Japan is a country where technologies have developed in a completely unique way. The so called “Galapagos syndrome”, expression originated in Japan to describe how globally available products evolve in completely different ways in the country, and more generally the island’s distinctiveness in terms of habits, trends and growth, affects also how customers spend their money, and how they prefer to pay for their purchases.
When looking at Japan from abroad in terms of potential of the e-commerce market, the numbers are really encouraging: an average market growth of 11.8% during the last seven years, the fourth largest e-commerce market in the world, and an expanding variety and localization of platforms, services and payment gateways.
Why, then, still many international brands struggle in selling online in Japan?
While several reasons could be at the origin of such difficulties, definitely a lack of understanding and knowledge about payment gateways and payment habits can considerably slow down an online business trying to approach the Japanese market. If you have never heard of “konbini payments”, you have never worried about your Japanese customers to be reluctant to use credit cards for online purchases and you are convinced that COD (Cash On Delivery) is an outdated form of payment, we hope this article will help you bringing some clarity on which payment methods are preferred by Japanese customers when purchasing online, and allow you to set up a complete, affordable and highly functioning payment ecosystem for your online store aimed at the Japanese market.
CREDIT CARDS — WHY PEOPLE HAVE THEM BUT DON’T USE THEM?
Tourists coming to Japan get easily upset when they realize that many Japanese shops don’t accept credit cards. At a first impression, this would make people think that Japanese people do not own credit cards at all, but the reality is slightly different. The latest JCB report dedicated to credit cards reveals in fact that the penetration rate of credit cards in Japan is 85%, and that the average number of credit cards per individual is around 3.2. Such numbers are comparable with the ones of the US, but only the 17% of Japanese people purchases actually happens through credit cards: why, then, many Japanese are still skeptical in actually using credit cards even if they possess several?
- Japanese people value their privacy and data protection.
Even if credit cards systems are nowadays encrypted and protected, you still have to insert all your personal information to complete a purchase. This, for a reserved population like the Japanese one, makes people feel exposed and also leaves a track of the purchases on card statements, breaking the anonymity a customer could preserve if he pays directly in cash.
- Fear of fraud
Even if Japan is one of the less dangerous countries in the world, people are very sensitive about safety issues. Using credit cards could make them feel exposed to fraud issues, from data leaks to actual scams and unauthorized transactions.
- Presence of valid payment alternatives on the market
Most online stores in Japan, starting from giants Rakuten and Amazon, offer cash-based alternatives to credit cards payment, between which cash on delivery or the ability to pay at convenience stores. Online subscriptions services themselves, like Apple Music or Nintendo games, offer pre-charged cards purchasable at convenience stores to allow subscribers to pay for their subscriptions without connecting their credit card to the service.
- Debt is seen as something risky to stay away from
Credit cards work on “debt-based” premises: a customer gets now a good or service which will be accounted for at the end of the month. Japanese people, strongly adverse to risk, can see this as incurring in a real debt, and therefore exposing themselves to an unnecessary level of risk.
Shopify currently processes credit cards payments in Japan through their integration with Stripe. You can learn more about the Shopify-Stripe integration here.
KONBINI (CONVENIENCE STORE) PAYMENTS
The diffusion of convenience stores in Japan is just impressive, and trough the years the variety of goods sold has been integrated with additional services, from paying bills to re-charging prepaid cards and paying and receiving online purchased goods.
Many online stores provide, between their payment options, the possibility for their customers to place an online order, receive an anonymous receipt and bring that receipt to a convenience store, were they will be able to pay directly in cash at the counter or make a bank transfer online or offline through the ATM stations present at the convenience stores.
This allows customers to pay with cash or directly from their bank account without exposing their personal data, and once the payment is placed the order will be released and reach the customer, either at his/her home, office, or at an actual konbini. From a merchant perspective, konbini payments allow on one side to have a wider reach, but at the same time cope with the risk of keeping inventory blocked until customers finalize their payment (or the payment deadline expires).
Konbini Payments are supported by Shopify thanks to their integration with Komoju, payment gateway developed by Degica. Here is an article we have previously published which digs deeper on Komoju’s functioning.
CASH ON DELIVERY
While almost disappearing in many countries, COD (cash on delivery) survives strongly in Japan, allowing customers to pay at the door when they receive the purchased items. Major Japanese carriers like Yamato and Sagawa, which we mentioned in our previous article about shipping services in Japan, usually offer this option for an average extra charge of 400¥ for orders worth less than 30,000¥. For example, more information on COD fees and processes at Sagawa can be found here.
COD can be setup in Shopify selecting it between the “manual payment methods” allowed. More information is available here.
DELAYED PAYMENTS / “ATOBARAI”
Another very common form of payment is the so-called “atobarai”, literarily “pay later”. Big chains like Uniqlo use for example NP Atobarai, which not only allows delayed payments and features a points program for customers who use it, but also covers the merchants in case of missing payments.
The usual process of delayed payments can be wrapped up as follows:
- The customer makes an online purchase, choosing “atobarai” as payment system
- The customer receives the product and checks it
- The atobarai sends, separately or together with the product depending from case to case, an invoice to the customer.
- Once the customer receives the invoice, he/she has a determined amount of time to pay it at the konbini, post office, or bank.
In case of lost invoice, the customer can require a new one to the atobarai company.
At the moment, there is not (yet?) any available integration of atobarai payments with Shopify.
To conclude, we hope that this quick overview on Japanese online payment systems has given you a grasp of the peculiarities of an extremely interesting, high promising, but sometimes complicated market. Giants like PayPal are still struggling to make their way through the Japanese ecosystem, and we expect more Asian payment gateways to enter the market in the near future.
We strongly believe that, with many changes occurring at a very fast pace and a system so different from most of the leading e-commerce markets, Shopify represents an intuitive, flexible and constantly evolving solution to handle the e-commerce towards Japan. Thanks to its many integrations now it is possible to set up most of the above payment methods in a few clicks, being free to host the variety of payment systems which is best tailored to each merchant’s customer base.