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8.18.2010

Private Shopping Clubs are now the Norm - when will Geosocial Networking take off?

It seems to be a big deal that Gilt is teaming up with Target.

Target to Launch Flash Sale on Gilt for Fall Designer Lines

But in Japan, VOGUE.com has teamed up with Brands4Friends, legitimizing the business model in the eyes of high fashion.

This had a bit more impact than Glamour-sales teaming up with popular fashion glossy, SPUR; VOGUE and ELLE still hold down their places at the top end of the trend setting hierarchy.

But nonetheless, as the popularity of outlet malls continue in Japan, such private shopping clubs are becoming more the norm than an Industry outsider.

On top of that, Gilt has been selling discounted concierge service memberships and Starbucks deals as well, so they are moving more and more into the Groupon business area, utilizing their membership base and flash sales platform.

Foursquare and geosocial networking has yet to take off in Japan, but these social flash sales sites are definitely here to stay.

The key for geosocial networking to take off is to ensure that they work more on Keitai mobile platforms and not just on iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry - smartphones. It will be interesting to see who gets that right first.

Changing Landscape for Groupon Type Businesses in Japan?

It was interesting to read Mashable's latest on Groupon's international expansion:

Groupon Goes International, Buys Japanese and Russian Clones

When I was in Shanghai last month, it was interesting to hear that more than 400 Groupon type sites popped up in China in the last couple of months and already, the larger ones were acquiring the smaller ones over there...
(sure is a dog eat dog world!)

In Japan, I think Piku led the way, quickly followed by other Groupon clones.

And when Recruit, who publishes restaurant guides and coupon magazines that retailers and service providers PAY to get on, launched their own site, they really upped the game.
They already had the procurement channels.

It is obvious that the site structure is very basic, and without the need for product shipment, the procurement of services is key and having the right sales force to do it is the only entrance barrier to launch this business.
Of course, marketing is also important, and getting the viral buzz going is imperative, but that is really a core business activity, and one that can be accelerated once the daily deals offered generate marketing for themselves.

I think Piku's first boost came when they did the "2,000 yen ($20) pizza voucher for 500 yen ($5)" deal.
And that was their first real "national" campaign.

Once the procurement allows, the speed with which such sites expand into cities outside of Tokyo is a key driver of overall revenue.

In the brick and mortar world, even late-comer (they came after Top Shop, H&M, Forever 21, Gap, etc.) Abercrombie & Fitch is planning on setting up their 2nd store in Fukuoka, not another location in Tokyo, or the 2nd largest city, Yokohama.

How fast these Groupon businesses can populate other high-concentration commercial centers will really be the next thing to watch. Think: Nagoya, Fukuoka, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai and of course, Yokohama

Another thing, perhaps to watch, is how the likes of Gilt are moving into this space, too, as they, too, have the flash sale model.
Gilt has started selling concierge service memberships and Starbucks deals - moving more into the Groupon type space, so the business models are converging and clashing!

Need to watch this space!

Also interesting to read on Mashable:
Target to Launch Flash Sale on Gilt for Fall Designer Lines

8.17.2010

When consumers get tired of "Saving"

KENYAKU ZUKARE is an expression I heard maybe 6 months ago.
People started talking about how consumers are getting a bit weary of watching every penny.
 
This does not mean that the pendullum is going to make a full swing back to the bubbly, happy-go-lucky days of the "Bubble Economy" in the 90s; it just means that consumers will be even more discerning.
 
For example, instead of having a real beer (as opposed to the "new beer") every night, people may choose to only have beer three or four times a week, but instead of the cheap stuff, they will have the real stuff.
 
They may be shopping for "marked down daily specials" for fish and meat, but the rice may be from Uonuma - one of the best there is.
 
And so on...
 
For apparel, it probably means that instead of buying three pairs of 680 yen ($6.80) jeans at the supermarket or 2 pairs for $29 each at UNIQLO, consumers would invest in that exquisite pair of SAMURAI or AG or DIESEL jeans and wear it to death to get value for money.
 
The trend setting magazines have all done their "what the editors bought in real life" stories to feature real clothes trends;
and once again, the popular items are military jackets, leopard prints, maxi dresses, and skinny jeans...
I have to say once again: what else is new?
 
Soon, the feature stores on "my beloved, long-standing staples" will come out,
and once again, the glossies will start promoting the Converse basket ball shoes, the Levi's 501, the Burberry trench, and Margaret Howell "my favourite shirts" shirts along side the Chanel bag, Hemes Birkin and Kelly, and maybe something from LV and/or Dior.
"go back to basics," they will say, "and while you are at it, buy the real thing."
 
