Amid Renewed State of Emergency, January Sales in Japan are Mixed

TOKYO — Retail sales in Japan were mixed in January, as department stores continued to suffer from the coronavirus pandemic, while lower-priced fashion stores fared better. The Japanese government instated a second coronavirus-related state of emergency for several prefectures beginning Jan. 7. Originally planned to last one month, it was just extended until March 7 for 10 of the 11 prefectures it currently affects, including Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

Fast Retailing said Tuesday that same-store and online sales from Uniqlo Japan gained 2 percent last month versus a year ago. Customer numbers declined by 0.3 percent, and the average purchase per customer was up by 2.4 percent. 

“Same-store sales rose year on year in January thanks to consistently cold weather throughout the month as well as strong sales of products that satisfied the continued strong demand for stay-at-home clothing and other items,” Fast Retailing said in a release.

As of the end of January, four Uniqlo stores in Japan remained temporarily closed due to COVID-19, and a further 159 were operating on shortened working hours. Those stores were nonetheless included in the comparative sales tally for the month.

Uniqlo permanently closed six stores in Japan last month and had no new openings, bringing its total number of doors in the country to 762.

Shimamura, a low-priced fashion retailer with stores mainly in suburban and rural areas, saw its same-store sales grow by 7.6 percent in January, compared to the same month a year prior. Its customer numbers were up by 4.1 percent, while the average purchase per customer increased by 3.3 percent. As of the end of January, Shimamura operates 1,431 stores in Japan.

Department stores, on the other hand, continued to struggle due to the pandemic. Isetan Mitsukoshi said that same-store sales from its five locations in the Tokyo metropolitan area fell by 33.2 percent year-on-year last month. January sales from its Isetan Shinjuku store declined by 28.6 percent, while those from the Mitsukoshi Ginza store dropped by just over 50 percent. 

Takashimaya said that sales from its 15 department stores in Japan were down by 29.6 percent in January, with every individual store posting a sales decline. The biggest drops came from the retailer’s Osaka store, where sales slipped by 35.5 percent, and its Shinjuku store in Tokyo, where sales decreased by 33.8 percent. The company said that tax-free sales to international visitors were down by 86.7 percent. 

“The tendency of people to avoid going out was strengthened by the declaration of a second state of emergency, while at the same time some stores shortened their business hours or changed their New Year sales plans, and tax-free sales continued to decline drastically,” Takashimaya said in a release. “Because of the effects of all these things, January sales were not able to reach the level of those a year earlier.”

J. Front Retailing said that sales from its 15 Daimaru and Matsuzakaya stores in Japan declined by 34.8 percent last month versus January 2020. Only one individual store, Daimaru Ashiya, saw a sales increase, and that was by just 1 percent. The biggest drop came from the Daimaru Tokyo store, where sales plummeted by 53.8 percent last month. Preliminary figures show the retailer’s tax-exempt sales falling by 94 percent.

“The effects of a radical revision of our New Year’s sale plan, which was taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in addition to the declaration of a state of emergency for 11 of Japan’s prefectures, led to increased self-restraint from going out and a large decrease in customer numbers,” J. Front said in a release.

H2O Retailing Corp., which operates the Hankyu and Hanshin chains of department stores, said that January sales from those stores fell by 29.6 percent year on year. Sales from the Hankyu flagship store in Osaka’s Umeda district were down by 29.9 percent, and sales from the Hanshin store in the same area declined by 44.6 percent.

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