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


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.


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.

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


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.


Perpetual Mark Downs Give Way to Jealously Guarded Mark Downs?

One upon a time, if you were on the A list of a retail store, you would get a call or direct mail from your personal shop assistant or the store that said: we will be marking things down soon. Come before the feeding frenzy starts, take your pick and we will hold them for you until the actual mark downs hit the floor.

Now that we got rid of what felt like perpetual mark down mania in retail stores, some brands are REALLY trying to make mark downs special by reducing the privileges of the A list clients.

Twice this week, I have been told by my favourite haunts that "the mark downs start on 26 June and well, we are not allowed to hold things off the shop floor for you, but we can take notes on what you like and if they are still on the shop floor on the night of 25 June, we will call you and let you know."It must be the mark down system du jour.

But then again, maybe it is an Ashiya thing - Ashiya is one of Japan's top residential areas. The likes of Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners have homes in my neighborhood as well as the bosses of the largest yakuza clan in Japan, the Yamaguchi Gumi. Where Ichiro has his home is called Rokurokuso, and if residents cannot afford the $5,000 per annum body corporate fees, you should not be a resident there. (I live in a different and less expensive part of Ashiya, in case you are wondering.)

I have noted that even in the lowest of the low times for the economy and employment outlook in Japan (we are not yet out of the woods, but there is a significant difference now thanks to many businesses doing better comps - of course, how could you do worse than last year, right?), the residents of Ashiya still drove around in their imported petrol consuming cars (none of that hybrid stuff the rest of the nation was rushing to trade down for) and wined and dined out. They were rebuilding or building anew homes, and perhaps the only retail store I saw move out of prime real estate was the fur shop, which moved to the newest commercial facility a couple of blocks down taking up a larger space.

Yes, quite a number of the "migrants" from Tokyo moved back to where they have their own houses, but this was probably a part of a nation-wide initiative on the part of their employers to cut back on housing allowance payments. As a result, the two neighboring units on either side of our humble abode are empty, but when I tried to get the landlord to lower the rent, he simply told me he did not need the money so if I don't like it, just move out. (Well, not in so many words, but...)

So, back to the mark down thing.

Yes, so A list clients can have their pick, but have to give priority to the unsuspecting consumers that may pay full price for the stuff they have their eyes on.

This maximizes the opportunity for the retailer to maximize its profit, so it is indeed logical. But who said consumers - and especially spoiled, A class consumers at that! - were logical?

They are buying things they don't need to begin with, so what makes the retailers think that not letting them whip out their plastic when the urge hits them, or failing that, appealing to their sense of loyalty in exchange for special treatment will have them come back to buy such things?

I guess the big bet was on the fact that they can buy it now at full price or risk not having it by waiting till it is marked down.

But we all have different trigger points - and being a proponent of flash sales, I am a big fan of appealing to the thrill of the chase, the sense of urgency, and the fear that the opportunity might slip by. But that has to all be done in prospect, and it is one thing to let consumers "think about it" for 20 minutes before an item disappears from their shopping cart; it is quite another when they are forced to go home empty handed and wait and see if (a) they still want the item(s) (there is no penalty for cancelling the merchandise); and (b) they still get to buy it. I think it is important to the consumer in this order, not the other way around. And the downside of the jealously guarded "wait and see" mark downs is that they are offering a helluva long "cooling off" period or time to realize that they don't need that item after all.


To Tweet or Not to Tweet - is NOT a question!

Yesterday, I bought the 31 May issue of TIME to read about FACEBOOK.
So, the SNS has reached 500 million users. WOW.
But the article content was dated and I was upset that I really didn't learn anything I already knew about FACEBOOK.

I also received a tweet that the latest ASCII research on Twitter in Japan says the average number of followers that Japanese TWITTER users have is 183. And that approx. 1% of followers are online sharing the same Time Line (TL) when the user is uploading tweets.

Since the 23 Jan 2010 issue of Shukan Diamond came out, which was all about TWITTER, any business publication in Japan worth their chops took up TWITTER.

Nikkei Trendy, AERA, you name it, they wrote about it.

But still, the number of TWITTER users in Japan seems to be well under its full potential yet at 5 million.
(See: http://e.netafull.net/internet/twitter/5-million-twitter-users-in-jap.html)

Given that in April, Twitter announced that it has exceeded 105 million users worldwide,
(See: http://techcrunch.com/2010/04/14/twitter-has-105779710-registered-users-adding-300k-a-day/)

and considering that Japan is still the world's 2nd largest economy, having less than 5% of the Twitter universe residing on Japanese soil is a bit sad.

While Digital Garage, one of my shareholders in Brandissimo. Ltd, the private sales club I am the CEO of, has secured rights to establish a unique monetization scheme for Japanese Tweeters, whereby users can charge followers to see their Tweets, what is driving corporations and users to TWITTER is definitely the open platform and its ease of access.

Unlike FACEBOOK, who has yet to launch a keitai (mobile) application in Japan (without it, there is no way FACEBOOK can be as big as mixi or gree), for TWITTER, there is Movatwi, as primitive and restricting as it is.

But it does for TWITTER users in Japan what uberTwitter does for Blackberry users and the various TWITTER on iPhone applications do for iPhone users.

