Department store sales in Japan posted modest gains in 2021 but remained below pre-pandemic levels

Department store sales in Japan rose moderately in 2021 from a year earlier to some 4.4 trillion yen, but remained below the level seen before the COVID-19 outbreak, sources said on Saturday. .

Sales rose by about 200 billion yen from the 4.2 trillion yen marked in 2020, when department stores were forced to close for a long period due to the spread of the virus.

But the 2021 figure was still around 20% lower than the 5.75 trillion yen recorded in 2019.

Official sales data is expected to be released by the Japan Department Stores Association on Tuesday.

Last year, the pandemic continued to force department store operators to take measures against the virus, such as temporarily closing stores and restricting the number of customers allowed to enter.

Amid declining foot traffic, department stores were supported by strong sales of luxury items, including watches, jewelry and items made by high-end brands.

“Wealthy people who couldn’t travel (due to the pandemic) bought more luxury items instead,” a department store manager said.

Pedestrian traffic began to recover after the government completely lifted its coronavirus state of emergency at the end of September last year.

All major department store operators fared well during the New Year’s holiday shopping season.

However, customer levels have started to fall again, amid the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, casting a cloud over sales in 2022.

Due to the rise of specialty stores, including casual wear chain Uniqlo, as well as increased use of online shopping, department store sales in Japan have fallen since peaking at 9.713 billion yen in 1991.

Sales of 4.4 trillion yen last year were close to the level of 1976, after the end of a period of strong economic growth.

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