Who Needs Real Models When Cartoon Characters Can Sell Fashion?

In the homeland of Manga (comics) and Anime (animated films), it seems the world of S1m0ne (SIMONE) has come true. Who needs real actors (that make unreasonable demands and requires millions to get them to do what you want them to) when fictional characters can do better?

Best selling Manga-come-TV-and-Movie-Series "ONE PIECE" has crossed that line in Japan along with Hirohiko Araki's "Jojo" series where cartoon characters are dressed in available-in-real-life Gucci and A/X Armani Exchange.

Araki and his "Jojo" character, Rohan made history as a cartoon character made the cover of a fashion magazine for the SPUR October 2012 issue. Since then, Gucci and Araki have collaborated with a Gucci x Jojo exhibition at the Gucci Shinjuku boutique and once again, with Araki's character Joyline dressed in Gucci's cruise line for SS2013 in a book-in-book for SPUR's February 2013 issue on stands now.

During the Gucci x Jojo exhibition, sneakers with price tags exceeding 70,000 yen and a featured bag selling for over 200,000 yen were purchased by Araki fans, proving that the collaboration did not only pay off by generating a lot of foot traffic and buzz, but it actually converted to sales of luxury items.

The 12th and latest ONE PIECE film, "ONE PIECE Z," has A/X Armani Exchange dressing the leading characters in some scenes. The garments are featured on real life models in popular men's fashion magazine, Men's Non-no's January 2013 issue, on stands now, and will be available for sale in the brand's Shibuya boutique on a limited basis.

Once upon a time, Manga and Anime were thought to be for a limited group of geeks who knew nothing of fashion and dressed poorly. But Araki has changed that by having his cult series characters dressing in luxury brand items and proving that it actually converts to real life sales.

How well A/X Armani Exchange will do with the ONE PIECE endorsement is yet to be seen, with the movie just opening on 15 December and Men's Non-no going on sale on 10 December, but this certainly is a move in a different direction from having T shirts printed with ONE PIECE characters go on sale at ZOZO TOWN and UNIQLO, much akin to Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse.

If such authors as Araki and ONE PIECE creator Eiichiro Oda can have their characters endorse a brand and convert that to sales, perhaps the 2002 movie S1m0ne (SIMONE) was not that far off after all. And what better place for such fantasy (or threat?) come to life than Japan?


Japanese Department Store Sales May See First YOY Growth Since 1996 - Nikkei

The Nikkei reported on the figures released by the Department Stores Association of Japan (headquartered in Tokyo) on 18 December whereby gross turnover for the month of November was announced to be 554.2 billion yen (US$6.6 billion). This is a 2.2% increase over the same period in the previous year on an existing store basis; and the first time in seven months that the figures exceeded those of the previous year. It is now hopeful that annual revenue in 2012 may exceed those of the previous year for the first time since 1996, or in 16 years. 

The Nikkei also attributes this to the fact that the mercury has been falling lower than previous years, giving a much needed boost to sales of coats, scarves, and gloves. Newly renovated stores in both Tokyo and Osaka generated larger foot traffic as well. 

Clothing sales have seen growth for the first time in three months, by 3.4%; and in particular, men's clothing and accessories were up 5.8% while women's clothing and accessories were up by 3.0%. But home wares and accessories have fallen 5.1%.

