Return and Repair

Having a Return Address Is Crucial as a Foreign Ecommerce Seller

Providing return or repair services within Japan can be a hurdle for you as a foreign seller. Here is what you need to know.

When selling on Amazon Japan or Rakuten, you need a Japanese address.

Amazon Japan requires its foreign sellers to have a Japanese return address. It can serve your customers with basic return support. Amazon sellers have to respond to the return request of a customer within five days. Otherwise, Amazon might deduct the amount from your seller account. Then it can refund it to the customer on your behalf.

Rakuten demands its foreign sellers to form a Japanese branch before selling. In this case, you handle all Ecommerce-related actions in Japan through that branch. You will provide your own return services to customers.

Additionally, refunding or replacing, you should consider how you will dispose of damaged or returned products. Japan has strict product disposal policies. You need to break most products down for recycling. Sometimes you need to contain them if they consist of hazardous substances.

If you don´t know how to run a return service in Japan, it´s best to partner up with experts. They can set up a Japanese return address or even a branch for you.

 

Repair and return

What the Customer Expects in Terms of Returns and Repairs. 

Let your customers discover easily what your return or repair policies are. Japanese customers need clarity and detailed information regarding your services before buying from your brand. This supports the integrity of your company. It also lets you stand out from the competition. In addition, you need to meet your commitments by handling complaints politely. Therefore you should manage returns and repairs in a customer-comes-first way.

Japanese brands resisted disclosing their return policies in the last few years. You can be ahead of them and satisfy your customers by being transparent. This helps you as a foreign brand to gain trust.

Why Do Excellent Repair Services Help to Do Business Cost-Efficient? 

For foreign sellers who import medical devices, a repair service is mandated when doing business in Japan. Set yourself apart from the competition by having Japanese staff that can repair, install, maintain, and disposes of defective products. It saves your costs by handling it in the country. Depending on the product class, you need a license to offer these services in Japan. Therefore, you should get in touch with experts who help you to establish these services in Japan.

Conclusion 

Providing a return and repair service is not only a duty in some cases as a foreign seller. It´s also a chance to satisfy your customers beyond their expectations. Disclosing your return policies supports the trust in you as a foreign brand among the Japanese competition.

How COVUE Can Help You. 

We at COVUE offer return and repair services as part of our End-2-End Japan Market Entry Solution. This includes the installment, repair, maintenance, replacement, and disposal of defective items. If you need a Japanese return address or other support, we are happy to take these hurdles over. COVUE can handle them as your operating extended arm in Japan.

Content Localization

Importance of Content Localization in Your Business in 2022

Do you want more customers to engage with your brand and remain loyal to it?

Would you like those customers to purchase a higher number of products from you and to buy them more frequently? Content localization might be the key!

The importance of content localization is often underestimated by foreign sellers. A comprehensive localization strategy will make a difference to your success in Japan.

What is Content Localization?

Content localization is the process of converting written content from one language to another. The process of localizing content is not just about changing words and phrases; it’s also necessary to think carefully about how your target audience will receive each new message.

4 Advantages Of Content Localization That Let You Beat Your Competition. 

  1. Localized content helps to improve customer satisfaction and increase conversion rates, inquiries, and sales.
  2. Less than 10% of the population has fluent English proficiency in Japan according to this study. Japanese customers are more engaged with localized content due to its concise messaging and ease of understanding.
  3. Often it´s more cost-efficient to repurpose and localize your content than to produce new for your marketing.

In some cases, it´s necessary to adapt all content to the new domestic market to avoid any misunderstandings with your messaging.

How to Develop a Powerful Content Localization Strategy.

Specify your target group and geographical area.

The more detailed you set the specifics of your audience, the better your further research results in a good outcome.

Do your market research on trends and customer behavior.

Japanese customers are different. If you underestimate how they decide to buy a product, your chances of succeed are low.

Decide on the contents that need to be adapted.

Depending on your research results, you need a set of contents like images, videos, or text that need to be localized to the taste of the target group.

Don´t localize the content on your own.

Being an overseas company, it´s not sufficient to use a simple translator to locate content. You should get support from a local expert.

Conclusion

Content localization seems like a load of work and is often not the first thing that is minded by overseas sellers when expanding to Japan. However, if you want to scale your business here, then the adaption of content is inevitable. Specifying the target group, doing research on their local preferences and last but not least localizing the content are some of the essential parts to present your brand attractively to the market.

In short: The better your content is localized, the higher will be your sales.

Need Help in Japan Content Localization?

It can be overwhelming to customize the content to an audience that you are not familiar with and a language you don´t understand. To entrust experts with this task is a smart move instead of wondering about the odds of the Japanese market.

As part of our End-2-End Japan Market Entry Services, we at COVUE take over your content localization and interpret your content so that it attracts the market effectively.

Japan Ecommerce

 Getting Into Ecommerce In Japan

Tackling the ECommerce market in Japan is the best way to grow your business in the country of the rising sun successfully.

How are you planning to set foot in the Japanese market? Let´s take a look at how to get into eCommerce in Japan.

