Experiences and retail in Tokyo and Shanghai

I traveled back to Shanghai recently, to visited friends & former collegues. I combined it with a short trip to Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.

Of course I also took pictures and videos from retail locations. This time I did a little less focus on the online commerce as I did that before already. 

Earlier I wrote a few posts on LinkedIn on this trip. This blog post is a combination of those LinkedIn posts with some additional context and pictures. It will be a long post with many pictures and some videos, so be prepared to scroll down.



It was very nice to be back in China again and a pleasure to use their advanced fintech and payment technology. It makes retail so much more fun. It took a bit of work to get it working as a tourist this time, but I managed to get both Alipay and WeChat pay working again.There is really some improvement needed here, to get that more working more easily for tourists.

The first hotel I stayed at, already had some technology I didn't see before. When a delivery brother brings your food, he can place it in the robot and the robot brings it to your room. Much safer, non guests do not have to go to rooms and you don't have to go down to get your food. The robot even has a 'butler style" paint on it.
They told me, if it gets stuck it rings for help. These type of robots are also used to deliver food in office buildings, at least in Shanghai. Food delivery (during lunch) is massive in Shanghai. They go up and down the elevator and into offices to bring food.

Here you see the good looking robot, on its way to deliver food to one of the guests at the upper floors.

In Shanghai, my second hotel was at the famous Nanjing shopping street. It is always packed with people.My favorite Chinese food is the Jian Bing, a Chinese breakfast pancake. Sellers sell them often in small stores in side alleys. On my quest for the nearest Jian Bing seller, I found this vending machine at Nanjing road that sells really good coffee. I made a video of it (in the early morning as at that time there are not so many people).


The machine can serve two people at the same time, it has a robot arm that makes your cofffee very transparantly. I always pay attention to interfaces, and the two tablets have -even in English- a great interface, you can really easily browse through the 70 beverages. There is upsell, there is lots of explanation about the beans and the quality of the ingredients (an important factor in China).

The vending machine can get your profile info, in my case from Alipay, so it can make tailer made offers for me. Of course I can do the payment completelely via my phone (even the order if I want to).

There is a loyalty and coupon function and if you or someone pre-orders, you just scan your QR code and the machine makes a coffee for you. 

At the back of the machine you can rent a powerbank if you are in need of some juice for your phone.There is an Alipay miniprogram and with that it is possible to send over your profile data as well. Speaking of data, the machine has a big AI brain that gives all kind of data to optimize the experience and sales. Check out the company that created this machine's webpage.

I think this is a great machine also in the western world with a few adaptions:

  • Airports or train stations. Railways or airlines can easily give coupons for free coffee or tea, you just have to scan the received QR code, and as it is all online, it can be even integrated in customer journey campaigns (f.e. automatic free coffee after x minutes delay and at station X).
  • Shopping malls. The machine can also be very useful at shopping malls (it's fun to watch for kids, gives a break for the parents and the shopping mall can attract people with it with for example free coffee coupons).
  • Workplace.The machine would be a great addition to many workplaces, reducing time to get coffee and increasing conversation.

A few adaptions are needed/useful. Think of:

  • A bench at the side integrated, so you can take a rest and drink your coffee.
  • Different payment methods of course, this one only accepted Alipay and Wechat Pay.
  • Maybe to switch off the sound, as in Asia is common to have sounds everywhere, this one also plays a welcome music the whole day & night. Maybe not everywhere acceptable.

As many cities (at least in Western Europe) are often battling against vandalism, unlike countries like China or Japan, I think this machine is might not be suitable for outside placement in Western Europe in it's current state, unfortunately. That's a pity. Vandalism slows down these kinds of technology innovation in my opinion.

I located this machine at multiple places in Shanghai already.

Cloud Nine Shopping mall

Dream Cloud Nine Shopping mall in Shanghai is a shopping mall I often went to when I lived in Shanghai. It is huge and extremely easy to reach as three metro lines more or less run into this shopping mall. There is direct access from the subway station. Besides that it is next to a big park (when the weather is nice). A great location and the mall is very modern as well. It spans over 9 floors and you can really buy anything here, from cars, to a huge food court and supermarkets. 