Some people have begun to ask if the market will be soon tired of the "real clothes" and "fast fashion" trends, which is the same thing over and over and over again.
Maybe it is time that we looked to buy more than the new T shirt from Alexander Wang or another leopard print scarf from Louis Vuitton.
 
For me, I think this desire to be more discerning and selective will lead to truly creative talent getting more recognition.
 
It has been very sad to see Martin Margiela move away from his eponymous label and Yohji Yamamoto go bankrupt.
 
And it would be nice to see someone who can make more than glorified street clothes get real recognition again.
 
Rei Kawakubo is a shrewd businessperson. She will do whatever it takes to keep the cash flowing so that she can pour her creativity into her collection line.
If more designers had her sense of commercialism, the collections themselves would remain more dynamic and inspiring.
Unfortunately, many designers have gone the other direction and commoditized their collection line in hopes of keeping their business above water, and in turn, accelerating the downward spiral in terms of creativity and excitement.
The more the designers try to make their collections "wearable" and "real," the easier it is for the fast fashion companies to outdo them.
 
I hope this trend will soon be reversed and that the real discerning consumers will start voting more heavily with their wallets about what has value.
 
I think it is now 5 years ago that I bought a hand-embroidered leather Dior jacket and matching short boots for about $10,000.
People still ooh and aah over them when I wear them.
The jacket is just WONDERFUL over jeans or white relaxed trousers.
The boots are stunning with a simple dress or tight-fitting cropped pants.
Galliano probably would NOT want to see them, but to everyone else, they are still very exquisite items that look stunning on me.
And I know that they were not copied by fast fashion brands - and even if they were; they are long out of stock.
 
I used to make a disgusted face when one of my staff members proudly told me that he is wearing his UNIQLO down jacket for the third year in a row.
I hope he is not wearing it again this year.
But then again, if he absolutely loves the damn thing, who is to stop him?
 
Trends just change so little these days, without a POS sign that says "marked down," who can tell what is last season and what is not?
We know that anything we buy now, we can wear for at least 2 years if not more.
So why save and buy more of the cheap, nasty stuff?
 
I reckon consumers will go back to really enjoying shopping for "the right item" at the right price, and not settle for anything less.

8.15.2010

Online Customer Service - the Japan Blue Way: MOMOTARO JEANS

I love jeans - there is no doubt about that.
How else could I explain the 200+ pairs in my wardrobe and my constant need to keep adding to it?

And being Japanese is a wonderful thing when it comes to some of the world's best denim - THEY MAKE THEM HERE!

And my latest obsession is to get my hands on - or more accurately, my bum in - a pair of authentic Japan Blue, MOMOTARO JEANS.

Though I LOVE the classics, I am not like the 507-loving, boot cut guy;
or the 1950s style Levi's 501 loving, regular or relaxed fit enthusiast.
Nor am I the "it's gotta be painted on" skinny aficionado.

I love a good tight straight as much as I love a clean straight punch to my opponent's chin in a good fight.

With MOMOTARO, the choices seem to be:

the 14.7oz Ultra Dark Tight straight jeans from their bronze label

Add caption
Or, the 15.7 oz Super Dark Tight Straight 0705SP from the SHUTSUJIN Label:



I read somewhere that anything over 14oz can only be woven in Japan.

I have a 24 oz SAMURAI 510XX and 21oz as well as the 19 oz from SAMURAI - and the 24oz jeans stand up on their own - without me in them! (NOT kidding!)

I am not quite sure which is better for me, so I wrote to MOMOTARO JEANS to ask what they would recommend, and this is what they said:

"Judging from what you describe, the best recommendations we have for you are the (same as above).
If you would like, we can send you one of each for you to try on."

The last line really blew me away. 

I could hear some of my friends saying, "This would only happen in Japan" - trusting me with $460 worth of jeans just to try them on!
And I have never bought from them before - amazing that they were not tempted to suggest that I go visit one of their retailers or stores.

I have a very good relationship with SAMURAI JEANS because they are based in Osaka, and only a 20 minute train ride away from home.

I love their YAMATO series - they grow their own cotton right here in Japan, have it spun, woven, and then sewn into their YAMATO series jeans. Last year's version was the best ever and the tightest fitting ever series SAMURAI has manufactured - EVER!

And when I ask them, they will put aside any number of pairs for me even if I don't rock up for a month!
But they know me.
I have a history and a relationship with them.

MOMOTARO does not know me.