Quick Overview Of The Fast Growing Ecommerce Landscape In Japan.

As of today, Japan is the world´s 4th largest e-commerce market and it´s estimated that the eCommerce space in Japan will expand by 6% yearly until 2025 according to EcommerceDB. More than 74% of the Japanese population is already buying products on e-commerce marketplaces and this number is continuing to grow. In other words, the Japanese e-commerce market leaves plenty of opportunities for you as a seller to scale up your business by expanding to Japan.

Top 5 Best Ecommerce Sites In Japan 2022

1. Amazon Japan

As the global leader in eCommerce, Amazon has expanded into several countries, including Japan. As a foreign seller starting to sell in Japan, Amazon FBA is an excellent option for you because Amazon and Rakuten share a third of the Japanese eCommerce market volume.

2. Rakuten

With Rakuten’s E-commerce platform, you can sell directly to consumers in many categories such as electronics, clothing, accessories, cosmetics, and more. Consequently, Rakuten is one of the first choice of foreign sellers when expanding their business to Japan.

3. Yahoo! Shopping/ Yahoo! Auction

Apart from its counterpart Yahoo! Auction in Japan, Yahoo! Shopping Japan is another popular eCommerce website. Similar to Rakuten, it offers a wide range of products to its customers.

4. Mercari

Mercari is another popular marketplace that seems like an advanced online flea market. This platform allows those in need of a product to get in touch with those who wish to sell their unwanted items. Through Yamato Transport and Japan Post agreements, users can anonymously send products from local convenience stores through Mercari.

5. Zozo Town

Zozo Town is Japan’s most popular fashion-specific e-commerce site. Their customers can choose from a wide range of mainstream and niche products from domestic as well as international companies.

 How To Get Started In Japan Ecommerce  2022

Selling on eCommerce platforms in Japan can be challenging for you as a foreign seller who takes first steps into unknown waters. Before you dive into the expansion of your business actively, there are four questions to consider when you wish to accelerate your business in Japan successfully.

1. Do your expansion intentions align with your current business situation?

When expanding your business to a foreign country like Japan, great chances await you. However, the risk is often higher. If you are already an established seller in your own country or several others, then you are aware of the potential opportunities and issues as well as the financial aspects that will occur. In this case, you are better prepared to start selling in Japan. Therefore it´s not recommended to expand to Japan when you are still an inexperienced seller.

2. What are the legal and tax regulations of Japan when importing?

Knowing and following the rules prevents problems from coming up when you enter the Japanese market. Before selling your products, you need to import them to Japan. Some preparations must be made in advance and there is one mandatory that helps you to get your goods into the country. You need an IOR (Importer of Record) who is liable for submitting the legally required paperwork and the payments of import taxes and duties in Japan. With the right IOR by your side, you can simplify the import process.

Learn more about IOR (Importer of Record)

3.   What is the best shipping option for you when your products land in Japan?

An eCommerce marketplace is a great place to start if you are just about to expand to Japan. The platforms with the largest market share are Amazon Japan and Rakuten. They are frequented by millions of Japanese customers every day. Among the top Japanese marketplaces, Rakuten Ichiba offers support in English to foreign sellers. Moreover, Amazon Japan offers Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) in Japan, meaning that Amazon handles your inbound logistics in Japan. As an ecommerce seller, you might find it easiest to ship and sell through one of the biggest marketplaces if you do not want to deal with distributors and third-party logistics.

Learn more about selling on Amazon and Rakuten.

4. What market research do you have to conduct?

Expect the unexpected – that is the best way to describe the nature of the Japanese market and its customers. Their mindset and preferences are quite different from what you are used to. Unless you want to stumble and fail by exploring the market without further research, you better do an extensive analysis of the Do´s and Dont´s when selling to Japanese people. An overall localization of your products, your web shop, your brand and more has to be a part of your expansion strategy in order to scale your business in Japan.

The  6 Biggest Challenges Of Doing Ecommerce Business In Japan Today. 

  1. Rising finished product costs.
  2. Creating steady supply chains for the market demands.
  3. Developing and executing an overall digital strategy for Japan.
  4. Understanding the Japanese market and its consumers.
  5. Localization of the content tailored to Japanese preferences.
  6. Providing customer support with proficient Japanese-speaking staff.

Conclusion 

Establishing a successful eCommerce business in Japan is determined by the strategy you put in place from the start. Choosing which product is best to sell on which platform in Japan is only one milestone on the path of decisions you have to pass. Without further market research, your chances to set ground in the Japanese eCommerce market are low. However, if you take advantage of the existing options and select the ones that suit you well, you can expand your eCommerce business smart, easily, and fast.

How COVUE Can Help  You

We at COVUE understand the challenges you face when you are about to expand to the promising eCommerce market in Japan. That´s why we offer our End-2-End Japan Market Entry Services to serve your needs, answer all your questions and act as your extended operational arm in Japan.

