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Japanese vs. Americans: Comparing Baby Boomers

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Multi-channel capabilities are rapidly becoming an essential part of most retailers’ strategies, both in the U.S. and internationally. But all multi-channel shoppers are not created equal. A recent Kurt Salmon survey of 3,000 Japanese baby boomers (age 55+), appropriately dubbed the Japan Senior Segment Multichannel Study, shows that this lucrative age group has developed distinctive multi-channel preferences. The study yielded five key findings which can help retailers to better understand the mindset of millions of aging Asian consumers and how it contrasts with what U.S. based baby boomers are feeling.

1. U.S. baby boomers are more likely to spend on things they want -- such as recreational vehicles, new cars, second homes, electronics, furniture and toys for their grandchildren -- while Japanese boomers are more resistant to discretionary spending on merchandise and are more likely to spend on travel, leisure and maintaining current homes.

This difference stems in part from a lack of space in Japanese homes, which are on average 2.5 times smaller than American homes. Culture also plays a significant role, as older Japanese who grew up in the shadow of World War II tend to keep items longer than their American counterparts. Japanese also prefer higher-quality products that last longer.

2. Some U.S. boomer females prefer to purchase apparel online for convenience, to avoid low-quality service, and to sidestep interaction with sales assistants in bricks-and-mortar stores, among other reasons. By contrast, Japanese women turn to store staff as a key source of trusted information and did not cite low-quality service as a reason why they bought apparel online.

3. Style and fit issues are a common concern for baby boomers in both Japan and the U.S., but Japanese feel the designs are too young while U.S. boomers feel there is not enough youthful, fashionable clothing for their age group. Localizing merchandise with this difference in mind can help retailers reach both demographics.

4. Due to the economy, Japanese consumers are buying more dry groceries (mineral water, rice, etc.) in bulk, but still buy fresh foods daily. Recently Japanese convenience stores started carrying more fresh groceries to capture the consumer who has traditionally bought fresh food in local markets. Japanese seniors tend to prefer purchasing small packages nearly daily, while Americans prefer to buy in bulk.

5. Although Japanese boomers are fairly active online, the prevalence of social networking is lower among Japanese compared to their U.S. counterparts. Japanese seniors showed interest in social networking (one in four women above 55 said they would like to start), but prevalence was still extremely low, particularly among the 65+ segment. This could be partly due to the fact that the major Japanese social networking sites have been traditionally anonymous, lowering families’ interest in using them to keep in touch. Facebook, the only major non-anonymous social networking site in Japan, is growing rapidly but still accounts for only about 3.5 percent of Japanese Internet users.