See how you can acclimate your Amazon business to sell products in Amazon Japan!
If you are a seller in any of the North American and European marketplaces who is looking to expand their reach into Japan, this is the podcast for you! John Cant is a UK-based Amazon seller who sells products on Amazon Japan, and he has plenty of helpful advice for people looking to get into the Japanese marketplace.
John lived in Japan for many years, and got to know the Japanese culture very well. It was his knowledge of the land of the Rising Sun that he decided to begin selling on Amazon Japan with his business partner. So just how different is it to sell in Japan VS North America or Europe?
In episode 13 of the Serious Sellers Podcast, Helium 10’s Success Manager Bradley Sutton and John Cant discuss:
- 01:54 Moving to and Living in Japan for 5 Years
- 03:08 How John Got Started in E-Commerce
- 05:12 The Success of John’s First Amazon Business in the Japanese Marketplace
- 06:02 How Does Amazon Japan Compare to Other Amazon Marketplaces?
- 07:01 Can Amazon Sellers Have Rakuten Listings and Fulfill Orders Through Amazon?
- 07:36 Is Rakuten a “Fulfilled by Merchant Only” Platform?
- 08:25 Does Amazon Japan Have Its Own Prime System?
- 08:58 How to Open an Amazon Japan Account
- 11:30 Is a Japanese Bank Required to Sell in Amazon Japan?
- 12:30 Do Foreign Sellers Need Japanese Representation in Japan?
- 13:49 How Do Foreign Sellers Get Their Products to Japan?
- 14:25 What is the Cost of Sending Products to Japan from China VS the USA or UK?
- 15:48 What Are the Taxes for Importing into Japan?
- 16:50 What Types of Amazon Products Are Most Popular in Japan?
- 18:23 Does Japan Have Any Strict Regulations on Specific Products?
- 20:05 Tips for Making a Great Amazon Listing for a Japanese Audience
- 22:45 A Success Story Selling on Amazon Japan
- 23:55 How Do Sellers Successfully Launch Products on Amazon Japan?
- 27:37 A Funny Story About Living in Japan as a Foreigner
- 29:04 Is It Helpful to Have Someone in Japan to Assist Sellers to Become Established?
- 30:34 How to Contact John Cant
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Bradley Sutton: Today, find out everything you wanted to know about selling in Amazon Japan: the size of the marketplace, how to get started, regulations you need to be aware of, what kind of products sell best and more.
Bradley Sutton:How’s it going everybody? Welcome to the next episode of The Serious Sellers Podcast by Helium 10. I’m very honored to have John Cant on the line with me. John, how’s it going?
John Cant: Hi there, Bradley. I’m good. Thanks. You?
Bradley Sutton: I’m doing just delightful. Thank you very much. [verbal exchange in Japanese] For those of you who are like, what in the world is happening–did my Simuldub just get changed or something. Well, we were speaking little Japanese there. A little history on me. I used to live in Japan when I was little. I speak a little bit. I used to be a sumo wrestler. I don’t know if John knew that, but John also used to live in Japan. We’re going to be talking about Amazon Japan today, but first of all, let’s go back in time, John. I just gave my little brief story about my experience in Japan, I lived there when I was like 9, 10, 11, and fell in love with the culture. My Dad had a business over there, so we’d always go back and forth. And then when I came back to America, you know, I didn’t speak Japanese when I lived there because we were mostly around American people. But then when I came back, I took it in college and for a while I could speak Japanese. I kind of forgot everything though because you know, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Right? Yeah. But then I got into amateur sumo wrestling, and because I love the culture. My car is actually a Nissan Skyline, a
John Cant: It comes down to love. I was living in London, I married Japanese girl where she was my girlfriend and she wanted to move back to Japan. So I thought yeah, I’ll give Japan a go for a year or two. And it turned into 5 years basically for us. I got a job over there, English teacher in junior high school and elementary schools and stuff and taught English there for 5 years, which was really interesting. I was like, you know, was a government school. I was the only non-Japanese there in school. Yeah, that’s cultural ah, yeah.
Bradley Sutton: Ah, are you still with that girlfriend?
John Cant: Yeah. She’s my wife now.
Bradley Sutton: Excellent. Alright. Let’s see. So how long was this?
John Cant: So I lived there from 2005 to 2010, we moved back to the UK then.
Bradley Sutton: Okay, so if I live in there and having a Japanese girlfriend. Is that how you learned Japanese pretty much?
John Cant: Yeah. So when I first arrived, I cannot speak any Japanese at all. Well maybe the odd word kind of things, but— yeah. Aye. Yeah. But you know, I was living in the countryside. There wasn’t too many other foreigners around and in order to get by and have a good experience in Japan, I needed to learn the language. I did.