Of course, one must bear in mind that 2011 figures saw a steep fall due to the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011.
The department stores are badly in need of good news and thus it is time there was some. 
Hankyu Umeda has just spent 60 billion yen to renovate the store, and is aiming to achieve revenues of 213.0 billion yen in the first year. Though the store had "sneak peek" openings in certain sections of its stores, the post-renovation grand opening was on 21 November. 
Isetan Shinjuku in Tokyo has just spent 9.0 billion yen to renovate its main area - women's clothing and accessories and is shooting for 235.0 billion yen in fiscal 2011. And so far, it claims the investment has paid off with a 60% boost in revenue YOY.
The Japanese retail market is now estimated to be around 135 trillion yen, and department stores have approximately 5% market share. There are entire generations - mainly the F1 and F2 group (young, urban female adults) - who claim they have never made a purchase in a department store in their lives, so the challenges are huge. 
Will Japanese department stores go extinct as the older generation pass away (even though we do have the world's longest living women)? Or, will such renovations enable Japanese department stores to get out of the addiction to markdowns and get them back on track to the aspirational shopping destinations they once were?
Even Isetan Shinjuku has offered "an additional 10% discount for a limited period" to its branded credit card holders leading up to its grand re-opening, which was at the beginning of the AW2012 season.
Among suppliers and brands, Japanese department stores are notorious for being "real estate agents" whereby their staff only man the cash registers and the rest is handled by the brands that put the goods on the floor as well as the sales assistants on a concession basis. This means that technically, the department stores do not "own" most of the goods on the floors until the item is scanned at the cash register as it is purchased. 
This practice squeezes the margins out of the brands, with "rent" being as high as 50% off the retail price for some goods, and around 32% on average. 
As I have run businesses for both Japanese and overseas brands, I have noted that this is the biggest choke on department store retail for brands. The other expenses, be it utility costs, overhead, or marketing - come in at around the same percentage of revenue as in any other OECD market. But this "rent" really is the killer. 
And, as revenue (read, "sell through") has been shrinking for the last 15 years, it has become more and more costly to do business with or through department stores, especially if your target audience are among the F1 and F2 group.
Some brands targeting women aged 19 - 25 years of age claim that being in department stores is a total waste because 2/3 of their revenue comes through mobile commerce and ZOZO Town and the rest comes through fashion buildings or terminal buildings (commercial facilities adjacent to terminal train stations).
Traditionally, the first days of trade in the new year are great indicators for the year ahead, so we will get some clear market messages as consumers vote with their wallets. 


Isetan Shinjuku Sees 60% Increase in Sales Over Previous Year After Renovation

According to the Saturday SENKEN, distributed on 8 December 2012, Isetan Shinjuku announced that sales of womenswear accessories increased by 60% over the same period the previous year in one week following the completion of its renovation on 28 November.

The accessories floor space has been doubled from prior to the renovation with 30% to 50% more SKUs on the shelves. Isetan claims to have not only bulked up on the moderate price zone items, its mainstay for this category, but also focused on enhanced quality.

In the first week following the renovation, there was 23% more foot traffic and average purchase value per customer was 25% higher, bringing the average unit purchase price up by 2,000 yen. There was no significant change in the highest volume price range, but Isetan says that there were substantially more purchases in the higher price zone. In particular, for scarves, its second price rage of 26,000 yen as well as the more expensive 40,000 to 50,000 yen range did well. The most popular leather gloves were priced from 13,000 to 19,000 yen; hats did well in the 13,000 yen, 20,000 yen, and 40,000 yen price ranges. Thanks to the increase in the higher quality (and priced) merchandise, higher volume sales were recorded in those items.

The key focus of the renovation was to re-zone the floor to better fit how customers shop. Items were split into those that are purchased alone and those that are coordinated with other items such as clothing.

The former consists of handkerchiefs, vanity cases, and umbrellas, that are now located along the major passages. Items that are coordinated with other items such as belts, gloves, stoles, hats, and hair accessories are concentrated in the center of the space.

Isetan also added new categories in womenswear such as glasses and sunglasses, accessories watches, and bag organizers. At the same time, brooches have been merchandised near the scarves, and eyewear accessores were added as well. As it is off season for sunglasses, 70% of sales of eyewear were for glasses with branded frames of popular brands selling well.

Loyal customers who are entitled to 10% discounts when using the house card recorded an 80% increase in sales over the same period, making multiple purchases along with apparel.

Isetan increased the number of sales assistants on the floor and added two new changing rooms. Large tables are merchandised with a mix of brands and items, and there are now five times more small, medium, and large mirrors on the floor.

Additional personalized services are also on offer - some for free, others at a fee - such as a wider selection of wrapping materials, embroidery service for handkerchiefs, and a skin colour diagnosis system to assist in the selection of stockings.

The promotional space has also been expanded to feature products according to fashion styles, occasions, and as solutions.

(Original text in Japanese distributed by the SENKEN. Translation and summary done by CarpeDiemJapan.com)