Bags of Bargains Boost Japan’s January Sales

If pillaging years January sales has left you with battle fatigue, spare a thought for Japanese shoppers, who have to contend with not only heaving crowds and some of the world’s highest prices, but a very quirky way of shifting winter stocks.

nter any Japanese store on January 1st, and chances are that your eye will be caught by piles of stuffed and sealed bags (or even suitcases). These are known as fukubukuro- ‘lucky bags.’ Fukubukuro consist of items sold by stores clearing out last year’s stock in New Year’s sales. The big drawback is that customers don’t get to see what’s inside the fukubukuro until after they have been sold, giving rise to the term”utsubukuro” (“depressing bags”)  for less than exciting contents. As an extra incentive to shoppers to buy their lucky bags, some stores will slip bonus items, such as designer purses, vacation prizes or vouchers into a couple of bags, adding an element of gambling to the proceedings.

even Apple- a brand which strictly enforces consistent price models- has got in on the act

Not only does the tradition of fukubukuro help stores fulfil the Japanese tradition of clearing out old, unwanted items at the close of an old year to start fresh, it also ensures a healthy flow of customers after the holidays. The practice was first  started by a Tokyo department store in the early twentieth century, and has gone on to become de rigueur for any store looking to stoke new year sales. Since 2005, even Apple- a brand which strictly enforces consistent price models- has got in on the act, popping Mac Books and iPads into select fukubukuro to encourage customer to take a chance on their £232.52 bags.

In fact, the custom is so popular that many stores don’t just limit it to new year’s sales. Some stores offer year round fukubukuro for shoppers willing to take the risk of purchasing items they haven’t seen for the guarantee of getting a stash of cut-price goods from their favourite brands. Stores will plan out what they are going to put in the fukubukuro months in advance, knowing that loyal customers will be eagerly anticipating their launch, and it has become common marketing practice for stores to start advertising the contents of their bags in the peak of the holiday season.

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