Tips to Navigate Japan Retailing

A lot of people who have never been to Japan before might be hesitant to offer products there because they're not sure if they can navigate the retail world. However, it's actually quite easy and fun! In this article, we will help you navigate the retailing world in Japan.


The two most popular online marketplaces in Japan are Rakuten and Yahoo! Auctions. Japanese retailing is different from US retailing, so here are some tips for navigating these sites.

Use Google Translate at All Times

Don't even try to communicate in Japanese. There's a big chance you'll be misunderstood anyway, and it will just waste your time. If you want to ask questions, write them down in an online translator, then copy and paste them into the message box of your buyer.

Use the following tools:

Livedoor translator: Called "Rakuten translator" but can also be used for Yahoo auctions
Google toolbar: Just select the buttons for translating stories or web pages on both Yahoo auctions and Rakuten (if using Chrome browser)

Know Your Measurements

Rakuten and Yahoo use the metric system, so unless you're American, don't try to convert anything into American measurements. Just learn your conversions fast.

One thing that helps is to know is that clothing measurement numbers are different from American ones: American women's clothes sizing goes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and, 17 number system, while Japanese sizing goes XS, S, M, L, XL and, XXL.

It may be easier for American sellers if they choose only a few sizes of each of their items -- those most commonly bought by the largest segment of your customer base -- and list them correctly on the site. Just know that in doing so you lose flexibility if a customer wants something in a specific size.

The most popular and promising categories in Japanese eCommerce are the following:

Fashion & athleisure
Beauty & cosmetics
Sports & outdoor

Make Sure You Know the Shipping Costs

American and European sellers are used to three shipping options: "free," "cheap" and, if there's a third choice, it is usually "overnight." In Japan, however, items usually have one option only: expensive or slightly less expensive (if you're ordering from Kyushu).

Japanese people do not understand why American and European sellers ship using the cheapest method while they could use that small difference in costs to send packages by faster and more reliable methods. So, make sure you value packages reaching their destination quickly!

Read Reviews Before Buying Anything

It may seem obvious, but American and European sellers should be familiar with the fact that not everyone leaves feedback. Many Japanese shoppers do not understand this "culture" of leaving reviews when you are satisfied with your purchase -- why bother?

Related post: Customer Expectations and Behavior in Japan

Be Ready to Answer Tons of Questions

American and European sellers take for granted that buyers are familiar with basic products and feel comfortable ordering without asking questions.

That's not the case with Japanese customers, every question is fair game! American and European sellers should not be afraid of having to explain their products in detail, even if this means they don't sell anything.

The only thing you should do is write those explanations down on paper before posting them online so that you can copy-paste them into your auctions. This avoids problems caused by typing mistakes or confusing sentences (the Japanese language is very complex!).

We've seen American and European sellers complaining that a customer did not leave them feedback and threw in some nasty comments -- when the truth was that the buyer didn't even buy from their store. You have to read through each comment carefully: many times one or more reviews is a negative one simply because the customer was unhappy about something else (bad experience with the shipping company, for example).


American and European sellers should take some time to learn about Japanese retailing before entering the market. American and European retailing is very different from Japanese retailing; those sellers cannot expect the same business practices to work in Japan!

Figure out how your store works in Japan. Are you getting a lot of international customers? Do they use credit cards, or do you need to print out PayPal payment requests? Will you take payments through bank transfers or do you prefer that customers send money by PayPal? Learn about these issues before starting your online business--or you may lose lots of potential sales!

Take this opportunity today to learn more about Japanese culture and start marketing in Japan!

Are You Looking to Reach Japanese Consumers Online?

As Japan's eCommerce powerhouse, Rakuten Ichiba boasts a whopping customer base of 100+ million shoppers. What better place to roll out your store and promote your brand than a popular marketplace frequented by 87% of the Japanese population?

Our team of bilingual eCommerce Consultants is here to answer any questions and guide your store through the process. It’s important that you know what sets our platform apart from other marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, or even Etsy.

Benefits include a unique Lens On Brand experience where merchants can fully control their storefront—from product pages to customer experiences—to give off an authentic feel for their products without having to worry about how it will affect SEO performance or brand image in search results pages.

We also offer full support throughout the merchant’s journey with concierge-level service and cross-border reach as well! If this sounds intriguing, get in touch with us to learn more about the exciting opportunities for eCommerce merchants in Japan!