Posts Tagged with “ecommerce”

Apple Store Goes EasyPay

Tried out the new EasyPay system in the Apple Store today. Damn cool. If you’ve updated your Apple Store app recently, enable location services, then the next time you are inside an Apple Store it will detect your location and offer you the new EasyPay option. Simply scan the barcode on your item and make your purchase using the credit card you have on file with iTunes. Sorry, PayPal users, EasyPay hasn’t been enabled for your connected PayPal accounts (yet? ever?).

It was all smooth and easy–PayPal option not being offered aside–but it’s tough for me to be too impressed. I was doing this in Japan more than 10 years ago, way before the iPhone and iPad existed. Ramen shops were offering touch-screens with full menu ordering and payment options before Dragonball–and that abomination of a live-action movie–ever hit it big in the States. I was already buying Pocari Sweat sports drinks from vending machines with my mobile phone not long after Finland launched the first mobile-enabled Coca-Cola machine in 1997. Shoot, even the Philippines had Smart Money in 1999 to manage payments from mobile accounts.

Tirade aside, as with so many things, Apple has the uncanny ability to position their products and services at the right time in a beautiful offering to drive accessibility and adoption. EasyPay is just the beginning of some very exciting things for us in mobile commerce. I can’t wait.

EX Marks the Spot in Japanese Classifieds

I lived in Japan for a few years and still maintain a few networks there. For a little while I even had some fair facility with the language. Well, at least enough to understand the original Dragonball anime (Dragonball Z was still manga at that time). This by no means makes me an expert–indeed I’m far from it–so please excuse the few liberties I take in generalizing my experience there.

Consider the five pillar categories of Classifieds: goods, autos, jobs, real estate, and services. Win any two of these, and you’ll probably win your Classifieds market. Let’s talk about goods and autos.

Goods in Japan = Electronics and Media (books, music, movies, and video games). Most mainstream users in the West will change technology every 2-3 years. Early adopters perhaps 6-9 months. Innovators 3-6. In Japan, technology changes every 30 days. 30 days! The Japanese consumer wants it compact, personalized, and jam-packed with every feature imaginable even if they aren’t going to use those features. It’s just good to know that biometric scanner is on your toaster if you ever need it.

The electronics mainstream in Japan is shifted to the left, closer to the early adopters and innovators. So there isn’t much of a market for second-hand electronics goods. By the time you tire of it and get around to selling it, next month’s crop of hot, new gadgets will be out and no one will bother with an old model.

The majority of used cars from Japan are actually exported. Some 1.5M cars were exported from Japan in 2007 (ref: Japanese Used Motor Vehicle Exporting Association). These are mostly to neighbors, namely Russia, New Zealand, and South East Asia.

So if second-hand goods don’t play well locally, what might a Japanese Classifieds strategy take? I can think of three:

  • exports
  • exchange
  • expat

Providing a Classifieds experience that simplifies the export process, for electronics or cars, will position that player well in the lead. These would include considerations like: payment escrow, car inspection/verification, export duties, and shipping. Further, this kind of play will require local expertise and a local sales team to bootstrap the business.

Video games rule. 32% of Japanese play video games regularly and spent about $2.5B in 2009. 64% of Americans play video games regularly and spent about $22B in 2009. (ref: Computer Entertainment Supplier’s Association, Enterbrain magazine). That’s a whole lot of gaming. There are opportunities for an export market here, but this is complicated by compatibility issues as well as language translation problems in the games themselves. So perhaps an exchange/swap model is a viable Classifieds play.

Finally, there are about 2.2M registered expats in Japan (ref: Ministry of Justice). 40% of surveyed expats in Japan have income in excess of $200,000/year (ref: Expat Explorer survey). This is a potentially large and loyal market. Imagine a local offering available in several languages. This would be uniquely positioned to win loyal expat customers.

Traditional local Classifieds have not done well in Japan. There are several niche plays that could be an interesting play for a local Classifieds player in Japan: exports, exchanges, and expats.

Lost and Found in Tokyo

If you lost $250 or your shiny new iPhone on a train in New York, what chance do you think you’d have of getting it back? Air-bound swine and Hell-popsicles come to mind. In Tokyo, I’d be shocked if you didn’t get it back.

That’s because Japan has an old culture of turning found items in to a government official. The law dates back as far as the early 8th century, and has been updated several times since, the most recent in 1958.

My information is very old–I have a call into the Tokyo Metropolitan Lost and Found Center, but translations are a bit tough–but more than 2 million items pass through the Tokyo Metropolitan Lost and Found warehouse, with more than 7500 items being turned in every day. Somewhere in excess of $35M in cash is turned in each year. Yes, that’s million with an “M.”

Items can range from bus passess, to umbrellas, to cellphones (their most popular item). Each item is meticulously catalogued and archived in the system. After six months, unclaimed items can go back to the finder or sold. Tokyo makes something between $4M-$5M each year from the sale of unclaimed items.

Don’t quote me on these exact numbers. My Japanese is pretty rusty (read: non-existent) and the clerk or officer helping me (can’t tell which) seemed a bit shaky on the numbers himself.

Part of the reason for this imprecision is that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department seems surprisingly low-tech. I mean no disrespect here. Perhaps this is simply the low-tech site they show to gaijin like me:

It seems to me that Tokyo Metropolitan is prime for a player to come in and create a national database and website to better catalog, track, and manage this vast inventory. The upside for such a venture? A tidy little Classifieds business for unclaimed items.

Future Directions
This model could easily be packaged and sold to metropolitan transit and police authorities anywhere. Take it a step further and integrate it with pawnbrokers to help police catch thieves at the point of sale. In Georgia, pawnbrokers are required to catalog items pawned/sold to them and report this in to the police. You know how this is done? Via spreadsheets and printouts. Now imagine a system where this is all online. A thief comes in to sell his stolen goods, as the pawnbroker enters the item into the system–via serial number presumably–it triggers an alert that is sent to a nearby squad car. As the thief steps out of the shop? Busted!

Now extend that same wonderful database into your SYI flow. I think that’s a pretty compelling feature that no other online marketplace currently offers.