Bradley Sutton: Excellent. How did you get into like the eCommerce site? Like was Amazon Japan the first thing you ever got into? Or you started selling on
John Cant:So–and when we move back to the UK in 2010, I wasn’t, you know, wasn’t sure what was going to do. Ended up getting into eCommerce, I end up to eCommerce business. It was very localized. It was kind of selling, helping the local shops get online and helping them deliver and setting up an eCommerce marketplace to them. And then that kind of developed to me helping other grocery shops kind of get one line and stuff. And then kind of cold time on that one. Developed an app for Shopify and then did another t-shirt related e-Commerce stuff. And then I was using the co-working space or a tech center here where I live and met my home business partner who’s been running a private label brand on Amazon for about 5 years. And he approached me because he decided he wanted to start selling in Japan and he knew that I lived there. We looked at it and thought yes, a good opportunity here. So we kind of teamed up to have a business together and, so it got started. And my business partner Neil, he’s kind of a the Amazon geek, the Amazon expert kind of thing. And I’m more the Japan side of the partnership.
Bradley Sutton: So was he already selling like in other Amazon marketplaces? I mean, he was just wanting to get your help to expand to Japan? Or was Japan your first entry into Amazon at all?
John Cant: Yes, he’d been selling in the UK for a number of years already. As
Bradley Sutton: Okay. How did that work out? What year was this?
John Cant: So this was about two and a half years ago. That was 2016.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. And then how did that business work? Launching in Japan, the private label products that he was selling in the UK. How did the Japanese side of that business compare to what he was already doing there in Europe?
John Cant: So we–it was a lot less competitive. There were a few sellers and the PPC cost per click was much lower. But the sales were there, we managed to get a product ranked, and the number one in the best seller of its category. And like, sales where kind of similar I would say to the UK. And it was a bit more erratic what he was doing here, I think. Yeah, it was kind of–it could have bigger volumes here in some days, but having been said that, we got the product to do reasonably well in Japan too. It was probably similar like really.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Now for those not aware: what kind of market share does Amazon Japan have, or what’s the rank of Amazon Japan compared to like Amazon US, or Amazon UK, or Amazon Germany, etc.?
John Cant: Amazon US is the biggest. Then number 2 is Germany, and number 3 is now Japan, and the UK is number 4. And yeah, Japan overtook the UK last year to be 3rd rank. And, it seems to be growing quite quickly, and in terms of market share within Japan, the last days I’ve seen at 22% of eCommerce is now done in Japan through Amazon.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. And what’s number one over there? Rakuten?
John Cant: Rakuten. Yeah, is number 1. Although they’re about similar, and Amazon is catching up fast. If it’s not overtaking already then, and it will do quite soon I think. Yeah, it’s pretty similar I think.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. So now what if somebody has an Amazon Japan FBA business? Are they able to list on Rakuten, and fulfill from Amazon? Like some people, I don’t know if you know this, but some people in America, do that with like Ebay, you know, they set up an Amazon FBA account and they set up these eBay accounts, and then if they sell something on Ebay, all they do is like a fulfillment order on Amazon. Is that something that people can do in Japan with the other websites like Rakuten?
John Cant: I guess you could, yeah. I don’t know anybody doing that, but yeah, you can commit fulfillment requests like you do else where. Yeah. You could.
Bradley Sutton: Does Rakuten have like fulfilled by Rakuten? Or is that all, kind of like, a fulfilled by merchant, but you have to ship their own.
John Cant: It’s all fulfilled by merchant and the other thing as well, there’s higher startup cost to get going on Rakuten. You need to kind of create your own sort of store page and you need to use that preferred partners in order to do this. They only have a limited number of people that they’ll let you use to set up your pages and it costs to buy a couple of–it was $3,000 just to get started with your store. Whereas Amazon, the pricing is the same structure as it is elsewhere in the world. You can start with a personal account where you’re not paying the subscription or even the subscription fee, you know, it’s only for $50 a month.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. So does it work? Amazon Japan like Amazon USA? Like they have Amazon Prime, and if they order from there, it takes two days shipping pretty much anywhere in Japan or is that still in its infancy or how does that work?
John Cant: Yeah, I know we’ve got Prime and it’s even faster I think than the US or i think in, also Tokyo and Osaka and the big cities. It’s even same day delivery. You order by a certain time, but yeah, it’s growing quickly. Amazon have got the flywheel go in and yeah, very well established.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Now, this is good to know that there’s definitely opportunity over there. But then, so I’m sure our Serious Seller’s listeners are wondering, Hey, I’m selling right now in the UK, I’m selling in the US. What are the first steps I need to do in order to open up an
John Cant: And, yeah you’re right. And Japan is classed as a separate territory kind of thing so it can–
Bradley Sutton: So it’s like kind of like starting from scratch. It’s not like you have a switch in your Amazon USA account or something that toggles on Japan or something. Right?
