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- 9 Nov 2015
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Japan: Luxury’s Latest Golden Child?

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After a decade in the shadow of China, Japan’s luxury goods market is slowly picking up, but obstacles still remain, writes Fflur Roberts of Euromonitor.

Valued at US$26 billion (in real terms) Japan remains the worlds second largest luxury goods market after the US and accounts for just over 8% of all global sales. Bolstered by some of the highest incomes in Asia Pacific, Japanese consumers also enjoy respectable purchasing power.

However, weak or non-existent growth across a range of income and spending indicators among other economic and political headwinds has brought about a largely sluggish luxury goods market.


 Luxury goods sales appear to be going from strength to strength 


Population shrinkage – with the notable exception of capital Tokyo – exerts further pressure on expenditure. Japan’s old and ageing population gives rise to significant opportunities for luxury goods marketers focused on the rapidly expanding wealthy senior segment.

In the final quarter of last year, the Japanese economy grew 0.6% versus the same quarter in 2013. This dragged Japan, and along with it its luxury goods industry, out of recession, but only just.

Average wages are still down on a year ago, and Japan has a huge budget deficit to deal with. The overall economic prognosis for 2015 is not great, and middle-class confidence is weak. So, why is it that luxury goods sales appear to be going from strength to strength?


 Japan’s economic growth was brought to a brutal halt in 2011 


Overview Of The Economy

Japan’s economic growth was brought to a brutal halt in 2011 after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. The contraction was driven by sharp declines in private consumption and stock building. Growth resumed in 2012. However, the economy contracted marginally in 2014, precipitated by a sales tax hike that took a huge bite out of consumer spending.

Many Japan’s businesses lack the ability to finance innovation, at a time when South Korea, Taiwan and China are establishing themselves as rivals in the high tech industries. Net flows of FDI have been negative or have risen very little in recent years.

The emergence of China as a favoured destination for FDI was also a particularly important reason for the declining amount of capital going to Japan.


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Home To One Of Asia Pacific’s Highest Levels Of Income

Japan’s income inequality has worsened in recent years. One reason is that as the country ages, the income of its elderly falls relative to that of wage earners. Another is that the profitability of large companies has been sustained but no similar trend exists among small companies which are generally the main source of new jobs.

Third, the number of “irregular workers” has soared over the past decade and now makes up around one-third of the work force. They earn less than half the pay of regular workers for the same jobs.

Although Japan has one of Asia Pacific’s highest levels of income per capita and is the world’s second biggest luxury market, weak income growth, middle class contraction and population shrinkage strip the consumer market of dynamism and commercial opportunities.


 Japanese consumers are becoming cost-conscious & demanding more affordable private-label products 


Between 2009 and 2014, per capita annual gross income in Japan grew by only 0.8% in real terms, compared to the regional average of 23.9%. Companies will find that Japanese consumers are becoming increasingly cost-conscious and demanding more affordable private-label products.

In 2014, of the Japanese population in receipt of an annual gross income of US$150,000+, 20.1% belonged to the 40-44 cohort, with a further 18.3% falling into the 45-49 age band. This is partly a result of demographics: forty-somethings accounted for 14.5% of the total population in 2014.

Furthermore, high-ranking “salarymen” in Japanese corporations often fall into this age bracket and salary structure in Japan is often linked to seniority, with compensation reflecting decades of service. Simultaneously, these forty-something professionals are young enough to have a good grasp of the technology benefiting their employers.


 Population ageing will see older cohorts carve a greater share of the top income bracket through to 2030 


Population ageing will allow older cohorts to carve out a greater share of the country’s top income bracket through to 2030. This will shift peak earning power slightly further up Japan’s age distribution. In 2030, the 45-49 demographic will comprise 15.3% of the population earning an annual gross income of US$150,000+, followed by the 50-54 cohort on 14.4%.


The Highs & Lows Of 2014

Remember that Japanese sales of luxury goods spiked in the first quarter of 2014 as shoppers rushed to beat an April rise in consumption tax, from 5% to 8%. But, demand then dropped off sharply (and commensurately) in the second quarter.

The French luxury goods group Hermes, for example, reported Japanese sales growth of more than 20% in Q1 2014 versus Q1 2013 (at constant exchange rates), but then experienced a precipitous drop in demand in Q2 (see chart below). Yet, by the second half of the year, growth versus 2013 had moved back into the double digits.
Hermes is not alone. LVMH also experienced resurgent Japanese sales following a 2014 second quarter blip.


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Indeed, going by the recent financial results of the world’s biggest luxury goods manufacturers, you would think that the Japanese economy was doing much better than it actually is. So, what happened in the second half of the year to drive up spending? Were Japanese consumers binging in a deflationary climate, throwing caution to the wind, perhaps, as the economy continued to stutter? Or, was something else at play?


A Surge In Wealthy Chinese Visitors Has Fuelled Growth, But For How Long?

According to our new research sales of luxury goods in Japan reached YEN 3.1 trillion (US$XXX) at the end of 2014 and is expected to reach YEN 3.2 trillion by the end of 2015, representing an annual real increase of 7% and 3% respectively on 2013 and 2014 figures – a far cry from the double-digit declines witnesses pre 2012.

However these latest figures for Japan illustrate just how potentially misleading the geographical sales mix currently is for the luxury goods industry. For example, whiles luxury sales in Greater China were down by a real 3% in 2014 they were up 7% in Japan in the same year. The latter ties in with a huge increase in the number of Chinese tourist arrivals to Japan in the same year.


 Since the fall of the Chinese currency, the attraction of shopping in Japan is likely to weaken 


Indeed the big increase in international tourism arrivals was related to the weakening value of the Japanese yen. In particular, middle-class Asian tourists started eyeing up Japan as a comparatively cheap place to shop and go on holiday.

