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We round up the latest trading updates and news for Japan's four largest retailers, Seven & i Holdings, FamilyMart UNY, Lawson and AEON.

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Amazon has increased the price of Amazon Japan’s Prime membership.

Fee flat for 11 years

Amazon Prime was launched in Japan 11 years ago and the 3,900 yen cost has remained unchanged up until now. Amazon has increased the cost to 4,900 yen (US$44), a 26% increase. The company cited the growing number of services available to members. In recent years, Amazon has improved its offering in Japan, including adding services such as Amazon Fresh, Prime Wardrobe, music and video. Whilst the cost of Prime membership has increased, the price is still lower in comparison to the US, where the annual cost is US$119.

Profitability

Amazon’s annual report shows that the retailer’s international business saw a loss of US$2.1bn in 2018. The move by Amazon to increase its Prime subscription fee in Japan highlights the company is increasingly prioritising profitability. In April 2018, Amazon increased the Prime membership fee in the US by 20%. In addition to increasing the cost of Prime, Amazon is also looking to improve profitability through the expansion of private label; creating a more efficient supply chain, for example, working with vendors to develop Frustration Free Packaging (FPP) and growing its Amazon Advertising business. For more information on Amazon’s strategic priorities, please read our Amazon Strategic Outlook.

FamilyMart UNY has failed to secure enough shares to make Don Quijote an affiliate. The discount operator, however, will proceed with its plan to make UNY a fully owned subsidiary.

Businesses will continue to share strengths and know-how

In the deal announced in October, FamilyMart UNY was to purchase a 20.17% stake in Don Quijote. FamilyMart UNY has released a statement to confirm that the deal is being "postponed at this point in time." Nonetheless, Don Quijote will purchase the remaining 60% stake of UNY tomorrow, making it a wholly owned affiliate. The two companies will continue to collaborate on product development, procurement and sales promotion. Another takeover bid from FamilyMart UNY in the future cannot be ruled out.

Cashless payment service available in July

FamilyMart UNY is launching a smartphone-based payment system to its stores across Japan in July. To pay for in-store purchases, shoppers just need to show a barcode displayed on their smartphones’ screen for the staff members to scan. The service can be precharged with cash or shoppers can pay the bills with credit cards.

The new cashless payment service is another example of a retailer in Japan responding to the country's labour shortages. It also aims to improve customer convenience and will provide the retailer valuable data on shopper purchases for the development of new products. To drive greater engagement, the retailer will offer shoppers points from loyalty programs of other companies, including the T-Point system.

Japan-based AEON has acquired a 19.9% stake in France-based organic retailer, Bio c’ Bon.

50 new stores planned by 2021

AEON and Bio c' Bon partnered in 2016 and opened a first Japanese store in Tokyo soon after. The joint venture, Bio c' Bon Japan, is owned equally by AEON and Bio c’ Bon. A total of eight stores have been opened in Japan since, with the companies reiterating their aim to operate 50 in three years. Following the success of the initial partnership, AEON has decided to acquire an almost 20% stake in Bio c’ Bon.

Challenge of supply

Bio c’ Bon stores offer Japanese products and a Made in France range, comprising, wine, cheeses and more. “The organic products offered by Bio c’ Bon are subject to a set of specific rules: the Japanese Agricultural Standards for the Japanese products and the Biological Agriculture label for the French products”. The supply of local products in Japan is a challenge for the companies as only 0.2% of agricultural products are organic and suppliers are difficult to find.

For subscribers wanting to see how organic is being executed in-store in countries where the organic sector is already well established, including North America and Europe, see our insight presentation.

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