Japan IOR

Japan Importer Of Record And Import Compliance: Here’s What You Need To Know

Japan IOR

Japan is not only an advanced and leading country in today´s world but also a safe and convenient environment to do business. If you are thinking about expanding your business, Japan is a game-changer for you. Aside from in-depth market research for your products, it´s also important to think about the best way to import to Japan.

The key to entering Japan successfully is to understand the significance of an Importer of Record and import compliance.

What Is Japan Importer Of Record?

Japan Importer of Record is a Japanese resident or company with an import license who handles all taxes, customs charges, and other compliance issues.

Responsibilities Of An IOR Company.

Having an IOR in Japan is your responsibility while the IOR itself has to ensure that everything import related complies with Japanese law. Therefore the IOR will submit all the mandatory paperwork for you. Besides that, the Importer will…

… check if compliance with the products being imported.

… pay consumption taxes and duties at the customs.

… deal with customs clearance and possible issues.

During the import process, all accountability lies in the hands of the IOR at the customs.

Customs And Compliance Considerations.

Getting to know Japanese import requirements and compliance documentation is crucial when doing business there. No matter where you are exporting from, for entering the Japanese market you need to abide by the principles of the country. Your Importer of the record must secure compliance at the Japan customs. This includes the three following steps:

  1. Classification and identification of the imported cargo.
  2. Determination and payment of tariffs and duties.
  3. Submitting a commercial invoice, packing list, signed bill of lading, or an air waybill.

Each item in your shipment must be described in the commercial invoice in as detail as possible.

Your packing list should contain the exact contents and measurements of each container, as well as their gross and net weights.

Besides that, you also need to be aware of the fact that your IOR has to submit additional paperwork sometimes depending on the product category.

For example, your IOR is required to get approval from the Japan PMDA in advance to import cosmetics.

Learn more about the different import categories

There are items that cannot be imported to Japan, like narcotics, firearms, explosives, counterfeit currency, and more. Other goods like hazardous materials, animals, plants, perishables, or in some cases high-value articles are demanding not only an IOR but also further paperwork. Additionally, import quota items require an import license, which is usually valid for four months.

Conclusion

To successfully enter Japan, you need a partner who will guide you through the complexity of customs and compliance. Having a trusted Japan IOR company is the best way to keep the import process as smooth as possible.

Your Japan IOR Partner of choice: COVUE

COVUE is your local Japanese IOR partner that supports your market entry into Japan. We know how to deal with compliance and customs. No matter what your product category is, we will help you document it appropriately and manage compliance, tax payments, and more. Over 95% of our licenses apply to food, cosmetics, electronics, and medical devices (class I-III), so you can be confident that we have your category covered. We set up an online IOR system to simplify your market access to Japan. With us as your IOR partner, you can monitor the whole process from anywhere at any time.

Content localization

Why Content Localization Matters?

Are you expanding your business to reach new customers? If your company is looking to expand internationally, content localization is essential.

While the answer will vary depending on the business, there are still obvious proof points to assist you to establish the business value of translation and developing a sound localization strategy for your company.

Especially in this new digital-first era, content localization may generate relevance in the eyes of each market’s consumers. It also strengthens links of engagement and brand loyalty, which are crucial during times of disruption and normality. However, for maximum impact, a content localization strategy must include more than just translation. Providing authentic, resonant relevance to each market and its consumers necessitates hyperlocal execution on multiple fronts, from the technical to the cultural.

Saying that content is king is no longer adequate. The delivery of a customized message that efficiently meets the needs of local consumers is referred to as localized internet content. If you want to promote your brand and attract potential clients, you should employ a localized strategy rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to web marketing.

But don’t be concerned. Localized internet content is not as difficult as it appears. If you provide items or services in a certain geographic area, chances are you’ve previously used it in your marketing to provide relevant information to your customers.

What Content Localization?

Localization is the process of matching your material to a customer’s cultural expectations. It extends the concept of context beyond simply translating words. Localization, at its foundation, helps your customers engage with your brand on a deeper level and increases their likelihood of purchasing. It may also involve picture or color changes, formatting, UI or design changes, and even payment methods, to mention a few.

The process of adjusting existing content to the cultural expectations of the client whose territory you want to address is known as content localization.

It may appear that translation is sufficient for localization. Everywhere you go, people are the same. The translation is insufficient. You must consider every element, from the uniqueness of the language and cultural values to the attitude in general.

Localization holds significant power. It can help your company get a competitive advantage, expand your market, avoid liability, and develop a strong global brand. So, let’s look at how you can keep localization in mind while creating content.

To establish brand loyalty, you will, of course, require a large amount of material that is ready to be localized for different markets. Depending on how much content you require, the amount of localization required might easily add up. For example, if you aim to target three buyer personas with content and localize it for five languages, you’re investing time and resources to create one piece of content in fifteen distinct ways.

Here are just a few of the different types of content you can localize:

Content for User Interfaces

Your user interface (UI) content is concerned with how visitors interact with your website. Do you know how you test, adjust and retest material to ensure a decent user experience? That is the UI material you will most likely need to localize. As a result, you’ll require the assistance of someone with technical experience to assist with the localization process.

