Business / Corporate

Japanese retailer Isetan pursues fusion with Malaysian culture at Kuala Lumpur branch

by Teo Boon Kiat

Nna/kyodo

The Kuala Lumpur branch of Isetan, a Japanese retail outlet specializing in lifestyle products and services, is fusing its brand with local styles after celebrating its first anniversary in October.

A dress of kimono fabric created by a Malaysian designer is an example of the blend of cultures that can be found at the store, which features over 800 Japanese brands of food, clothing and other items, as well as a food court where customers can enjoy Japanese cuisine on the spot.

The six-floor “Isetan The Japan” store that covers 11,000 sq. meters opened on Oct. 27, 2016, in Bukit Bintang, a busy commercial and entertainment district in the Malaysian capital, and has since exclusively promoted 500 Japanese brands.

“We are consistently receiving positive feedback from our customers,” store manager Maya Furuie told NNA in a recent interview. “Those who have visited Japan praised us for having the same specifications as Isetan Shinjuku (the company’s flagship store in Tokyo). I am very happy to hear that.”

The store manager declined comment on sales and earnings performance by category at the store, which is run by a joint venture between Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. and Cool Japan Fund Inc., a public-private investment fund aimed at promoting Japanese culture and products overseas.

She elaborated on the trials and errors of operating a retail outlet restyled from a conventional department store, saying the branch has replaced Tokyo’s Harajuku fashion (youth-oriented street costumes designed with a collision of colors, designs and tastes) with other brands because they weren’t as popular as expected.

The dress made of kimono fabric was promoted during this year’s Hari Raya, a post-fasting festival celebrated in the predominantly Muslim country. “This is one way how we share Japanese culture with local customers but with also a special taste of local influence,” Furuie said.

“Malaysians’ interest in dining-out culture is very strong,” she added. “Hence our store is designed to maximize customers’ dining experience.”

People can purchase premium beef and have it cooked there and then or buy sashimi (sliced raw fish) from the seafood section and then enjoy it together with a cup of sake at a wine counter, she added.

Local residents now account for 90 percent of the customers, with the remainder tourists, said Furuie. In reconsidering the merchandise price range, the store has broadened it to cater to a wider scope of shoppers while keeping some products at premium levels.

The store’s concept is to promote something Japan is proud of and “it has never changed,” Furuie said. But “we are reaching a point to shift from product-out to market-in” in marketing strategy, indicating a greater focus on consumer needs than on the business side.