I just told them that I love jeans and I own SAMURAI, Mizra, EVISU, Ossa Mondo, Chikiriya, and a whole host of others on top of the usual suspects - EDWIN, LEE, LEVI's, Earnest Sewn, Earl Jean...

And they will trust me with two pairs or two sizes each of two models if that is what I need.
Awesome!!!

Of course, I am going to take advantage of this - and will keep you posted!

8.04.2010

A Look Back at the Last 5 Years in Blogging

The Mashable entry on blogging was most intriguiging and very well done.
Of course, when thinking about Japan, one must look into CyberAgent's Ameblo (Ameba Blogs) and Live Door's blogs, as well as many others that the rest of the world has never heard of or considered looking at.

But the article gives a very interesting and detailed account of how things are on the other side of the pond.

A Look Back at the Last 5 Years in Blogging

I have kept a journal since as long as I can remember - probably since the day I learned to write cohesively.

A friend once said that the history of mankind is really a history of doments and letters - without the written word and printing press, history could have been so different and so much more personal for everyone; no one would have had to memorize events like the Introduction of the Weimar Constitution or the rise to power of Shogun Tokugawa if they felt it was not significant enough for them to remember.

OK, that was a bit of a stretch, maybe.

But the written word sure is powerful and lasting.

And blogging has really changed the way we use the Internet and references.

Once upon a time, people rushed to buy the latest editions of restaurant guides - now, so many of my friends prefer to look up blogs and the recommendations of their "peers" over published guides.
I have a reputation as a rather entertaining hostess when I want to be - many of my friends want to know which restaurants are on my list and why when they have the need to find some place they may not have been to before, but can trust.
If I dare tell them to go check out a restaurant guide or the site of a venue, they roll off like "water down a vertical post" incident after incident where they were betrayed or misled by such guides and sites. ARGH!

Japan is a highly literate nation - I believe we are as close to 100% literacy as a country could pretty much get...
And even today, something like 4 billion books are published every year and Japan Post sells 4 billion new year's cards to be delivered in the first few days of the new year, every year. People write and read.

According to Wikipedia, CyberAgent's Ameblo, Japan's No.1 blog service, had approximately 5 million registered bloggers on the site in April 2009 with an active user base of approximately 1.15 million. For a population of 120 million, and 94 million Internet users (population penetration of Internet usage for people over 6 years of age is 78%), that is a pretty good ratio.

According to an article published by japan.internet.com in April 2009 (http://japan.internet.com/research/20090402/1.html) , Ameba is No.1, closely followed by FC2 and No.3 is Yahoo! Blog.

An interesting observation on blogging and SNS is that I have "fans" and friends I only know online; and in some ways, I feel that my blog fans know me better than my next door neighbor. And with some of my digital friends on Twitter, I probably know more about where they go, what they eat, how they are feeling and what music they are listening to than I know about my mother, who lives with me.

It is at times scary when out of the blue, someone who has been following my tweets or blog(s) closely suddenly starts interacting with me like they have known me for ages, forgetting that I may not have kept tabs on them in a reciprocal manner. But it is interesting that the digital relationships can easily overtake physical proximity with people, though I must note that I do not believe that people can survive on digital relationships alone.

Working now with some very gifted wiz kids in programming and web design, e-marketing, etc., I find it interesting that some people are more talkative in the digital world and vice versa.

I refused to let my IT wiz kid set up IM for the office since we were all on one floor.
"What is the bloody matter with just getting up and walking over to someone for a chat?" I asked.
He had no answer, so he did not get his IM.

When he was interacting with our web development and site management company (3rd party), he and the engineers preferred IM to phone calls. I understood it was also good for keeping a log of everything that is exchanged and for them to clock their hours, but another element is that the techies did not want to talk even when they could.

Then, there are some motor mouths that you just cannot get off the phone or out your door fast enough who go awfully quiet and become to the point on email or IM - they are the ones, I later learned, who type slowly or poorly.

So, I have new rules about meetings when I want to keep them short - meet the techies face to face and do it over IM with sales and marketing people. Saves everyone time!

And blogs - yes, blogs (the main theme of this entry) - well, they are here to stay and I trust my kids will grow up thinking they are just another part of life. Maybe by the time the toddlers are grown up, people will only have to think blog entries and a device will post them on the Net?

I do, however, have a friend who has now switched back to using cold hard cash because he does NOT want someone else to keep tabs on where he has been and where and what he has bought at how much how often. He actually made a very conscious choice about this.
He says it is his way of endorsing a bit of inconvenience to preserve certain parts of his privacy.