide variety of designers, creators and brands.