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Friday, May 22, 2009

Nesting instinct takes hold in recession

Crisis-born 'sugomori' trend revolves around relieving stress as well as conserving money


Staff writer

Already a devoted online shopper, 34-year-old office worker Yumiko Tamagawa is finding even more reasons to shop from home thanks to the recession.

News photo
One click away: The Internet shopping site run by Rakuten Inc. shows specialty foods available from across the country. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

For a range of items from T-shirts to books — even beef for a home barbecue party — she checks shopping and auction Web sites for the lowest prices.

"If I go out shopping and try to compare prices at each shop, the transportation costs are too high," she said. "Web sites can show you the lowest prices instantly."

Tamagawa is one of an increasing number of Japanese choosing to forgo travel or even a night out to save money. To economize, they shop online, watch DVDs and eat in.

Market researchers have coined a term for this trend: "sugomori," or nesting.

Unlike "staycations" in the United States, where vacationers take day trips or enjoy their own backyard pool instead of splashing out on expensive trips away, Japanese "nesting" is all about staying inside.

Companies are cashing in on the trend.

Online mall operator Rakuten Inc. said Feb. 13 it marked a record-high operating profit of ¥47.1 billion for the business year that ended in December.

Recent top sellers include packaged ingredients for casseroles and sweets, gourmet spices and bread makers, Rakuten said.

In a survey released March 27 by Internet research firm Macromill Inc., almost half of 516 respondents between the ages of 20 and 59 said they had increased their online shopping in the past year. Of them, 56 percent cited lower prices as the reason.

The nesting trend is also benefiting food delivery services.

Marketing firm Fuji Keizai Co. said in March that the overall food delivery business is expected to grow 1.9 percent to ¥2.16 trillion in 2009.

Supermarkets should expect to see Internet orders rise 25.1 percent to ¥28.4 billion this year, while delivery service sales of organic vegetables will rise 8 percent to ¥44.8 billion, it said.

Movie rental shops are likewise experiencing a boom.

Video and music rental store chain Tsutaya, which operates 1,369 outlets, said Jan. 29 that rentals were up for the sixth straight year, to a record ¥586.52 million in 2008.

"Considering how hard other industries have been hit, our rental business is doing fairly well because it has not slipped since the end of the year," said Mari Oshiro, a spokeswoman for Culture Convenience Club, the operator of Tsutaya.

On the strength of the rental business, CCC logged a 6 percent rise in group operating profit to ¥11.7 billion for the April-December period, the company said in February.

But the trend isn't only about saving money. Consumers are looking to ease the stress of daily life, experts say. To do this, many are focused on converting their living rooms into comfortable spaces, or building their own "nests."

"Because of the recession, people feel more stressed out and exhausted," said Takayo Yamamoto, who has monitored more than 100 women for six years at Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living.

"They want to economize, but they also want to heal themselves," she said.

Responding to this trend, Panasonic Corp. released a massage sofa in April designed to satisfy even the most dedicated couch potato.

Rather than go out, "more people prefer to spend a relaxing time at home," said Mayumi Sasaki, a Panasonic spokeswoman. "They want to relax and recover from their fatigue."

In contrast to conventional massage chairs, the new sofa is more stylish and less mechanical, Sasaki said.

A comfortable home life attracts women in particular, who often spend more than they originally planned.

Take Miyuki Matsui. The 25-year-old saleswoman says that because she is too tired to go out on weekends after working hard all week, she loves to buy tasty Swiss rolls and fruit tarts sold only online. Throw in some cosmetics and clothes and the bill for one month can climb to ¥50,000, she said.

Hakuhodo's Yamamoto said single female workers in their 30s and 40s tend to nest because they have more money than younger women.

"After working very hard, some people shop online at night (after shops close). They often shop online because it is raining outside," she said.

Some shop in bulk for wine and beer to avoid having to carry the heavy bottles and cans, she added.

Lovers of beauty treatments buy, for example, steamers to moisturize their face while sleeping or popular compact rollers coated with platinum germanium that can be used to smoothen facial and body skin.

"They want to build their castle at home with a sofa and carpets and lighting and invite friends for parties," Yamamoto said. "Nesting isn't necessarily a negative thing."



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