Technical Content

You’ll require a localization professional with extensive knowledge in the sector for technical content like user guides and product demos. Documents such as user guides frequently contain critical safety information, so don’t take any chances when it comes to locating someone with suitable skills to assist you with translating and localizing them.

Games Content

Do you recall how bad the translations were on certain video games back in the 1980s? There is just no excuse for bad localization these days. In order for a game to reach its maximum potential, its localization must be flawless, whether it’s in-game dialogue, menu selections, or any other text that displays on the screen.

Generic Content

Finally, there’s the generic material that so many companies create as part of their engagement strategy. Blog entries and news pieces, for example, sometimes require only a light touch when it comes to localization, though most require more than just translation.

Importance of Content Localization

There are a few simple things you can do when writing English content to make translation easier for foreign markets. You may, for example, try using controlled, natural language. When combined with a global content strategy, content localization provides clear insights into prices, timelines, and budgetary consequences. It promotes a long-term approach to global corporate reach and aids in lead creation and customer retention.

It is important to use both strategy and localization. They serve consumers from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds with content that evokes the same reaction as native content. This results in increased trust, dependability, and curiosity, as well as a favorable influence across diverse cultures and global marketplaces.

If you want to expand globally, incorporating localization into your business plan will help you overcome cultural obstacles and ease entry into new markets. But the job isn’t finished. Understanding the significance of localization is only the first step.

You must now consider implementation and locating the best technology to maximize your efforts, which may require some convincing to your company’s stakeholders. But don’t worry, we’ve got just the piece to assist you to make your case for a localization strategy.

10 Best Selling Consumer Products in Japan

The consumer society we live in is rapidly changing and the outcome is often surprising. Economic conditions affect our shopping habits and it seems that now we’re being smarter when it comes to spending money.  It appears that we are no longer buying things we don’t need as much as we used to and we don’t do it impulsively but we rather think twice before paying for something. However, this does not mean that we now avoid shopping at all costs or that we shop less, it is simply that consumers are now careful how they spend their money.

 Japanese consumers were not very likely to spend much time at home a few years ago, but now, according to a survey, 46% of them prefer spending time at home. We reviewed the market research in Japan, and we made a list of products and products categories that recorded the highest sales growth last year. We present to you the 10 best-selling consumer products in Japan.

10. Bath And Shower

These products can hardly decline in sales despite the poor economic conditions in many countries. Such is the situation in Japan too, where there is a great demand for bath and shower products that contain skincare benefits. They have seen a strong performance lately as consumers want their bath and shower products to be efficient as well as fragrant, for example, mineral-rich bath salts or antibacterial liquid soap.

9. Organic Beverages

Due to the latest trends and people becoming more concerned about their health and the ingredients found in the food and drinks, organic beverages are in demand in recent years, with 1% growth in value terms. However, most of the organic products in Japan are imported and organic production in this country remains limited, according to the market research.

8. Sports Nutrition

Sports Nutrition deserved a place on our list of best selling consumer products in Japan, as it saw a 2% value growth last year and sales reached JPY 24 billion. This is largely due to the fact that more people are now physically active and do sport. It is expected that sales will continue to grow at a modest 1% rate in the future.

7. Vitamins And Dietary Supplements

Among the most popular consumer products in Japan are also vitamins and dietary supplements. According to the research, vitamins and dietary supplements recorded a 2% increase last year, and it is expected that in the future it will continue to grow reaching sales of JPY 1,181 billion.

6. Video Games

Video games remain one of the best selling consumer products in Japan with a 2% current value increase, according to the research. Sales reached JPY 1.4 trillion last year, which is a major improvement compared to the previous years. Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Classic Mini are the leaders of this sales growth, and it is predicted that it will remain this way in the future.

5.Writing Instruments

Even though consumers everywhere are now switching to convenient digital devices, unlike in many other countries, writing instruments in Japan continue to record sales growth in 2017. Japanese consumers continue to buy high-quality writing instruments despite the economic downturn, and this may have something to do with the fact that consumers get attached to writing instruments regarded as personal items.

4. Organic Food

Organic products seem to be a worldwide trend that is becoming more and more popular among consumers. Concerned about their health, consumers rush to buy organic food in their attempt to decrease the number of harmful ingredients. They are now more careful about the ingredients found in the food, and Japanese consumers are among them. Organic packaged food saw a value growth of 2% in 2016.

3. Watches

Although watches saw a serious decline of 13% last year, the category recovered and saw a value growth of 2% in 2017. 2016 was a tough year for watches as only a few brands saw a positive growth, but this year the situation changed, and it is expected that there will be a steady growth for the rest of the year too. Luxury products are becoming popular again and so the average unit price of watches is going to increase.

2. Organic Coffee

For many of us, coffee is the most important beverage with which we start every day. Organic coffee is among the most popular and best-selling organic beverages in Japan. Coffee lovers who are concerned about what they are drinking are switching to a healthier alternative which is organic coffee. Organic coffee saw 3% value growth in 2016.

