The Japanese luxury market is back on the path to growth

In 2016, Japan exited a twenty-year long deflationary period, and its economy has been growing in the last two years. Even though Japan’s GDP slowed down in the last few months, the country is still attractive for the luxury industry. “Foreign trade hiked up again, the Japanese stock market performed much better than its European and US counterparts, and the yen weakened, after appreciating strongly between mid-2015 and 2016: this has engendered a more favourable context for luxury goods demand, both by domestic consumers and tourists.” These were the findings of the recent study ‘The Japanese luxury market: signs of life’, by Leoni Corporate Advisors (LCA) with Luca Solca, in charge of the luxury industry at Exane Paribas.


The Ginza Six shopping mall, opened in 2017 in Tokyo, has attracted the top luxury brands - DR

“The Japanese market is interesting because consumer confidence is back into positive territory, and so are retail sales. Domestic demand is extremely buoyant. Besides, the country is benefiting from a major tourist inflow from South-East Asia, notably from China,” said Paola Leoni, founder and managing partner at LCA, speaking to FashionNetwork.com.

Taking advantage of the yen’s depreciation, Chinese consumers are again flocking to Japan, which they have been shunning to the benefit of countries like South Korea. “Chinese nationals account for 50% of Japan’s tourist flows. And their average expenditure is three times higher than that of other visitors,” said Paola Leoni.

Between 2012 and 2017, total luxury goods sales in Japan grew from €19 billion to €22 billion, a much weaker annual growth rate than that of the luxury market worldwide, which was between 4% and 5%. However, according to estimates by Bain & Co. for Altagamma, the association of Italian luxury goods companies, Japan reportedly posted a 4% growth rate in this segment in 2017, and revenue increased in the majority of product categories and retail channels.

Sales in department stores, the dominant force in luxury goods distribution in Japan, posted a slight increase. Only those retailers who were able to upgrade and boost their services, like Hankyu, which featured in-store events and bolstered its marketing investments, managed to grow at a faster clip, in the region of 5%. Others were stable, like Isetan and Takashimaya, or even recorded a sales slump, like Seibu and Daimaru.

“This could create a problem for fashion labels which, in Japan, have strong bonds with department stores, where they generate between 40% and 50% of their revenue. These labels risk being affected by the department stores’ rather outdated image, while select shops, especially multibrand fashion retailers, are booming, and produce double-digit growth,” said Paola Leoni.

According to her, concept stores which spawned fully fledged retail chains, like United Arrows, Tomorrowland, Beams and Baycrew’s, are more in synch with Millennials, offering a “fresher, brighter” range of products, a blend of established and emerging labels.

“They actually play a pivotal role between the new generation of consumers and traditional luxury, via a product selection which leans very strongly towards streetwear labels by the most directional designers, whether American or Japanese,” both established and emerging, like Doublet, Takahiromiyashita The Soloist, Undercover and N. Hollywood, to mention but a few.

Another interesting phenomenon is the changing behaviour of female luxury consumers in Japan. “The attitude of Japanese women, especially those with a job, has evolved, and it is much closer to that of Western consumers. They now dare to wear high heels and even sandals!” said Paola Leoni.

Translated by Nicola Mira

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