Business

Stores see profit in prayer as they cater to foreign tourists

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

From free Wi-Fi to prayer rooms, Japan’s retailers are devising creative ways to encourage foreign tourists to spend.

On Wednesday the government significantly expanded the range of goods that stores can sell to visitors duty-free. But some retailers are going it alone in pursuit of the tourist dollar.

On Monday the Shinjuku branch of Takashimaya Co. opened a prayer room to cater to devout Muslims. Tourists from nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia have soared since Japan started relaxing visa requirements for Southeast Asians by stages in July last year.

Takashimaya has also switched on free Wi-Fi at all its branches nationwide, granting users 30 minutes of free Internet connectivity, the store said in a statement. It has also boosted the number of staff proficient in multiple languages, such as English and Chinese. It now has 56 multilingual staff, up from 42, and is prepared to hire more as needed.

The linguists are stationed at the chain’s major branches, including in Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Nihonbashi districts, and Yokohama.

“From now on, we would like as many foreign visitors as possible to come and enjoy our upgraded convenience and superior service,” spokesman Mitsuru Nakamura said Thursday.

Expatriates might benefit from the provisions, too, he said.

Discount chain Don Quijote Holdings Co. on Wednesday launched what it calls a call center inside its Shinjuku branch, where a team of staff and students versed in English, Chinese, Korean and Thai will be stationed at an iPad 24 hours a day to answer inquiries from foreigners asked at other branches nationwide, said spokeswoman Toshie Sakurai.

Cosmetics maker Shiseido Co., meanwhile, has set up a team of what it calls “beauty consultants” — cosmetics experts who will offer foreign shoppers tips on how to better take care of their skin.

The consultants are not expected to be proficient in a foreign language, but they will use iPad screens to dial up information in English, Chinese and Korean. The consultants are available at branches in cities like Tokyo and Osaka, which foreigners tend to visit, said spokesman Shotaro Nagai.

The government’s expansion of duty-free categories on Wednesday may itself boost sales for stores willing to handle the necessary tax paperwork.

The change allows more products to be sold without consumption tax, including food, alcohol, cosmetics and drugs. Previously, duty-free items were limited to electronics, clothing and bags.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has billed the move as one aimed at making Japan a “tourism-driven” nation.

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