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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is Akihabara getting more customer friendly?


Akihabara, Tokyo, by night.
Akihabara by night
Akihabara is an area of Tokyo that showcases much of what has made Japan successful. Forget about cars for a minute (which are all about the city of Nagoya), and Akihabara rules with its emporiums and specialist stores dedicated not only to the electronic goods and home appliances that Japan began excelling in in the 1960s, but also to the games and manga-related goods that have given Japan a "cool" sheen over the past couple of decades.

The manga-related aspect, in particular, of Akihabara draws hordes of young customers who know all they need to know about the products they're after before they go there and for whom the careful, conscientious kind of service that their parents might look for is not as important as price.

With little demand for department-store-style service, Akihabara is therefore marked by a distinct lack of it, with service - even in most of the emporiums - marked by half-heartedness, distractedness and brusqueness.

However, over the past year and a half I think I have come to notice some changes. One major change that anyone can notice is the huge increase in the number of customers from China.

Akihabara, Tokyo, by night, with Sofmap at right.
Akihabara by night, with Sofmap at right.
Even for tourists from mainland China, buying goods in Japan and taking them home is often a cheaper option than buying them in China, and the vaunted quality of Japanese products is another big selling point. So, like the nearby classy shopping street of Ginza, Chinese is just as much heard on Akihabara's streets as Japanese. And with that, the number of stores in Akihabara with Chinese-speaking staff has also increased markedly.

This is just as well for Akihabara, because, like bricks and mortar stores everywhere, they are feeling the effects of online competition, with stores attracting fewer Japanese customers.

With a need to create a reputation among Chinese buyers, and the need to attract Japanese customers who are generally more inclined to shop from home, all-round levels of customer-friendliness also seem to be rising in what was once "take it or leave it" Akihabara. There is less passive aggression, less brusqueness of manner, more attentiveness and more conscientiousness.

Sofmap is one big Akihabara chain that has mostly been an exception to the area's reputation for bad service. Service at Sofmap stores has generally been good from as far back as I can remember, but other stores, including Sofmap's biggest competitor in Akihabara, seem to be pulling their socks up too when it comes to service

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