Creating an ecommerce business in Japan. Episode 1.
Blog post initially written on: Friday 11th December 2020, 20:52
It’s hard to talk about yourself.
For those who don’t know my name is Baptiste Delannoy, I am 24 years old, I am French and I’ve been living in Tokyo since September 2017.
I think the process of starting a business in Japan might be of interest to a few people. At least that would have interested me, so I’m going to tell you the story of Tokyo Snack Box.
One might wonder why I would be writing in English about a business that is mainly targeting the French market. The simple answer is that I believe English is read by more people, especially on the Medium platform.
Also, we accept orders from all around the world so, why not.
I always say that Tokyo Snack Box started on September 1st, 2020 but the truth is: I don’t really remember.
What is certain is that the story is set in Tokyo, that we just had several shitty months because of COVID-19 and that I was missing my family.
I was supposed to go home for a holiday break in May 2020 and then for the winter holidays. It will most likely be postponed to 2021.
Two years without seeing one’s family, that’s quite long.
I was working from home all day and suddenly realizzed that the year had gone by very quickly. It was already late August / early September and I felt like I should take advantage of this teleworking opportunity to try something. Wouldn’t want to end 2020 with regrets.
It’s my phobia, regrets.
Of course the other part of the explanation is that when talking with another French expatriate, we told ourselves that it was a shame to live in Japan and not to take advantage of it. Take advantage of it because, at the moment, tourists can no longer come to Japan and it opens up “new” opportunities.
I’m writing “new” because the opportunities have been around for a long time. It’s just that the corona made them more obvious.
People love Japanese culture.
Manga, anime, culture, food etc.
Sending manga is possible but not really interesting.
Sending animes is not possible.
Send a culture? No
But we can make you feel the culture. You can make a person travel without leaving their home.
Food makes you travel.
But we can’t send sushi.
However, we can send snacks.
Well then, looking on google, there were already a lot of companies selling snacks. But the idea was catchy.
Especially since the French market (even if we now sell all over Europe) is very interesting.
The first step of any business is to find a name for it.
Chilling in a bar, central-Tokyo, we were thinking about proposals, but without success.
That evening, I went home, and told myself that we must give a name that everyone can understand, regardless of nationality.
It’s in Japan but I live in Tokyo.
We will sell sweet and salty stuff but the general term is Snack.
And we send it all in a cardboard package.
Tokyo Snack cardboard package.
Let’s try to make it sound better.
Tokyo Snack Box.
At first I wanted a very colorful logo.
Big fat pink neon.
I asked a designer on Fiverr to design ideas for me.
He gave one but I was not convinced.
I didn’t like the font and there was something missing to remind the Snack concept. So, I had the idea of the O in the shape of an eaten donuts.
The designer ‘s work stopped there.
Then, I wanted to clean it up as much as possible, to have a sober logo. Fewer elements and still classy. Black and gold could be the perfect colors.
After an Instagram poll, people seemed to agree.
As they say, shout-out to my German friend Luis, to whom I must have sent over thirty logo proposals in 48 hours, asking for his opinion.
Before that project, I had never used the Shopify platform, but had heard a lot about it. I always thought it would be nice to know how to use it. It would look good on the CV.
I was especially lucky that Shopify was quite developed in Japan.
Indeed, in many countries, Shopify does not yet offer all payment options for customers. Most of the time, it’s limited to Paypal.
If I am to believe the sales of my site, it would mean that 50% of customers would maybe be reluctant to buy a Tokyo Snack Box.
Like I said, I was lucky.
For anyone who wants to get started, Shopify is really well thought out, and there are even some free site templates. I decided to start with a paid one ($180) since it offered a bit more functionality, but most people can start a business with a free site.
Although I am not an expert, I am able to understand the basics of the code, and it has helped me quite a lot to make the platform even more flexible.
Starting the Operations
First, I had to find a supplier of cardboard boxes who had the model I was looking for. Then, a supplier of snacks, to avoid round trips and above all to have more competitive prices.
These two steps were not very difficult, since I can write and read Japanese, Google helped a lot.
I wanted the first official Tokyo Snack Box to be for Christmas.
For this I contacted friends but also “influencers” to ask their opinion and if they would agree to receive a free box in exchange of a bit of advertising and their opinion on the project.
So I sent 28 boxes on November 4th, 2020. 27 free, 1 paid.
What is funny is that it is an “influencer” who refused to take the box for free, and who absolutely wanted to support the project.
He didn’t know me at all in real life though.
And thank you to the others too, who agreed to play the game and (almost) all of them received and loved the first Tokyo Snack Box.
I say almost because at the time of this writing (December 11th), some people still have not received their package.
So yes, there is COVID-19, the lockdown and all other kinds of excuses.
But I must admit that I had forgotten an important aspect in my business: the French post. When we know that the packages are delivered within 2 weeks in other countries such as Germany, Belgium or England, but that in France, the first package took a month to arrive, that’s scary.
The worst part is that I have found the reason for these delays. Packages without a tracking number lose priority. They are processed later.
Two packages can therefore be sent from the same post, at the same time, by the same person, take the same plane, arrive in France at the same time: the one with a tracking number will go twice as fast to arrive.
I know, I tested.
So, this start of operations was a semi-failure. While thought I would gain traction from influencers for my Christmas Tokyo Snack Box, it didn’t happen.
The Christmas Tokyo Snack Box.
Here it is.
Based on the feedback from people who received the November box (aka my German and English friends), I improved a few points of the product.
And based on comments from French friends, I improved the website, to make it more attractive and easier to understand.
On November 23rd, the verdict came (at that time, no person in France had yet received their box, sent on November 4th), 20 Tokyo Snack Box, including influencers.
Well, I cheated a bit, as I used 8000 yens to put Facebook / Instagram ads, the equivalent of 65 euros.
But 20 was the perfect count for my snacks, as many arrive in packs of 20.
I ordered on that day.
Then, on the night of 23rd to 24th, two additional people ordered a box from me, for a total of 22 people. So, I added them to the Christmas batch.
In two months, that meant 2 Tokyo Snack Boxes, sent to a total of 50 European countries: France, Belgium, Germany, England and the Netherlands.
Everything was sent on December 1st and the first Tokyo Snack Boxes have already reached their recipients at the beginning of this week.
I even made a Youtube video to present it.
Originally published at https://www.tokyosnackbox.com
Thanks for reading!
If you’re interested in Tokyo Snack Box, here is a 5% discount code for your first purchase: MEDIUM
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