Dream Cloud Nine Shopping Mall in Shanghai

And yes, they sell cars in the shopping mall:


The most annoying things of these huge shopping malls I always find, is the walking part. It is so huge, and if you have to be at an upper floor that takes lots of time, especially if you do not exactly know where to go.

A huge 9 floor shopping mall in Shanghai

When I walked in the mall, I saw a couple of , what at first looked like robots, but appeared to be riding vending and information machines. 

A riding information and vending machine in Shanghai

So I checked it out. Turns out the machine sells products (in this case small toys, but I guess this could just as well have been drinks for example). The machine promotes the shopping mall's loyalty programme at one side and the other side has an advertisement for a shop at the 6th floor. Now that's nice to get people up 6 floors, because as I wrote earlier, it is always so time consuming. There are always lines at elevators and 6 floors on escalators takes time as well.


It informs people of member benefits of the mall

It is a vending machine as well, I bought a small toy that is distributed via the top of the machine, all via Alipay online payment)

It can inform /attract/motivate visitors of the mall to go to upper floors

Alex Baar in Shanghai testing retail tech concepts with my new robot vending machine friend
Yes, now this new machine is my friend! It even halted for posing with me

As I wrote earlier, it is always a hassle to go to upper floors. In another shopping mall in Shanghai, I noticed this "express escalator". Such a good idea, it takes you from the 2nd to the 4th floor in one go. Now thats a good experience!
Try it yourself, this one is in the IAPM shopping mall at Shaanxi Nan Lu, also a great mall in a great area in downtown Shanghai.

An express elevator in a shopping mall. Great idea


I was at IAPM at a rainy day, then they put this machine at the entrance, a machine where you can quickly dry your umbrella. Great idea, many malls in Asia have such a machine, I never saw one in Europe.

It is great to make walks in Shanghai. There is always so much to see. One of the areas that is specifically nice is the area around West Nanjing road. To bring back memories I was just walking a bit one evening and I noticed this flagship store from "the North face"

This store even has a "fridge" where you can try and test before you buy your expedition clothes:

I did not go into the freezer, but they even made it a little nice and comfortable inside when you are testing your clothes. Now that's trust in the quality of your product!

In the shop there is also a mini exhibition. You see clothes that were really used in expeditions, with the story behind it. 

Walking in Shanghai surprises many times. That is one of the reasons Shanghai is such a great city. Suddenly in some not too busy street, Isee this 'phone booth like' box.

Turns out there is a traditional phone inside but also a screen. I think it is mostly catered to elderly, as you can also get your pension information from it. 

Yeah and you can even create AI versions of yourself! This one is from me:

 The AI probably improved version of Alex generated in the phone booth in Xuijiahui

Tech in Shanghai is everywhere and this little phone booth was a great place to rest after a long walk.

Just to give an impression, small stores often include live streaming in China to sell their products.

Retail in China

China is awesome in retail. There is so much competition, online and offline often go hand in hand and there is something new to see every day. The online commerce space is so vast, competetive and interesting that I can write hundreds of blog posts on that, so that's not for today. I am sure I will be back in one of the Tier-1 cities next year.

As I was this time on a transit visa, I had to leave Shanghai after a few days so I decided to visit Japan again. I haven't been there for maybe 7 or 8 years, so nice to travel back again.


Japan has a great retail landscape. Digitally less mature than China, but still a thriving retail environment with so many unique shops, themed bars and more.

This visit, I mostly visited some larger brands and took pictures of the shops. I did not have time to visit all the stores I wanted to, but still, I think this overview might help others to get inspired.

Physical retail accounts for the vast majority (71%) of all retail sales in Japan (2022). Despite the decline in the number of stores recently, the average sales per store has been increasing. In 2022, the average sales per store were JPY68 million (USD600,000), up from JPY63 million (USD550,000) in 2019.

Unlike last time in Bangkok, this time, I do not zoom in on the online retail, but just pictures of stores (and a few ads).

