The Internationalisation of Retailing in Asia

The Internationalisation of Retailing in Asia

The Internationalisation of Retailing in Asia

The Internationalisation of Retailing in Asia


Examines recent developments in retailing in Asia, showing in particular how international influences are beginning to be felt in this sector, which has continued to be fairly traditional until recently in many Asian countries.


Internationalization is the single largest issue in Japanese retailing today. Both practitioners and academic observers alike are struggling with this one problem. From an outsider’s point of view, the question is how to enter the Japanese market and which overseas retailers are likely to find success. For many Japanese, however, the question is very different. Both experts and consumers alike have an ingrained distrust of overseas entrants into the market, which alone presents a formidable barrier.

History and recent changes

Although it would often seem otherwise, non-Japanese retailers have not suddenly began operating in Japan in the last ten years. There is also the case of us supermarket chain Safeway making a brief and unhappy attempt to operate in the market in the 1950s (Larke 1991:146). Safeway opened stores in Setagaya and Funabashi, but contemporary reports blame the underdeveloped consumer market and disinterest in overseas supermarkets as the key elements for failure (see miti 1989:275-6).

Other similar examples of uninspired attempts to enter Japan have undoubtedly been attempted over the past forty years. the only significance of these is that non-Japanese retailers did realize the existence of the Japanese market. Drawing on Tanner’s work (1992), Alexander (1997:83-4) points out that Japanese retailers were very open and enthusiastic about drawing on Western retail know-how and ideas from the 1950s onwards. This is clear in the large number of Western formats and store fascias that were imported into Japan during this period. Some of the most famous examples are Seven-Eleven, Lawson, Circle K, all from the convenience store sector and all imported purely as fascias with only minor input of know-how from their original namesakes in the usa. Others include Robinson’s, a small Californian department store, and Printemps, both of which were also introduced to Japan in name only. Over the years, since their introduction in the 1970s, both formats have become Japanese, although in these cases neither have been made successful by their Japanese licensees.

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