But why is it so important to be on TWITTER?

For us, in the flash sales business in Japan, TWITTER has the highest conversion rates - almost 10 times that of SEM and 100 times that of affiliate programs.

We have given to Nikkei Business 7 June edition some very exciting marketing data on using TWITTER to impact sales. Keep an eye out for it. And if you don't read Japanese, well, you may still read it here after the issue comes out.


Still selling magazines? You are dead!

Personally, I am what magazines in Japan call a "wonderful minority" - I actually subscribe to magazines!

But in my case, in my quest to support local industry, I forgo the annual subscription discounts that the publishers offer in favor of having my local book store deliver them to my home.

So I must admit I have been a bit out of touch with what is happening at book stores' magazine stands for a while.

And I paid a visit to our local book store, Junkudo, and had a huge shock.

Fashion magazines are no longer about selling the publications.
It is about selling the gifts with purchase.

"Sweet," one of Japan's few titles still enjoying circulation and advertising revenue growth, is published by Takarajima.

And recently, an insider admitted that while the CEO of Takarajima does NOT attend editorial meetings, when it comes to meetings deciding what item to bind with the magazine as gifts, not only the CEO but all the executive officers attend the said meeting.

I wonder how fashion journalists feel about this.

Or maybe the term "fashion journalism" is becoming an oxymoron?
Is there any journalism in fashion, or more specifically, is journalism required to sell fashion these days?

One visit to a magazine stand in a Japanese bookstore says No.

This is very sad, but when I asked people outside of the industry (people we refer to as "consumers" for the fashion industry) (a) if they buy fashion magazines and (b) if yes, which ones or how they decided which ones, EVERY SINGLE WOMAN aged 25 or older said:

(a) Yes, I occasionally buy magazines but I prefer to read them at my hair dresser's; and
(b) When I buy then, I decide based on what comes with the magazine. When it is a branded bag or pouch, I usually buy it if I like the title, too.

So, back to my title. If you are a publisher and you are selling magazines, you will be out of circulation within the year. Have you jumped on the bandwagon of gifts? Consider boosting your budget for them and make sure your CEO understands that the most successful publisher applying this strategy has his/her counterpart taking the call on which gifts to use as it determines life and death.


"Desperado" looks of young men - the "ora ora" look

I used to have an office in Shibuya, but now I am based in more plush (but less exciting in terms of fashion styles on the street) Hanzomon.

So what a treat it was to go to Shibuya last night! Yes, Friday night!!!

And yes, there they were - the "ora ora" style boys! Dressed in head to toe black, their key words are "outlaw" and "dangerous." Dressed in head to toe black, they (try to) convey the image of a desperado.

Too bad they are of such androgynous build that they look more like small time drug traffickers than tough guys.

The expression, "ora ora!" directly translates to something like "hey, hey, hey!" or "what the hell are you lookin' at?" which is supposed to be a threatening verbal sound men make as they are trying to make their presence known to an adversary.

Some people say that this tough guy look is becoming very appealing to young women because it conveys a very strong and masculine image that make them feel they can turn to these guys to be "protected" in this day and age.

I have always admired the machismo of Indonesian men, for example. Dark and not of huge build (many of them), but there is often a very sharp sparkle in their dark eyes that say being masculine means a lot to them.

Korean men also tend to have a very tough guy core. I always attributed it to the national service and military experience EVERY single one of them go through. When a military trained man threatens to hit you, you know that he has been trained to kill in bare hand combat so you don't really want to mess around with them too much.

But Singaporean men, also military trained, are less menacing.

Then again, Singaporean men are less likely to see live action compared to the Koreans who are still technically "at war" with the North.
Maybe that has something to do with it.

And look at us. We don't even have a military force!!! Technically, the Self Defense Force is just that; they started as a special police unit and they are only to be deployed to defend the country, not to be oppressive on other people's territories.

There was a time when every school boy in Japan learned the very basics of kendo (the way of the sword) and judo. I wonder if they still do that.

So far, every single young man I have met in the last 3 months who is really into martial arts training is not Japanese. He may be Ozzie, British, Canadian or French - it seems almost impossible to meet Japanese men who are remotely interested in one of the many martial arts schools that foreigners uproot their families to come to train at.

And what of the "herbivore men" trend of late?
Men have become so passive and non-aggressive that some openly say they want to be some successful woman's "trophy young husband" or "trophy boyfriend."

I sure hope my son doesn't end up having that kind of criteria.

So why then, is the "ora ora" look gaining momentum?

Is it the typical Japanese thing to project an image without working on content; like a prop?
Or are some men really trying to become rugged and tough again???

The late actor, Makoto Fujita's most famous role is in the "Hissatsu Shigoto Nin" series. This edo period drama is about a band of skilled assassins who only kill bad guys. Fujita plays their leader, a harmless and oppressed by his wife and overwhelming mother-in-law "cop" by day, but a master swordsman by night. This dual personality is the personification of the proverb: the able hawk keeps his claws hidden.

But somewhere along the way, for our men, the "Clark Kent" personality became their only identity.

The super tough guy underneath just disappeared.

So maybe they want to bring some of that classic tough guy back?

Or maybe I am thinking too much and it is just another fad.