1. Ready Meals

For working men and women, it seems quite impossible to find time to prepare a homemade meal every day. That’s where ready meals come into the picture, with a positive sales growth of 4% in 2016 reaching the top of our list of 10 best-selling consumer products in Japan. Consumers everywhere seek convenient solutions and so they turn to ready meals to save time. This is also encouraged by the growing number of single-person households.

export impoty

A Complete Guide to HSCode for Imports and Exports

HS Codes play an important role in international imports and exports. The HS code system can be pretty frustrating when you encounter it for the first time. They are 6-10 digit codes assigned to specific goods by customs authorities. These codes are used all around the world, making cargo easily identifiable and ensuring the seamless delivery of goods from Point A to Point B.

Before the Harmonized System was established, global trade compliance was a bit chaotic. Each item had to be classified depending on the country’s different tariff systems. The HS code system was introduced in 1988. This system simplifies the process of classifying goods globally. The HS Code system was developed to enable users to easily calculate and implement various taxes and duties. It also allows users to monitor and control various trade agreements.

If you’re looking to understand more about what HS Codes are and how they are relevant to your import or export, you’re in the right place.

What are HS codes?

The HS code system is a set of uniform, internationally recognized codes used to identify products for import purposes. Each code consists of at least six digits, often followed by optional extra digits, that precisely identify what a product is, based on its specific features, components, purpose, and other criteria.

Customs authorities check these codes on the documentation accompanying imported products. They do this for a number of reasons including:

  • determining tax and tariff rules that may apply for importing the products
  • ensuring that the imported products are not banned due to import restrictions
  • monitoring trade statistics

The code system is extremely detailed. That’s why it’s so effective. But it’s also why it can be so complicated to use when you’re still getting used to it.

Just imagine: the code system covers up to 98% of all products shipped in international commerce. When you consider how many different products there are on the global market, whether it’s jelly beans or paper cocktail umbrellas, you start to realize how extensive the HS code system is.

In short, when crossing most international borders, all products need to identify using the right HS code. Think of HS codes as your company’s password to entering the gate to a foreign market.

What does an HS code look like?

Each HS code consists of at least six digits, usually written in the format ‘XXXX.XX’.

These six digits combine three sets of the hierarchical two-digit codes used in the HS code system. For shippers, the process of finding the right HS code for your product starts with the Section numbers.

There are thousands of HS Codes, and each code describes specific goods. All customs agencies are able to identify these goods easily using the number associated with the particular commodity.

Take umbrellas for example. The digit “6601.91” is the HS code for umbrellas which have a telescopic shaft. But the digit “6601.99” is the HS code for ‘other umbrellas and sun umbrellas’.

Take potatoes as another example. Fresh or chilled potatoes will be classified as 0701.90. But frozen potatoes will go under the code 0710.10.

Each code has a unique structure as follows:

  • A six-digit identification code
  • Five thousand commodity groups
  • Those groups feature 99 chapters
  • The chapters themselves then have 21 sections

The code is structured and logical, stemming from the Kyoto Convention of 1974. A useful example to look at is as follows:

  • Section II of the HS Codes are ‘Vegetable Products’
  • Chapter 10 of Section II is entitled ‘Cereals’
  • Heading 06 of Chapter 10 is then called ‘Rice’
  • Subheading 30 of Heading 06 is then very specifically called ‘Semi-milled or wholly milled rice, whether or not polished or glazed’.

The HS Code given to this particular good is 1006.30. That digit reflects the product’s chapter, heading and subheading to form a unique digit recognised by customs authorities on an international basis. Think of the code as being split three groups of two numbers: the first group of two broadly categorises the product. The second two define the classification and the third group specifies the actual product.

There are approximately 5,300 of these codes in circulation. More than 98% of internationally traded goods rely on the HS Code system for their classification.

Why are HS Codes important?

So, now that you know what HS codes are and how to use them, you may be wondering: why are HS codes important? What difference does it make if you use the right code or not? The answer is: it makes a lot of difference, from a legal standpoint as well as from a business point of view.

The most prominent detail HS codes communicate for you as the importer is the taxes and duties applied to the shipment. However, other than the important information mentioned earlier, HS codes can also communicate data such as the origin of the goods, the eligibility of the products under Free Trade Agreements, compliance requirements, and assist in monitoring prohibited or restricted goods.

As the carriers of so much essential information, it is clear that these codes are critical in ensuring all shipments are treated correctly.

Where do I need to use HS Codes in shipping?

When shipping freight, it’s integral that you use the relevant HS Code on each line on your commercial invoice.

Using an HS Code on a commercial invoice ensures that exports make it through customs seamlessly and without delay. That way, importers will receive their goods faster and exporters are paid sooner. Failure to place the HS Code on the commercial invoice could risk the importer paying the incorrect tax. You also may end up paying interest on any back-payments for incorrect classification, and your goods may even be seized.

How do I find the right HS Code for my shipment?

There are several HS code Lookup sites that claim to help you find HS codes. However, due to the potential for fines and stuck shipments, if there are errors, you should ensure you vet HS code finders before using them.

