Consulting June 2013

Time for a Change

After years of reporting on a Japanese consumer in retreat, we believe we are starting to see a sea change.

Even in recent weeks, the tone of our conversations with people around us has become much more positive.

The cautiously optimistic are turning into the simply optimistic, and those who have been fatigued by years of insecurity caused by financial and natural disasters are finally coming out of their shells.

To the credit of the creativity of Japanese business, marketers have, for some years, been furiously innovating to meet the challenge of a consumer stuck in neutral.

One notable trend has been the elevation of the everyday staple into something just a little bit special. A name has even been coined to express this idea—petit zeitaku (luxury). This is a means by which consumers can get a cheap but meaningful boost by buying upgraded versions of items to fulfil their everyday needs.

Today, examples of this abound in the market and are increasing by the day. The proliferating specialist stockists and sections in shops offer the chance to discover premium value in everyday goods.

Even in the more utilitarian channels, such as 7-Eleven, basics such as bread, beer, chocolates and coffee are undergoing upgrades.

These premium items may cost significantly more in percentage terms than the average in their category but, overall, they don’t dent the budget too badly. Further, they have come to represent the perfect pick-me-up in a bad economy.

Now that the country’s financial situation is on track to recovery, look for these items to become entrenched as one of the bases of an overall boom in premium goods and experiences.

While one is always best advised to stay cautious in a market that has disappointed time and time again, for British businesses that understand premium marketing, now seems a good time to have another look at Japan.