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CHANGING CONSUMER TRENDS:
People are spending more money on a wider range of goods and activities. (Photo: Kyodo)
Household spending, a determinant of individual consumption and savings, is undergoing structural change in Japan. More people are shopping round the clock, single women in their 30s have become a major market force, and senior citizens have begun to attract notice for their deep pockets. The underlying factors seem to be diversification of lifestyles as family structures and employment practices evolve. These changes in the pattern of household spending are having a major impact on production and consumption, the pillars of the economy--something the retail sector cannot ignore.
A "New Black" Market
Instrumental in creating this late-night shopping trend were the 24-hour convenience stores. At one big chain, nearly 20% of daily customers come in between 11:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. The number of payments of electricity, gas, and other utility bills made after banking hours has jumped 2.4 times since last year to 4.3 million a month.
According to a 1996 think tank survey, 15.1% of men and 2.9% of women were out and about at midnight on the average Saturday night. With more single people worrying less about when they get home, retailers have become interested in the night-owl crowd whose spending habits get freer after 9:00 P.M. Companies are trying to create new markets: One example is major travel agencies with plans for discount tours that start and arrive at their destination in the middle of the night.
Costs of Communication
We tend think of digerati as being young, but now they are common among those of middle and advanced age. One Internet magazine found in a survey that around 70% of its readers were 30 or older, and had splashed out at least 100,000 yen (830 dollars) on communications peripherals over the previous six months. In many cases, people are investing in their own future: Businessmen in their 50s, for example, are keen to avoid being left behind as their companies get wired.
Looking to Women's Wallets
According to the Ministry of Labor, in 1996 the average monthly income of women from 30 to 34 was 240,000 yen (2,000 dollars), while for women from 35 to 39 it was 247,000 yen (2,100 dollars). Both sums were about 30% less than what men got, but they showed growth of at least 40% in the 10 years up to 1996. The corresponding growth rate for men was in the 20-29% range. This boom in women's financial power has created a stir across the economy. A department store in the fashionable Shinjuku district of Tokyo that set up a special section for clothing for women in their 30s enjoyed some 20% growth in sales over last year. The section attributes its success to the purchasing habits of women who were in their 20s during the bubble economy period and developed a taste for overseas travel and brand-name goods.
A major target of their spending money is domestic and overseas travel. The number of people of 60 or over heading abroad in 1995 was 1.75 million, a whopping 70% more than in 1991. Companies are beginning to gear themselves to the needs of the members of this well-endowed demographic group, who were once regarded as the most vulnerable members of society. Particularly striking is the way some companies are adapting their strategies to the baby-boomers born just after World War II, who will be the dominant force in the "gray society" just around the corner. Typifying this reorientation is one top car maker, whose marketing department predicts that the roughly 30% share of demand accounted for by people of 50 or over will become much bigger, that is focusing on postwar baby-boomers. The companies that succeed in riding the gray wave will probably be at the forefront of the coming consumer-led society.
Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.