Most customers no longer make prompt decisions

According to womenswear brands whose main sales channels are typically speciality stores and multi-brand display areas at department stores, “In recent times, there has been a prominent rise in the trend of ‘keeping a product number’.” After the past summer, many domestic brands that had been popular for their trendy and wearable clothes sold at reasonable prices are experiencing a sudden change in their customers. They try on clothes, then leave.

There has been an increase in the number of customers who try on clothes but, instead of purchasing them, simply ask for the product number and then leave. Their mindset has shifted and they do not feel they have to purchase the product on the spot.

After that, they make comparisons online and through other means, and mull over the decision before they make a purchase. The number of people doing this is on the rise. This trend has been driven by the hike in the consumption tax that took effect in April last year. The number of customers who do not make prompt decisions has consequently increased. “At any rate, ‘large items’ such as outerwear have gradually stopped selling.”

On the other hand, conditions are different for those retailers that handle other products aside from fashion items. According to Life Corporation President Takaharu Iwasaki, “Looking at the Tokyo Metropolitan area, the hike in the consumption tax has had no impact.” Consumers were beginning to return to supermarkets after a period of shopping at convenience stores. By May, sales had returned to their normal pace.

For department stores as well, sales have mostly recovered to levels on par with the previous year since July, after the consumption tax hike. However, while sales have recovered in the central Tokyo for high-value items such as speciality clothing, accessories, and jewellery, which enjoyed significant growth last year, the recovery of consumption in regional areas has been slow.

Stores in central Tokyo have fared better as a result of inbound demand (from foreign visitors to Japan) that exceeded expectations. For Mitsukoshi Ginza, the duty-free sales ratio for all its departments reached 10%, and continued to exceed previous-year results after the consumption tax hike in April. Many stores in central Tokyo have seen their duty-free sales double after the expansion of the scope of duty-free items since October.

Uplifting feeling from buying exclusive products

Some say that the prolonged downturn at rural stores is happening “not only because the surge in demand before April was excessive”. This is based on the theory that new demand can no longer be created unless the store can offer a shopping experience where there are products that are only available at that particular store, or the products, services and atmosphere of the store can provide customers with an uplifting feeling.

The general view is that younger customers in particular do not spend money on clothing. By reversing this widely accepted notion while continuously growing its business, mash style lab Co., Ltd. is attracting female college students that spend somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 yen per month on clothes.

“When developing products, we do not work from the assumption that this or that is what sells. Instead we try to identify needs and start from there,” said CEO Hiroyuki Kondo, who worked as an architect before joining the fashion industry.

Every generation has fashion lovers who cannot go without buying clothes, and by targeting those customers and using thoughtful branding, the company has won over enthusiastic fans and become a market leader. “Our brand has to be one that would leave 1,000 people crying if we were to decide to withdraw our brand from the market, rather than doing no more than make 100,000 people remark that the brand has disappeared.”

Where are the target customers?

On the other hand, PLST, a speciality store operated by Link Theory Japan Co., Ltd., has aimed to achieve the number-one position in the product segment that customers feel is “good enough”. While it also procures and sells high-priced brand products, PLST’s main products are its own items, which can be purchased at reasonable prices while still being comfortable and stylish.

Women’s trousers are one of the store’s key products. Denim and chinos are sold at 5,900 yen and up – slightly more expensive than major SPAs or fast-fashion products. However, all of these trousers are stone-washed, and their silhouettes have been carefully designed. They offer the natural feel desired by women in their mid-30s who are raising children, as well as a careful attention to detail.

The products are not the least expensive on the market, but can be purchased at reasonable prices, and do not look out of place when worn together with imported-brand items. The brand’s line-up received a lot of support from customers and is becoming known as a go-to brand for new mothers. As well as trousers, down items have emerged as a successful product line.

The basic principles of the fashion business – identifying target customers, and providing satisfying products as well as an uplifting feeling – are once again being tested in the face of firm and demanding consumers.