The full breakdown of each chapter, like this HS code list detailing chapter 85, can also be found through the World Customs Organization, but deciphering this document is not simple and takes a significant time commitment. Inexperience in finding the correct code could result in you mistakenly using the incorrect code, which would have dire consequences for your shipment.

In exporting, from which country of HS code shall be used?

When exporting, the HS Code relevant to the country of export shall be declared on the export declaration.

Using the right HS codes always pays off

While the HS code system may seem like a headache to international retailers, it is actually a powerful tool for getting your merchandise onto the international market. Instead of seeing the HS system as a complicated legal formality, see it as a way of making sure your products get to your customers faster.

As a result of correctly using HS codes, you’ll keep your international customers satisfied and avoid unnecessary delays and expenses.

If you need any help in understanding Japan Import Compliance, COVUE is the best place to go. Contact us today to learn more.

Driving Digital at the Speed of Expectation

Ever wonder why the term “digital” has become one of the biggest technology buzzwords? After all, we’ve had digital technology for over a half century, since the first commercially available computer correctly predicted that Eisenhower would win a landslide victory in the 1952 presidential election. Since then, we’ve been on a digital transformation journey that has fueled nearly every advancement in modern history.

So, why the renewed fascination with digital transformation?

To answer this, we must look beyond technology and understand the fundamental shift in consumer attitudes and behaviors that have accelerated technology adoption and given rise to a powerful new force: the speed of expectation. Only by understanding the consumer side of digital can we truly appreciate the groundbreaking implications of the digital economy and the tools, strategies and mindset required to lead it.

So, what exactly is “digital” anyway?

Unlike previous advancements where a singular invention, like electricity, brought about radical change, today’s digital revolution is characterized by a fusion of technologies that include social, mobile, cloud, internet of things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and a slew of others. By themselves, these technologies are not revolutionary. But together, they have created a powerful set of force multipliers whose combined effect is creating a new reality to which every company must adapt.

The intersection of these four forces is the essence of present-day digital:

Pervasive connectivity – Through IoT and social technologies, people are more connected now. Not only are people connected to other people, but also to devices, and those devices are connected to each other.

Extensive mobility – Mobile has put the power of computing in our pockets, giving us the freedom to “plug in” from anywhere at any time. This enables a world that is always on and accessible.

Scale on-demand – The digital economy runs on big data that requires massive computing power and storage. Cloud services provide unlimited power and the flexibility to adjust resource consumption as needed.

Intelligent machines – Machines and software don’t have to rely on human programmers anymore. Instead, they use AI/ML to sift through massive datasets and learn to solve problems on their own.

Behind the scenes

While digital technology is disrupting the global economy, there’s another more subtle phenomenon happening behind the scenes with consumers. Every advancement throughout history, from the steam engine to the internet, has taken years to gain mass adoption and establish a lasting impact on society. It’s hard to imagine now, but electricity took 46 years before it became the primary source of power. After centuries of technology advancing ahead of human capability, consumers have finally caught up and are now demanding better experiences.

Be careful when the belt is in motion

This cycle of continuous disruption is reminiscent of an episode of I Love Lucy in which Lucy and Ethel were tasked with wrapping candy on a fast-moving conveyor belt. At first, the pace was manageable. But as the belt sped up, the women became overwhelmed and resorted to stuffing candy in their mouths. Fortunately for Lucy and Ethel, the factory foreman intervened to turn off the belt. The cycle of digital innovation, however, has no such safety valve. Companies not only have to contend with developing better user experiences, but they must do it at the speed of expectation.

Simply put

Half a century later, the digital revolution is still going strong. Today, the technology is vastly different — smarter, faster, more accessible and connected. But more disruptive than the technology itself is the unrelenting pace of innovation and the consumer adoption and empowerment accompanying it. Viewing digital transformation through this customer-focused lens, perhaps the essence of digital is more appropriately reduced to just one sentence: Your company is becoming digital if it is able to continuously deliver better customer experiences at the speed of expectation.

Notice there’s no mention of technology. Instead, the focus is on creating value continuously at a pace that aligns with consumer expectations. Technology plays an important role, but to be effective it must be matched with adjustments in organizational mindset, competency and agility.

Consider each component of this definition:

Continuous delivery can’t be achieved without an iterative development model with short deployment cycles measured in weeks — not months and years. This requires revamping organizational skills and adopting new processes for resource allocation and funding.

Better customer experience can’t be delivered using only the narrow lens of surveys and focus groups to gather insights. Companies must learn to use the social web to engage customers in co-creation activities that cultivate mutual value and earn trust. This too requires unique competencies that must be developed or acquired.

Operating at the speed of expectation requires an agile computing environment that can scale and pivot quickly. It also requires a flatter organization to expedite decision making and push it closer to where value is created and captured.

In all these examples, it’s clear digital’s disruptive forces present more of a challenge in adapting mindset than adopting new tools. Using digital-age tools with an industrial-age mindset may provide short-term gains, but won’t lead to better customer experiences that endure.