John Cant: It is kind of a hybrid of the two. You can connect your US account or European account and add Japan to it. But once you have your account, it’s kind of separate account. There’ll be a drop down list in the top when you logged in to choose the country that you’re there for. You’ll get a drop down to the, you know, Japan account. But, in the sense, the European accounts, your listings, you can see them across the diff–you know, across Germany and France and Spain. You won’t be able to see Japan as well within the–after you select your drop down from Japan.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. So
John Cant: As if you’ve already got an account, it’s fairly straight forward. You just add Japan as your territory. If you’re registering from scratch, then you need to submit your typical information, your driver’s license and proof of ID. Again, it’s not too–it’s very similar to the US.
Bradley Sutton: So, even if I already have an Amazon US or UK, they’re not going to ask me for like, you know, my business information, or some kind of certification or anything like that?
John Cant: No, I think you just–there’s a video on Amazon website that explains how to add Japan as your account.
Bradley Sutton: How about a bank? Do I–can I have a foreign bank for Amazon Japan or do I have to set up a Japanese bank?
John Cant: Yeah, you can send it directly to your US bank account or European bank account. Yeah, there’s, I mean, you can get stung for currency conversions and doing it that way. I know there’s this whole breath or third party, currency transfer businesses that you can use as well to help save on sending the currency.
Bradley Sutton: So might be better then to set up a Japanese bank and then figure out the currency exchange later as opposed to just using Amazon service. They kind of rip you off or something?
John Cant: There are companies like Pioneer and Transferwise and things like that kind of handle the currency exchange a bit better than Amazon. You don’t get a very good rate with Amazon so you can use one of
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Now, if I’m setting up in Japan, do I need to have like a Japanese citizen on my account or as like the official representative or me being a foreigner, I can handle everything myself.
John Cant: Yeah. You can handle everything yourself from–as an overseas company. You don’t need a company registered in Japan to be able to do that. Amazon does ask that you offer customer support in Japanese. The one thing that you need help with I guess. Not you, cause you speak Japanese.
Bradley Sutton: Not Anymore. Not Anymore.
John Cant: And the other thing that you might need help with is getting your goods into the country. So, you need what’s called an importer of record, which is somebody on the ground in Japan that kind of acts as your representative when the goods arrive through customs. Now–
Bradley Sutton: Do I actually have to do something or is it just kind of like just in name only?
John Cant: It’s just a name on a document. Really, they don’t need to do anything other than, I theoretically be responsible. Yeah, there are a number, again, of companies that offer that as a service and kind of relatively easy to solve as well. You just employ one of these companies to accept the products for you.
Bradley Sutton: Do most people who are selling in Japan, who are foreigners, do they pretty much all send their products directly from their factory to Amazon FBA? Or do they utilize 3PLs in Japan or what do you see?
John Cant: Yeah, people, all of our clients just send it
Bradley Sutton: Is it a lot cheaper in your experience to send stuff from China to Japan as opposed to China to
John Cant: Price? It’s a little bit cheaper but not too much cheaper. And it’s probably about 90% of the cost–it would cost to send it to the UK. But the one big factor is it only takes two weeks kind of from your factory to get
Bradley Sutton:Okay. Yeah. It takes a while sometimes. So yeah, I think that typically people might think, oh, you know, Japan is way, way, way closer to China, but it doesn’t work that way sometimes. Or the shipping costs. It’s because the volume, I imagine the reason is because the volume of shipping in Japan is not that much. So that’s why the prices is higher or is it not?
John Cant: When I look at the bill, the cost breakdown of the logistics supply a lot of the costing to be the handling charges of actually putting on the boat and taking it off again and then handling it through customs and all that things which kinda fix costs to the time it’s been on the boat, you know, relatively low.
Bradley Sutton: What about
John Cant: In Japan? You pay a tax and import duties at the point of arrival. And the tax, and it adds up to about 13%. the sales tax is about 8% and the import duty’s about 5%. They vary on depending on the category of goods. Yeah, ballpark figure is about the thing.
Bradley Sutton: [Speaks in Japanese] I would just say that sounds cheap. Alright. Anytime I remember how to say something in Japanese, I got to do it because this is the most Japanese I’ve spoken in years. So anyways. Alright. So, are you a follower of sumo much yourself?
John Cant: I’ve been to a couple of tournaments when I lived over there. Yeah.
