At Uniqlo stores worldwide, staff greet every customer with "Welcome to Uniqlo!" They briskly walk around on a clean, white sales floor, refolding and restacking clothes, rarely talking to customers or each other unless approached.
It's a Japanese style of customer service based on a strict manual and which is praised for its politeness and efficiency. But as Japanese companies increasingly branch out overseas, they are faced with the dilemma of staying true to this retail philosophy while adapting to local service habits.
Japan's economy offered a mixed reading on Monday, with retail sales for May beating expectations while industrial production disappointed.
Industrial output fell 2.2 percent on month in May, worse than a Reuters poll forecast for a 0.8 percent decline. That spurred the government to say industrial production is stagnating and cut its forecast, according to Reuters.
Japan's households opened their wallets a bit wider than expected in May, with household expenditures jumping for the first time in more than a year.
Household expenditures rose 4.8 percent on year in May, topping a Reuters poll forecast for 3.4 percent and marking the first on-year increase since the country increased its consumption tax in April of 2014.
Some took the jump as a clear positive.
The Japanese government plans to triple the number of duty-free shops in local tourist spots around the country to 20,000 by 2020 to try to lure more foreign tourists. It will also move up its 2020 goal of expanding farm and fishery exports to JPY1 trillion (USD8.09 billion), government sources said Wednesday.
Consumer confidence in Japan worsened in May for the second straight month amid rising prices of goods such as food, data showed Tuesday, prompting the government to downgrade its assessment.
The seasonally adjusted index of sentiment among households made up of two or more people fell 0.1 points from April to 41.4, the Cabinet Office said.
The government downgraded its basic assessment of the index, saying the pace of a pickup in consumer confidence is "becoming moderate." Last month, the government said consumer confidence was "picking up".
Retail sales in Japan rose less than forecast in April, signalling a weak start to the second quarter for an economy that is still weighed down by last year's sales-tax increase.
Sales climbed 0.4 percent from March, when they dropped 1.8 percent, government data released Thursday showed. Economists had forecast a gain of 1.1 percent. Sales jumped 5 percent from April last year, when the first bump in the levy since 1997 hurt spending.
On 16 April, McDonald's Japan announced it would be closing 130 stores this year. Add to this the franchises that don't plan on renewing their contracts, and the number of lost outlets tops 190.
Japan's retail sales for March plunged 9.7 percent on-year, well below expectations, after last year's sales were front-loaded as shoppers splurged ahead of a sales-tax increase.
Retail sales were expected to fall 7.3 percent, according to a Reuters poll of 17 analysts. The decline follows February's 1.8 percent drop.
The economy got clobbered when consumers stopped spending following a rise in the nation-wide consumption tax to 8 percent that took effect last April, forcing the government to postpone a second sales tax initially due this October.
Japanese consumer confidence in March improved for a fourth straight month, a Cabinet Office survey showed on Friday.
The survey's sentiment index for general households, which includes views on incomes and jobs, was at 41.7 in March, up from a revised 40.9 in February.
The Cabinet Office upgraded its view on consumer confidence, saying it is picking up.
The survey began in 1982. "General households" are those with two or more people.
Major retail groups in Japan such as Seven & I Holdings Co. plan to beef up their online operations to meet growing demand.
As the nation's demographics shift and more women enter the workforce, demand for internet ordering and home delivery is "expanding rapidly", according to an official at supermarket operator Seiyu GK.