In Japan, Valentine’s Day is typically seen as a day that girls and women give chocolates to boys or men as a means of expressing love. Chocolates are also sent to male colleagues as a courtesy – and possibly even as a social obligation.

However, observing recent trends on the purpose of Valentine’s Day, chocolate is no longer just a gift to send and consumers are starting to enjoy the chocolate shopping process as part of Valentine’s Day festivities.

Valentine’s Day is a massive opportunity for chocolate brands. Major department stores organise special events to promote their selection of chocolates; Salon du Chocolat Tokyo (a yearly trade fair for the international chocolate industry) is generally held in late January, targeting Valentine’s Day sales. These events have been heating up with increased visitors in recent years, and most notably consumers are enjoying ‘going chocolate shopping’.

Magical chocolate houses

For example, Matsuya Ginza, one of the longest-established department stores in Tokyo, sells over 100 chocolate brand names. It has also built a “chocolate room” in which visitors can use an augmented reality app especially created for this room to take unique photos that can be shared with Social Network Service.

Another department store on the same street, Ginza Mitsukoshi, has created its ‘magical chocolate house’ to showcase fantastical chocolates which are said to be highly photogenic.  There is a bar in the house offering mysterious chocolate cocktails and hot chocolate drinks that are said to be made by a wizard.

Offering a photogenic product or situation is highly influential for marketing at the moment in Japan. ‘Insta-bae’ means looking good on Instagram, and it was one of Japan’s buzzwords in 2017. Seeking ‘Instagenic’ objects and occasions is trending consumer activities and many consumers see Valentine’s Day chocolate hunting as an Instagram opportunity – and retailers are trying to capitalise on the Instagram boom.

Capitalising on the Valentine’s Day chocolate craze

While buying chocolates has become a fun event for Japanese consumers, ‘Valentine’s Day chocolate for me’ has also become a core purchase motivation, as many novelty and limited edition chocolates coming up for Valentine’s Day market attract consumers to buy some for themselves. According to a survey held by Japan’s confectionery giant Meiji, 27% of Valentine’s Day chocolate shoppers buy chocolates for themselves. Retailers try to target these predominantly female consumers, offering feminine design and photogenic chocolates. Some consumers buy good-looking chocolates for uploading on to Instagram.

Furthermore, as national and international chocolates come to the forefront for Japan’s Valentine’s Day, some consumers enjoy “studying” chocolate as part of their selection process. The aforementioned Salon de Chocolat Tokyo is a popular event with an official guidebook purchased by chocolate enthusiasts to study brand history, chocolatiers’ characters and skills, and the source of ingredients, as part of enjoying the event.

The evolution of Japan’s Valentine’s Day chocolate marketing demonstrates that chocolates are certainly an attractive products for enticing Japanese consumers, but how retailers and brands emotionally connect with shoppers via the shopping experience will be the key to winning Japan’s Valentine’s Day chocolate craze.