Bradley Sutton: Oh. I’m jealous. That’s been one of my bucket list things; to actually go to a pro sumo tournament.
John Cant: Well you need to get back. Like yeah, it’s great. It’s fantastic Yeah.
Bradley Sutton: The atmosphere I imagine is amazing. Alright, so what about the kind of products that are popular, you know in America, the number one products are like wireless ear buds or different things like that.
John Cant: Uh-uh.
Bradley Sutton: Do you notice that there are certain trends in Japan where you, like this is a top selling product, but like it would not be popular in America, or is it vice versa? Where kind of like whatever’s popular in Europe and
John Cant: Yeah, I’d say it’s the latter of the two options and a lot of products that do well there. You know, typical standard products that do well in Europe, and US as well. Yeah, people, you know, I get this question, you know, this is the one of the most asked questions. What products do you think would sell well in Japan? It’s–I don’t know, i think probably what you’re already selling. Now there is a kind of, have you out here in the sense that it’s all Christmas-related products. There are some categories which you know, wouldn’t be a good fit for Japan. So obviously Christmas is not a big thing. The radiator systems are very different throughout the–as you know, people sleep on Tatami Mat, wood flooring might be a bit different kind of thing. You know, that’s the odd thought of products, you know, that you might come across that I can see, and you probably realized. I’m not sure that would be well, but generally speaking, if it sells well here, it would sell well there.
Bradley Sutton: What about regulations? Like, for example, I know Australia has really strict regulations as far as supplements go. A lot of coupled supplement companies wanted to sell in Australia, but they would have to get this crazy certification. And that’s why you rarely see any, like diet supplements. But what about Japan? Are there certain kinds of products that are heavily restricted where it’s very difficult to get into?
John Cant: Yes, yes. I mean supplements are one sort of any health-related products, cosmetics need special tests that as well. And as there are any food and food-related packaging products. That I’m thinking you know food containers, and anything that kinda touches food. And generally speaking as to be tested. And Toy is another category as well that requires some testing and certification. And, the unfortunate thing about Japan is they’ve got their own how to testing standards, which although fundamentally are the savers, the rest of the world. They don’t recognize like US tests or European standard tests kind of thing. So, you actually have to have your products tested in Japan by a company that kind of recognize– that offered the right testing.
Bradley Sutton: So I imagine in some categories that can actually, you know, if somebody is patient, has the funds, you don’t have to do it. Those would be good categories to get into because maybe there’s less competition there because most, you know, might not have the means to be able to enter those markets. Right?
John Cant: Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of an extra hurdle you’ve got to jump over. It can put off, you know, some sellers. Yeah, sure.
Bradley Sutton: Interesting. Okay. What about making a listing? Obviously it needs to be in Japanese and you’re not going to want to use Google translate. So what are your suggestions for sellers? You know, they have a really great UK listing. They have a really great Amazon Spain listing, whatever. What do you suggest that they do in order to get the listing translated?
John Cant: So the–if you’ve got
Bradley Sutton: Interesting. Interesting. Yeah. I know a lot of people in other marketplaces make that mistake of just doing direct translation. But I imagine, you know, the thing that somebody searches for in Japan, even though it’s the same product, they might use different terms that we wouldn’t think about here in the States.
John Cant: Yeah. I mean, to give you an example, we had sort of a car-related product and in Japan and then you know, you’ve got your standard cars and then you’ve got the really small cars, the Kei cars, and the–when we did the listing for this brand, we made sure that we mentioned that it’s suitable for Kei cars as well kind of thing, which you wouldn’t necessarily think of it, you will use translate in it, but it, you know, Japanese people might think of it that way kind of thing. Can I use it with a small car? Yeah.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. That’s something that we wouldn’t even think about it. The example I always use between US and UK is, you know, somebody’s speaking of car companies, you know, you might be offering what we would call here in the US like a carbon fiber hood or carbon fiber trunk of a car. But nobody in
John Cant: Yeah, yeah exactly. It’s all the same in principle. Yeah yeah.
Bradley Sutton: What is one success story of somebody selling in Amazon Japan where they had a product that’s selling a hundred a day, or overall they hit seven figures, you know, on Amazon Japan, or is there any success stories that you can share? You know, you don’t have to mention names or anything, but just in general, something that could give some of the listeners motivated to get started over there?
John Cant: Yeah. So, I mean sales because similar to the UK, when we first started selling our products, we call it, you know, rank best seller in the category quite quickly. I think it were–I try to think of the number. We are selling about 40 a day, I think, when we go to the top of the category, which I know by US standards is not, you know, not huge.
