Unpopular ‘Premium Friday’ campaign in danger of fizzling out

JIJI

“Premium Friday,” the nationwide campaign encouraging people to leave work early on the last Friday of every month and spur spending, faces a crucial moment a half year after its splashy debut.

Only a small number of companies have managed to establish the practice of departing early, while operators of department stores and amusement facilities are running out of ideas to attract visitors on the designated Fridays.

Travel agency H.I.S. Co. used to highlight the campaign on its website, but the post is now difficult to locate.

“With many people busy at the end of the month, not a lot of people go on holiday because of Premium Friday,” a company official said, questioning the effectiveness of the government-backed campaign.

Yomiuri Land Co., which runs an amusement park, sold discount tickets only for the first Premium Friday event on Feb. 24.

An air of disappointment meanwhile hangs over the department store sector, which has been competing to provide different services, such as events and discounts, for early evening visitors.

“Few people are leaving work early and the effect has not been great,” said Shigeki Yamazaki, managing director of the Japan Department Stores Association.

But there are some businesses that are benefitting from the campaign.

For example, izakaya (traditional taverns) specializing in tuna dishes have seen an increase in customers after cutting prices in the early evenings.

Suntory Beer Ltd., which has actively promoted drinking at home, saw higher sales as well.

But sources in the food service industry said it is unclear whether the increase in sales has been worth the cost of promoting Premium Friday.

According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, slightly over 500 companies, mainly big businesses, allow employees to leave early.

An official at major confectionery maker Morinaga & Co. said its system for letting workers depart early has led to improved productivity.

On the other hand, it is hard for many small companies outside Tokyo and other big cities to introduce such a system, and the movement isn’t spreading throughout Japan.

“Improvements are needed to enable workers to take time off flexibly, not just on busy days at the end of the month,” Toshihiro Nagahama, senior economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, said. He warned that the Premium Friday campaign will “fizzle out” unless such a measure is taken.

A public-private promotion council set up for the initiative plans to continue the promotional activities.

Akio Mimura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, however, said it is time to make an assessment now that the campaign has entered its sixth month.