Shoppers flock to stores ahead of sales tax hike

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Consumers flocked to stores over the weekend to get in some last-minute purchases ahead of the first rise in the sales tax in 17 years on Tuesday.

Some shoppers bought luxury goods at department stores, including watches, jewelry, high-priced cosmetics and kimono fabrics. Others stocked up on daily goods from supermarkets.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd., which operates department stores nationwide, saw a huge leap in business on the last weekend before the consumption tax climbs to 8 percent from the current 5 percent.

The Isetan in Tokyo’s Shinjuku area marked a sales surge of about 50 percent Sunday compared with the last Sunday of March 2013, while the Mitsukoshi store in Nihonbashi logged a 90 percent leap and sales at the Mitsukoshi in Ginza were up 80 percent.

The last-minute rush pushed up sales that have been on the rise over the past year amid the gradual economic recovery.

“For sure, many people were buying products that they could hoard,” said Nobuyuki Miyaji, a spokesman for Seven & I Holdings Co., operator of the Seven-Eleven convenience stores and Ito-Yokado supermarkets and department stores.

Miyaji said Ito-Yokado supermarkets saw an increase in customers of more than 20 percent for the weekend, adding that many customers bought clothes, cosmetics and food that can be stored for a long time.

He said that although Ito-Yokado stopped selling electronics at most of its outlets several years ago, the firm decided to sell such goods at 35 additional stores from January to take advantage of the pre-hike rush.

Supermarket operator Aeon Co. said sales at 350 Aeon supermarkets Sunday jumped by 60 percent from the previous year.

The jump was seen in a wide variety of products, including underwear, liquor, cosmetics and cigarettes, it said.

Bic Camera Inc. said it also saw a surge this weekend at its electronics emporiums. “(The stores) were very busy, especially the white goods section,” said spokeswoman Yuko Harima.

She said expensive appliances like refrigerators, washers and air conditioners were popular.

Retailers said that while the surge before the tax hike was welcome, a downturn will be inevitable once it kicks in.

To minimize the slump as much as possible, some firms will be taking special measures.

“To keep encouraging the consumption sentiment . . . we’ll be appealing to shoppers with new products and their benefits, for instance taste for food, instead of prices,” said Miyaji of Seven & I Holdings.

Isetan Mitsukoshi said it will offer many new items, such as new clothing lines for spring and summer, starting Tuesday.

“If customers who have come in today stop by tomorrow and see the same lineups but with a 3-point hike, their appetite won’t be stimulated,” a spokesman said.

  • Mike Wyckoff

    I have to admit, the deflation is over for everything except salaries, so I went out and bought 2 A/C units. I remember when you could buy a cheap AC for under 30,000 not to long ago but the cheapest I could find was at least 40,000.