Distribution Channels in Japan: Selling Directly To Retailers & B2B Customers In Japan

“We do great business with Best Buy in the U.S., so I’m sure retailers in Japan like Yamada Denki, Yodobashi Camera, K’s Denki, and Joshin would love to do business with us and have our products on their shelves.”

In our experience, this is only partially true — these large Japanese retailers might be very interested in selling your products, but they won’t want to do business with you unless you have an office in Japan.

Distribution channels in Japan for non-Japanese consumer products

One key thing you need to know about distribution channels in Japan is that while Japanese retailers like the companies listed above sell many non-Japanese products, they are rarely interested in doing business directly with foreign suppliers, so approaching them is almost always a complete waste of time.

Here are a few of the reasons why retailers in Japan are not interested in working with non-Japanese suppliers:

❌ They don’t speak English.

❌ They need someone who can hold inventory in Japan and ship directly to individual stores as needed.

❌ They need someone who can provide phone support in Japanese to their customers.

❌ They have no interest in dealing with import-related issues.

❌ They only deal with suppliers that already have an existing relationship (“kouza”) with them.

❌ They expect suppliers to provide their goods on consignment or allow them to return unsold goods for a credit.

❌ They expect suppliers to strictly adhere to their rules regarding orders, delivery, returns, and payment. For example, extended payment terms (Net 90 or even longer) are common when it comes to the big retailers.

The bottom line is that you have two options if you want to do business with most retailers in Japan: you can set up a subsidiary in Japan with Japanese staff, or you can work with a distributor in Japan that has an existing relationship with the right ones.

Distribution channels in Japan for non-Japanese B2B (non-consumer) products

The same principle applies to distribution channels in Japan for non-Japanese B2B products.

Like consumers, B2B customers in Japan have very high expectations when it comes to service and support and are rarely interested in purchasing supplies, parts, or equipment directly from a company that isn’t located in Japan so you need a local partner to reach these customers.

So, for example, if your products are used in the auto industry, you will need to work with a distributor who has existing relationships with OEMs like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan and Tier 1 suppliers like Denso, Aisin, and Yazaki.

Understanding Distribution In Japan: Selling Directly To Retailers

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Doing Business In Japan Using Distributors, Importers & Agents