Japanese e-market ready to open for business

Canada’s e-commerce entrepreneurs spend too much time looking to the south for revenue instead of exploring the country’s second-largest exporter, according to some industry observers.

At a recent conference held in Toronto, which centred on Canadian e-commerce in Japan, it was made clear that the Asian electronic market, which is booming, is being ignored by Canadian business people.

Dr. Ken Coates, dean of arts at the University of New Brunswick at St. John, co-chaired a study into Canadian e-commerce exports to Japan. He noted that although Japan was a late entrant into the Internet game, it is making up for lost time.

“Anything we’ve seen in the last two years is nothing compared to what we’re going to see,” Coates said.

He used an example of a cellular phone with full Internet capabilities and much more in-depth database capability that will shortly be on the market in Japan.

“Twelve- to 18-month observation of Japan was long enough for those who think Japan is lagging behind in e-commerce technology [to see] they can throw that idea out the window.”

Koichi Mori, the general manager of standardization for the strategic planning division at Fujitsu Ltd., said last Christmas almost eight per cent of Japanese spending was done on-line.

Mariko Fujiwara, director of the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living in Tokyo, noted the consumer base in Japan is ready to be tapped.

“The number of people using the Internet at home surpassed the number of people using it at work or institutions in 1999,” she said, adding that most of these people have only been using the Internet for about three years.

Fujiwara told the group that nearly half of the women in Japan now work, and that has allowed them a lot of freedom.

“In the consumer market, Japanese women have always led the trends,” she said. “Men have now become much more liberated in the role of consumer as well.”

However, Coates was adamant that Canadian companies are not taking advantage of a market that is eager to buy. He said Canadian businesses would rather wait for the Japanese to come to them than to go over and market in Japan.

“We’ve actually shown little adaptability,” Coates said. “Canadian firms have a history of making very little investment in Japanese language, education or cultural ability.”

Dr. Jim Tiessen, assistant professor of international business at Hamilton, Ont.-based McMaster University, co-chaired the study with Coates. He explained that the study looked at 426 firms from the Canadian Manufacturers Index who had an interest in Japan. One aspect of the study looked at the Japanese content on firms’ Web sites. They found that B2B sites were 60 per cent more likely to have Japanese content, including an international directory, a Japanese button or the Japanese language.

By contrast, consumer-focused sites tended to sport better functionality than did business-oriented offerings, Tiessen said. “As for Japanese content on [consumer] sites, 23 per cent mentioned Japan, but less than three per cent had a Japanese button.”

Coates said the potential opportunities in Japan are enormous. “I think Canadian companies should plan not just for what’s there now but what will be.” He added that both countries seem to want to do business.

“Canada is not a very good international trade partner. We are too U.S.-focused and too dependent on our own resources. . . It doesn’t take much to put up a Japan screen.”

Advice for Canadian companies looking to expand into Japan:

1. Make your Web site available in Japanese.

2. Seek alliances with other companies already in that market.

3. Learn a bit about what is going on in Japan.

4. Put your money where your mouth is.

Source: Dr. Jim Tiessen, McMaster University