Furthermore, for Chinese shoppers, Tokyo emerged as an attractive alternative to Hong Kong, where widespread civil unrest had taken the shine off the city’s formerly glitzy shopping districts. Flying time from Shanghai to Tokyo is only two hours 40 minutes, after all. So, it is an easy weekend trip.

According to our latest Travel data, Chinese arrivals increased by 34% in 2014, following a decline of almost 8% on the previous year. A big proportion of those Chinese tourists were enticed to Japan by the weak yen, coupled with the opening of new luxury duty-free stores in the southern port city of Fukuoka. However, since the fall of the Chinese currency much of the attraction of shopping in Japan is likely to weaken as prices become less affordable. The same rationale applies to Europe and North America.


 Arrivals from China to Japan are expected to increase by an annual average of 6% in the next 5 years 


Indeed according to our latest Travel data arrivals from China to Japan are expected to increase by an annual average of 6% in the next five years, following an average annual increase of 12% in the five years from 2009. Similarly arrivals from China to the US were up by 286% in the five years to 2014 and up by 141% to France and UK over the same time period. However moving forward all three countries and expected to see these numbers drop to around 30% over the 2014-2019 review period.

Specifically, according to the Japan National Tourism Organisation, 13.4 million foreigners visited Japan in 2014, collectively spending around ¥2 trillion. It is a huge jump from only two years earlier when 8.4 million visitors spent roughly ¥1.1 trillion (according to the same organisation).

The big increase in international tourism arrivals was related to the weakening value of the Japanese yen. In particular, middle-class Asian tourists started eyeing up Japan as a comparatively cheap place to shop and go on holiday.


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Shinjuku, Tokyo shopping district


Furthermore, for Chinese shoppers, Tokyo emerged as an attractive alternative to Hong Kong, where widespread civil unrest had taken the shine off the city’s formerly glitzy shopping districts. Flying time from Shanghai to Tokyo is only two hours 40 minutes, after all. So, it is an easy weekend trip.


Luxury Fashion M-commerce

Mobile has become a huge area of interest for designer apparel and footwear retailers, and understandably so. Sales of smartphones have been on the rise globally, providing the perfect connection between the physical and digital worlds. According to our latest research unit sales of smart phones in Japan is set to reach 28.3 million by the end of 2015 – this is a massive increase of 230% on 2010 figures but is set to rise by a further 40% in the next five years.

Japan serves as an interesting example of the potential of m-commerce in luxury goods. Mobile internet retailing accounted for 35% of total internet retailing sales in 2014 and much in line with sales of smart phones has grown by over 200% in the last three years! This is much higher figure than in other developed markets where online shopping has been booming, such as the US and the UK. Fashion has become one of the most sought after categories in mobile shopping, with busy students, working women and young mothers favouring shopping for clothing while on the go.


 Mobile internet retailing accounted for 35% of total internet retailing sales in 2014 


Japans Ageing Affluent Consumers Are Recession-Proof

Japan is well-known for its ageing population. The figures are stark: In 2014, 26.7% of the population were aged 65+, the number of those aged 65+ overtook those aged 0-14 in 1997 and the median age is already approaching 50 years.

Consumer goods companies overall see the senior segment as a key target market. The Aeon Group, a global retailer headquartered in Japan, has a strategy aimed at targeting senior consumers, who they call the “Grand Generation (G.G.)”. Their initiatives include the launch of a range of women’s underwear “offering unique comfort based on the body shapes of women in their 60s, of which design and function also meet the needs of the active senior class.”

They have also increased their focus on single-portion, healthy ready meals again aimed at seniors, and launched “THE GOLDENSHOP,” a cosmetic brand for women aged 40 or over. In addition they have made changes to the shop floor including increasing font size in point-of-sale displays.


 When considering luxury, keep in mind that a big proportion of Japan’s affluent classes are older 


However, when considering luxury, it is important to keep in mind that a big proportion of Japan’s affluent classes are older consumers, and they are much more recession-proof and, by implication, less bothered by the shaky economy than their younger counterparts. Indeed, Japan has one of the oldest demographics in the world, with more than a quarter of the population currently over 65 years old.

It is this “grey dollar” (or “grey yen”) combined with a booming (exchange rate-fuelled) incoming tourism market that is largely responsible for what seems, at least at first sight, to be an anomalous trend.

It is also the start, perhaps, of a regional power shift from Hong Kong to Tokyo. Certainly, we expect Tokyo’s luxury retail sector to continue to perform strongly over the year ahead, despite uncertainty in Japan’s macroeconomy.


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Conversely, we expect Hong Kong’s to be subdued. China was on course to leapfrog Japan as Asia’s biggest luxury goods market by 2016. But, could an economically resurgent Japan now seize back the initiative?

Moving forward, the countries most like Japan in their demographic profile are dominated by advanced economies, but emerging markets are also ageing. Because of their scale, China already has 5 times the number of 65+ of Japan, and even India, with its young age profile, has twice as many over 65s.

By 2030, there will be 828 million over 65s in emerging and developing economies. Ageing is a global trend too large to ignore.





To further investigate local luxury markets on Luxury Society, we invite you to explore the related materials as follows:

- Indonesia: A Slow-Burning Luxury Brand Hotspot?
- South Korea: Asia’s New Luxury Gem?
- The Untapped Potential Of Iran For Luxury Goods Brands


more

Fflur Roberts manages the research programme for the global Luxury Goods industry at Euromonitor International, which provides strategic analysis of the global market as well as in-depth coverage of 32 countries worldwide.

Euromonitor is a Luxury Society Knowledge Partner.

euromonitor.com/luxury-goods