Technology will always come and go. What is here to stay is the giant leap in speed and agility required to succeed in a customer-centric economy.

japan work

Is Japan Actually A Hard Working Country

Japan as a whole has a reputation for being a hard-working country, with a strict work ethic and loyal employees. However, whether or not this dedication pays off in the country’s productivity is debatable, when comparing Japan to parts of the world less known for their worth ethic but still manage high productivity.

Japan Work the Same Hours as Everyone Else

According to OECD statistics, in 2020, the average worker in Japan puts in around 1,644 hours per year, compared to 1,779 hours in the United States, 1,538 hours in the United Kingdom, and 1,384 hours in Norway.

This number along with average weekly figures has been decreasing steadily since the 1980s, influenced partially by labor laws limiting overtime and work hours.

While hours are shortening overall, though, certain groups of employees in the labor force are still working long hours. Full-time, regular employees who work directly for their company are more likely to work overtime due to a mixture of social pressure from coworkers and their supervisors. Unfortunately, this can even result in karoshi or “death from overwork” related to heart or brain complications from a lack of sleep and rest. Karoshi usually makes headlines in Japan and internationally at least once a year.

Japanese Workers have many Unused Vacation Days

If you’ve ever worked at a Japanese company or Japanese school before, you have probably wished for more vacation days. Most employers will grant the current legal minimum of ten days of paid vacation to first-year employees, and no more.

However, despite this relatively low number of paid vacation days, most other employees will have barely touched them. This may be due to a combination of pressure from their company, cultural norms, and guilt. National statistics from 2018 show that only 52.4% of employees took their allotted paid leave.

A law that went into effect in 2019 now makes it mandatory for employees to take at least five days off per year. However, whether or not this will help workers actually take off is a separate question.

Nomikai and Mandatory Company Bonding

The amount of time that most coworkers spend together in Japan extends beyond just the office. Nomikai, or drinking parties, along with other types of company socializing, like golf and sports competitions, are a regular part of many professionals’ schedules. This constant socializing and activity is often compulsory or feels that way too many employees.

Drinking with coworkers and socializing can be entertaining and exciting, of course, but at the end of the day, these activities are an extension of work.

So, are the Japanese Really Hard Workers?

Cultural practices and societal expectations place a lot of pressure on workers in Japan to put a lot of time and energy into whatever they do for their employer. In terms of productivity measurements like GDP, however, it’s difficult to tell if all the effort is productive for Japan’s economy. It could be, though, that economic gain is not the only way to measure the benefits of having a dedicated and diligent workforce.

When in Tokyo, forget everything you know about 7-Elevens and convenience stores

The first time can be disorienting. You walk past shelves brimming with instant ramen — curry, seafood, chili tomato — all in packages of bright red, orange and yellow.

Deep-fried rice crackers and soy-flavored potato chips fill another aisle, not far from a bewildering selection of sugary candies and a dozen brands of sake.

The refrigerated section occupies the entire back wall: tofu bars, udon with shredded beef, steamed chicken and broccoli in onion dressing, boiled eggs sprinkled with tuna and bonito flakes.

There are so many carefully prepared meals, glistening in their clear plastic containers, it is difficult to focus. How fresh are they? Some don’t have expiration dates — they have expiration hours.

All of which makes you blink your eyes and look back over your shoulder to double-check the familiar green, red and orange sign you passed on the way in.

Yes, this is a 7-Eleven.

Eating can be troublesome at the Summer Olympics. Journalists, sports officials and support staff work ungodly long days, the dining choices at arenas and stadiums limited to soft drinks and hamburgers.

Tokyo’s omnipresent convenience stores — known as konbini — have extended a lifeline to some 42,000 accredited foreigners who converged here for the Games. This kind of selection, this degree of quality, in a store still open when you return to your hotel past midnight, isn’t just convenience. It’s paradise.

Aside from the glare of fluorescent lighting and omnipresent coffee machines, konbini have little in common with their American counterparts.

Estimates place their number on this island nation between 50,000 and 60,000; they abound in Tokyo, averaging about eight per square mile, with 7-Eleven, FamilyMart and Lawson as the most common chains.

Though not especially large, these stores are packed with a startling range of goods. Where else can you buy concert tickets, men’s underwear and tuna mayo onigiri wrapped in savory seaweed while also paying your monthly utility bill?

On a Friday afternoon, a team official from Thailand perused the toiletries section where a pair of quality nail clippers can be had for a few dollars. The ATMs often accept foreign debit and credit cards.

But packaged meals and delicacies are where these stores truly shine, with so much more than ever-rotating hot dogs and re-warmed chicken strips. The selection changes constantly, new arrivals announced weekly on the internet, anticipated with the same fervor otherwise reserved for the release of Yeezy sneakers or an album drop.

Featured items during the final days of the Games included plump sea urchin rice bowls and pork yakiniku bento with onion sauce. 7-Elevens, owned by a Japanese corporation, have collaborated with Michelin star restaurants on Tsuta Ramen and other instant noodles.

“The quality is next level,” says Kaila Imada, a senior editor for the multiplatform Time Out Tokyo, who has written connoisseur’s guides to the konbini. “You can find dinner there and it will be a top-notch dinner.”

