Sour economy hurts Japanese lists

The Japanese recession has hurt not only consumers in that country, but international catalog marketers as well. “Our mailings are in decline in Japan because of their economy,” says Catherine Hartnett, spokeswoman for Freeport, ME-based outdoor mailer L.L. Bean. And Bean isn’t the only one. Catalogers and list professionals alike say that U.S.-based catalogers are cutting back or abandoning Japanese mailings. As a result, the number of qualified Japanese names is shrinking: One industry expert, who wishes not to be identified, estimates a 25% loss in Japanese names due to the rocky economy.

Because of the slumping economy, private consumption levels in Japan are the lowest they’ve been in five years, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The falling yen hasn’t helped: In 1995, the yen was worth 95 Yen to the dollar. At press time, the exchange had dropped to 138 Yen to $1. And don’t expect a turnaround soon: A recent New York Times poll indicates that half of Japanese consumers plan to cut spending this year.

“U.S.-based catalogers are maintaining their lists but not prospecting as much, and when that happens, the number of names will decrease,” says Meg Gamble, business development manager of San Francisco-based Hemisphere Marketing, a consultancy specializing in marketing in the Pacific Rim.

Roughly 1 million Japanese names are on the list market, but because these same names are being circulated back and forth, mailers are seeing list fatigue. “The quality of those names is decreasing,” Gamble says.

Or as Neal Cohen, circulation manager for Sumner, WA-based outdoor gear cataloger/retailer Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI), puts it, “There haven’t been too many catalogs mailing into Japan, so it’s like mailing to the usual suspects. We’ve been feeling it for the past 18 months and seeing lower response rates in the 6-month and 12-month buyer lists.”

The cloud does have a silver lining, though: More Japanese catalogers, which traditionally resisted selling names to U.S. companies, are putting their lists on the market. “Companies facing hard times look to avail themselves of all possible revenue sources,” says Peter Jupp, CEO of Infocore, a San Diego-based international list firm.

For instance, within the past year, general merchandise cataloger Nissen, one of the largest mail order firms in Japan, began allowing U.S. catalogers access to its house file.

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