Bradley Sutton: Hey 40 a day is good in any country. I’m sure many of our sellers would love to have a product that sells 40 a day in any marketplace.
John Cant: But yeah, that was the probably the one that stands out, so far.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. What’s the main method of launching that people do? How do they get to you? You talked about getting to the top of the category or getting to page one. Do people do giveaways or is it mostly PPC that people use? Or, how do you get noticed in Japan? Senpai, notice me, right? How do you do?
John Cant: We like to do PPC. On Amazon PPC is what we kind of advocate really. And it’s kind of the long game in some ways, you know, but it works. You’ve just got to figure it out and, you know, your initial PPC money is marketing money. And the good thing is that the cost per click in Japan are much lower than they are in the UK. A third of the price of what it is in the UK. It’s kind of affordable to be able to do that, I think, you know, it’s not crazy like it is over here.
Bradley Sutton: So is it simpler in Japanese seller central where you’re setting up a campaign and then it suggests the words that you probably should target, or do they just set up an auto campaign and then you’ll see what converts? Or how does somebody, you know, who doesn’t speak the language even gets started to know what to target in PPC?
John Cant: They’ve got also campaigns, which we always setup for a new product because that was a way of generating genuine search term data, and then we also setup broad match around what we think are the most relevant and terms for that particular product as well.
Bradley Sutton: The reports come out in the Hiragana. or in western characters?
John Cant: Yeah, the search term reports are all in Japanese yeah.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Interesting. So then, yeah, there’s another part where you would need kind of somebody to help you go through that information to figure it out.
John Cant: Sure yeah, the PPC data can be quite complex because you’ve got the three Japanese Alphabets, you’ve got the Hiragana, Katakana
Bradley Sutton: So, that just brings up something I never even thought about with these three alphabets.
John Cant:Yeah, it’s considered a different search.
Bradley Sutton: Wow. That’s crazy. That Would really complicate things when trying to prioritize, you know, keywords.
John Cant: Yeah, yeah.
Bradley Sutton: Sounds like you guys really need Helium 10 to come up with some Japanese search term prioritization tools. And I’m gonna have to check on that. Alright, well we’re almost out of time here. Give me a funny story. Like when I lived in Japan, the funny things would happen, you know, being a Gaijin, or foreigner in Japan, funny things would always happen. But do you have any fun stories of your–what was it? 2005 to 2010 you said you were living in Japan?
John Cant: Yes, I used to teach at elementary schools. And yeah, it was hot in summer times,
Bradley Sutton: Oh my God. Yeah, that’s right. Japanese people do not really have hairy arms, so that would be kind of interesting.
John Cant: I was like, I’m not a dog.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. It’s funny you mentioned that because I’ve heard of stories where some female teachers, not by the male students, but just the female students were just enamored with certain body parts, I guess you can say. If they could feel it, I’m like, it’s just like something culturally that’s something culturally normal like, hey, we’re just, you know, this is something interesting to us, but it’s like for us as Westerners are like, are you seriously asking to touch?
John Cant: Yeah, yeah. It’s great. I love Japan.
Bradley Sutton: Is that something that could help? Like what if somebody is starting in Amazon Japan business, would it actually help to have boots on the ground maybe for a couple of years to get it started to be there in Japan, or that’s not too much requirement.
John Cant: It’s good to have knowledge. I guess if anybody’s thinking, yeah, I wouldn’t mind a trip to Japan, let’s start selling on FBA, Japan, then you can fully use it as a perfectly good excuse to get over there and stay.
Bradley Sutton: And then if your Amazon business fails, you could just stand on the street corner and say, touch my hairy arms for 100 yen. Maybe makes some money.
John Cant: You can make a couple of hundred yen.
Bradley Sutton: They have–I mean we’re laughing at that, but you know, people don’t even realize Japan.
John Cant: Yeah. I remember when they have cat cafes.
Bradley Sutton: Yes. No, but I’ve seen that in Japan. I know exactly. I’ve never been to one. But I’ve seen that in Japan. That’s so crazy.
John Cant:Yeah, cause they started in Japan I think. There’s a few in England now as well, I’ve noticed. They’re probably be heading their way there soon then.
Bradley Sutton: Somehow we’ve gone from talking about opportunity on Amazon to hairy arms and cat cafes. So I think we better close it. So, going back to Amazon, if somebody would like your help, they want to ask you some more questions. How–help them get started selling on Amazon Japan. How can they reach you?
John Cant: Sure, so we go to
Bradley Sutton: risingsuncommerce.com. Alright. Well, John, [speaks Japanese]. Thank you very much for your help with this and thank you very much. Alright, we’ll see you later. Thanks a lot, John.
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