Not everything is fancy — the late food critic Anthony Bourdain once raved about Lawson’s egg-salad sandwich.

“So I’ve given up many vices in my life, many shameful, filthy, guilty pleasures that I used to like that I just don’t do anymore. Cocaine, heroin, prostitutes, the musical styling of Steven Tyler,” he said during his “Parts Unknown” series on CNN. “One thing I just can’t give up. One thing I keep coming back to every time I come back to Japan.”

Bourdain referred to the plastic-wrapped sandos — as they are called here — as “pillows of love.”

The initial jolt is more than visual. This immersive experience begins at the sliding glass doors as you leave the city’s heat behind, stepping into a blast of air conditioning. Music plays from hidden speakers, accompanied by a symphony of commerce.

As Japanese author Sayaka Murata writes in her novel “Convenience Store Woman”:

A convenience store is a world of sound. From the tinkle of the door chime to the voices of TV celebrities advertising new products over the in-store cable network, to the calls of the store workers, the beeps of the bar code scanner, the rustle of customers picking up items and placing them in baskets, and the clacking of heels walking around the store. It all blends into the convenience store sound that ceaselessly caresses my eardrums …

A convenience store is not merely a place where customers come to buy practical necessities. It has to be somewhere they can enjoy and take pleasure in discovering things they like.

This public communion draws congregants of all ages and demographics. In the morning, salarymen with their pressed white shirts and briefcases wait in line behind kids getting something to eat before school. Workers in blue coveralls stop by for lunch. Dinnertime? Be prepared to wait.

A love of konbini and its community spurred two Americans living in Japan, Michael Markey and Matthew Savas, to start a podcast last year. “Conbini Boys,” which uses an alternate spelling, has grown to 62 episodes.

“It’s structural to Japanese society,” Savas, who has since moved back to the U.S., says of the stores. “You’ll see all kinds of people going to a konbini.”

The prices are reasonable, with meals costing $3 to $6. A dollar buys a puck-sized korokke — or croquette — with a blend of potato and beef that tastes both sweet and savory. People can rely on the stores to be open, no matter what.

“We call them our local superheroes,” Imada says. “They’re always there for us, 24 hours a day, whatever you need … they’re always open regardless of rain, shine or typhoon.”

Shinichi Mine and Satoshi Tanaka, whose “TabiEats” YouTube channel has more than 500,000 subscribers, visited Los Angeles before the pandemic and decided to sample breakfast at an American 7-Eleven. They were in for a surprise.

“It says fresh fruits on the container, but actually it wasn’t fresh. It was actually previously frozen because the fruits were soggy and bad,” Mine said. “Even the breakfast sandwich was soggy for some reason.”

“Why can’t a simple thing like this be a bit better?” he asked. “It’s kind of strange.”

The bottom line might be part of the answer.

Because they throw out fresh items that aren’t sold quickly enough, konbini account for part of an estimated 640,000 tons of food wasted annually in Japan, according to a 2019 report by the NHK news service. Lawson and 7-Eleven started programs to discount items close to their expiration time.

The U.S. business model favors a longer, more-profitable shelf life. American convenience stores, often linked to gas stations, have conditioned customers to expect something different, as in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Red Vines.

“In the U.S., the idea of convenience is linked not only to the idea of quick, but also cheap,” Linda Hagen, an assistant professor who studies consumer behavior at USC’s Marshall School of Business, wrote in an email. “So this close mental association that convenience equals fast, cheap, unhealthy is a big part of why convenience stores offer the assortments they do.”

With coronavirus cases surging in Tokyo, foreigners have been asked to limit interaction with the populace, but convenience stores have been a conspicuous exception. Pump bottles of sanitizer are stationed at the entrance and plastic sheets hang in front of registers.

No fluency in Japanese is required; checkout counters feature large touch screens that guide customers through transactions. With a minimum of pointing, a typically patient clerk shows an Uzbek journalist how to feed coins into the cash slot and everyone has learned to gesture if they need a plastic bag. Not all meals have English on the label, so people crowd around the refrigerated shelves, scrutinizing the fried rice and beef dishes, grabbing whatever looks good.

The mention of convenience stores among Americans here prompts smiles and starts everyone chattering about their favorite purchases. Savas rhapsodizes about shopping at a konbini early on, trying a dish called chiki, which is boneless chicken from a hot box.

“I distinctly remember sitting in my car, biting into it and a gush of juice bursting out of the chicken, splashing my glasses and clothes,” he said. “From that day forward, I was a changed man.”

Each visit offers so many choices, so many opportunities for something you have never tasted before. Growing bolder with experience, you might reach for deep-fried fish paste or smoked gizzards.

The first time at a konbini, though, can be tough.

Your eyes dart from package to package as the theme song from “The Little Mermaid” tinkles in the background. All those shapes and textures, the Japanese characters in bold type. So many colors — crimson, chartreuse, neon yellow — you don’t normally associate with food.

The first time, you might just reach for the egg-salad sandwich.