Why did Japan suddenly go crazy over American catalogs?
1. Growing familiarity with and appreciation for American consumer goods
For years now, travel to the US has been an important "rite of passage" for all affluent Japanese. The number of Japanese who have visited the US, experienced our culture first hand, and, most important for catalog merchants, fallen in love with the quality and variety of our consumer products numbers in the tens of millions.
2. The relative bargain of US goods
In 1995, the value of the yen reached a historic high against the dollar. This meant that American consumer goods, already a bargain by Japanese standards, became an irresistible super bargain. Because of a complex, multi-layered distribution system (up to seven tiers of distribution in the retail channel alone), the cost of many common consumer goods are absurdly high by American standards. For example, a cup of coffee in Tokyo can cost $8 or more.
3. Government policy - and a media frenzy
Both the US and the Japanese government have made a significant investment in promoting US catalogs in Japan as a way to reduce the chronic friction caused by Japan's trade surplus. And the phenomenon called "personal importing" was a major news story in Japan in 1995. Books and magazines priced from $9 to $18 on the subject of how to buy from US catalogs are enjoying brisk sales.
For catalog merchants, this may sound like a definition of heaven and for the short term it is, but catalogers that take a passive approach to this market at this time of unparalleled openness are leaving a potential fortune on the table.
After all, just as easily as you're making sales in Japan today "by accident" , you can lose them tomorrow the same way- and damage your business prospects there forever.