Is Japan ready for Black Friday?

Japan news December 2016

We are now approaching the end of the nenmatsu shosen (year-end sales war), arguably Japan’s most tumultuous period of consumer activity. The question arises: Is there room in the calendar for another slice of commerce?

Maybe. An article in the Shukan Shincho magazine of 1 December looks enviously at the popularity of Black Friday in the United States. Taking place the day after Thanksgiving, when the Christmas shopping season begins in earnest, the term “black” is said to refer to the fact that many US retailers operate at a deficit for much of the year, and so count on the frenzy of year-end shopping to move them out of the red and into the black.

“For the first nine months of this year, total sales revenues at supermarkets reached ¥9.607 trillion—a year-on-year decline of 0.4%”, a journalist who covers distribution and retailing told the magazine. “That was the first decline in two years”, the same source explained.

For department stores, the source added, business has been far worse. Over the same period, sales fell to ¥423.3 billion, marking a 5% drop.

The potential for Black Friday to give demand a shot in the arm was not lost on retail group Aeon Co., Ltd., encouraging adoption of the practice by its fully owned subsidiary Aeon Retail, which operates outlets in shopping malls on Honshu and Shikoku, two of Japan’s four main islands.

“From last year, the Japan branch of the US apparel retailer The Gap conducted a Black Friday sale”, a PR spokesperson for Aeon Retail pointed out. “Seeing that, we began thinking about giving it a try”.

At a total of about 2,500 affiliates, including its supermarkets and Aeon Mall shops, the nation’s largest retailer held a three-day Black Friday sale starting on 25 November. According to the firm, both the merchandise and the level of discount were set locally, with the discounted items generally including home appliances, winter clothing and bedding. Thus, for example, at one shop the chain’s private label down quilts that generally sell for ¥19,800, were reduced to ¥9,900.

Net newspaper J-Cast News, meanwhile, noted on 25 November that in South Korea, Black Friday has actually been endorsed by the government since last year. In Japan, Minister of Economic Revitalisation Nobuteru Ishihara remarked to reporters that “large-scale sales accelerate healthy circulation in the economy”, and encouraged the adoption of such measures by various sectors of industry and local regions.

Other retail chains, including the Toys“R”Us-Japan, Ltd, Gap Inc. and Uniqlo Co., Ltd. also held Black Friday promotional activities, in Uniqlo’s case extending special offers for the week of 23–29 November.

“Retail sales in Japan revolve around numerous occasions, such as the new year—which attracts long lines of customers who queue up to buy ‘lucky bags’—summer, yearend, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, when gifts are given, in addition to the presents that mark such special occasions as Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. There are also the items to be used in Halloween celebrations”, explained Tomonari Kondo, senior economist at Daiwa Research.

But he was sceptical about the effects of Black Friday. “It’s difficult to believe it will have a significant impact on total consumer outlays”, he was quoted as saying.