The suit-clad television presenter makes breathless promises about the qualities of the Hitachi rice cooker he is pitching, describing how the induction heating steam pressure system allows the aluminum pot to produce the perfect batch of Japan’s staple food with a fluffy yet firm texture and a sweet aftertaste.
That’s not all. “We offer a ¥20,000 discount if you trade in your old rice cooker,” he says, bringing the total price to ¥29,800 for a package deal that also includes a frying pan he claims is worth ¥11,000 on its own.
In the age of Amazon.com, infomercials like these aired by Japanet Takata may seem anachronistic, a sales strategy from a bygone era. But in aging, graying Japan, the market for home shopping continues to grow, albeit slowly, with a firm grip on the purses of older shoppers with a soft spot for direct response TV.
“Our main clientele is those who are over 50, with many in their 60s. We’re also seeing a growing number of shoppers in their 70s,” said Sachiko Nagatani, operating officer at Japanet Takata, one of Japan’s largest direct shopping brands known for its charismatic founder and host, Akira Takata, who retired from the airwaves and stepped down as president of the company in 2015.
“Unlike shopping on e-commerce sites, we also offer hands-on services, including the dispatching of workers to install air-conditioners and other home electronic devices. I think many elderly shoppers appreciate the extra assistance we provide,” she said.
Now run by his son, Akito Takata, Japanet Holdings Co. has grown to log annual sales of over ¥200 billion in 2018 — about doubling its revenue in 2006 — through TV and radio infomercials as well as catalogs, a website and an app, among other mediums. The company has also expanded its business to include cruise lines, logistics services and V-Varen Nagasaki, a J2 league football club it bought in 2017.
The firm, headquartered in Nagasaki, started off as a small camera shop and branched into radio shopping in 1990, which proved immediately successful. Takata ventured into TV infomercials in 1994, presenting his merchandise in his signature high-pitched voice and awing viewers with his extensive knowledge of home appliances and other goods.
Along with QVC Japan, the Japan arm of the American home shopping giant, and Tokyo-based Jupiter Shop Channel Co. — both of which operate their own shopping channels — Japanet is among the leaders in the field cashing in on the nation’s millions of TV watching consumers.
According to a report released by the Fuji Keizai Group last year, the market for TV shopping was around ¥550 billion in 2017, a slight increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, the entire mail-order market including e-commerce was estimated at around ¥10 trillion the same year and projected to reach nearly ¥12 trillion in 2020.
And with the coronavirus pandemic leading to self-quarantines, sales at e-commerce sites are increasing. Japanet, for its part, opened a special website featuring short, simple videos offering advice on how to maintain proper hygiene and exercise at a time when social distancing is being strongly advised.
Shurin Yokota, an internet business analyst, said home shopping programs are typical examples of push marketing where products are taken to the consumer, compared to pull marketing, where the customers are pulled in by marketers and brands through methods such as search engine optimization.
“There are many seniors who go online to search for specific products, but when it comes to television shopping, they are receptive toward sales pitches promising satisfaction, regardless of whether they actually need the product or not,” he said.
Another draw is the slew of original products promoted by home shopping channels that are hard to find elsewhere. Smartphone users may see something they want on TV and access the company’s website to purchase the product online — one reason why players like Japanet have been beefing up their online presence.
Clicking on Omron Corp.’s ¥39,800 digital hearing aid promoted on Japanet Takata’s website, for example, sends users to a dedicated page with photos, a 45-second video, a detailed description of what the product is capable of and feedback from purchasers. “I was very impressed and am thankful about how there was no audio feedback during phone calls, allowing me to listen and talk to the person on the other side normally,” a person in their 70s with the initials N.T. was quoted by Japanet as saying.
Looking ahead, Yokota said home shopping will likely involve campaigns including cross-media coverage on TV, internet and smartphones. “Perhaps viewers will be able to buy products they see on TV by pushing a button on their remote control,” he said, “or simply watch these shows on their smartphones.”
Japanet’s sales strategy is multitiered, Nagatani said, and it doesn’t necessarily target the older demographic, although she said the consumer base has been gradually aging over the last decade as the nation grays. The number of those aged 65 or older stood at 35.88 million in 2018, and accounted for 28.4 percent of the population, according to the communications ministry.
A dedicated team scouts products with the best deal and quality, frequently negotiating directly with the makers to create “Japanet original” versions of goods such as vacuum cleaners and refrigerators that are tweaked to enhance user experience.
“We currently have eight TV emcees and 5 radio emcees advertising our products,” Nagatani said. Japanet has its own studio where the infomercials are recorded and aired during 30-minute live slots it buys from numerous broadcasters. On average, around two to three products are advertised in a single day, although the lineup could change depending on the weather and other conditions. Hosts rehearse before going live, but much of how they pitch their products depends on their individual style.
The improvisational nature of the shows means they are prone to occasional accidents. Once, a pile of books used to describe the capacity of an electronic dictionary collapsed while on air, Nagatani said. But the unexpected event contributed to a surprising surge in sales for the e-dictionary, reflecting how viewers may have enjoyed the unchoreographed spontaneity.
Currently, catalogs sent to purchasers and newspaper ads draw over 40 percent of the sales, Nagatani said, while roughly 10 percent is attributed to radio infomercials and the rest shared between TV broadcasts and online shopping.
And while the company at one point had an inventory of nearly 8,000 products, it drastically cut that number to around 650 several years ago to concentrate resources on select products it can confidently market.
“We can’t compete in scale with Amazon or Rakuten,” Nagatani said, the latter referring to the Japanese online retail behemoth. “Instead, we’re focused on finding great products and polishing our pitch and presentation.”