Tsutsuya Books

I visited a unique bookstore called Tsutuya. This is way more than a bookstore. I felt it was more of a park combined with a bookstore. A place where you can unwind and spend a day.

Tsutsuya Books stores also sell a variety of other media, such as DVDs, CDs, and video games. They also have a wide selection of stationery, gifts, and other lifestyle items.

One other thing that makes Tsutsuya Books unique is its commitment to promoting culture. Many of the stores have event spaces where they host readings, signings, exhibitions, and other cultural events. They also have cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a meal or drink while you read or socialize.

The complex has several connected buildings, this is one of them all in a park atmosphere
So many things to do, a bookstore with add-ons
Yes, there is a gigantic dog also. Despite the gigantic dog, this is only a small dog-run area.
They have a paid shared lounge, a co-working space inside.
It looks esthetic on the inside, books everywhere
In some areas of the bookstore, they have artwork exhibitions
The section where they sell music
In the records section, they organize listening parties
Great food available (including beer taps)
There is a large restaurant in one of the buildings, between all the books, It was closed when I was visiting.
It's a park centered around a library

Location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/4QUswNZCTR8E535h7

Official site: https://store.tsite.jp/daikanyama/english/

Robot Advice Tokyo Metro

Tokyo subway is vast and it's a labyrinth of tunnels and walkways. It's great if you know where to go, if not you can easily get lost. Did you know there are even websites explaining all these underground walkways and creating routes for it?

Well every day I passed this robot machine, had to try it of course :)


Yes, you can even make a picture with the robot in your favorite pose

Walking in the underground of Tokyo is great, it's safe, clean, there are lot's of retail outlets and mini stores, also from famous brands. Compared to for example, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Bangkok, the underground passages of the Tokyo subway are more vast and more interesting from a retail perspective. There is really a lot to see and do.

Antenna stores

Antenna stores are stores are located in major cities and cater to specific prefectures of Japan. They are set up by local governments to promote their region's products and culture. They offer food, drinks, and products, but also in many cases travel advice. The most popular antenna shops in Tokyo have 100,000-500,000 visitors a year. 

It might be a great concept in Europe as well. 

I visited the Hokkaido Antenna store in Ginza and bought two small souvenir products from this prefecture 

There are lots of Hokkaido food products available and when I was there, a cook was making fresh Hokkaido food.

Also, I visited this Nagano Antenna store, it has 3 floors and was packed with people when I was there. 

 There is also a section with information for tourism

The Nagano Antenna store even had a bar, where you could buy Nagano drinks, like Nagano sake.

Yodibashi Camera

Yodibashi is the largest electronics store chain in Japan. I went to the Akihabara store, which might be the largest store itself in Japan. It spans 9 floors full of electronics, home appliances, and more. They even have at the rooftop a golf and baseball area.
This is really an awesome area and building for electronic fans. I remember my first visit here (and I remembered the company song), where I went to this building to experience the at that time famous i-Mode phones from NTT Docomo. At that time in Europe we didn't have anything like that.

Sometimes they also organize events at Yodibashi, like the Yodibashi Akiba (Playstation) Gaming event that took place recently.

Just like other stores in Japan, also Yodibashi has a company theme song, that plays in the store very very regularly. It is part of Japanese retail culture, many brands have a company song in their stores, often memorable and unique. The Yodibashi one is very nice, link below. 

Omron is a leading Japanese brand in healthcare products, and its blood pressure monitors are some of the best on the market. Just before I entered the Yodibashi store, there was the option to test my blood pressure. 
Lots of colors and large signs inside on every floor, including salesmen who try to attract everyone's attention. Advertising is everywhere cannot be avoided. 
A short video of the entrance:

Yes, they also have a liquor section, just next to the printers 🍻 A survey indicated that 70% of Yodobashi Camera's customers have expressed demand for a liquor section in 2018. I guess, the demand has been confirmed as the section is still there


There are advertisements and information everywhere, very colorful. According to Google Translate you can charge your phone for free at the phone section on the left. 
The floor where you could buy AC's and dishwashers had a large amount of tables.
  Sometimes you will find products, you never knew existed, like these little AI translator devices.  

On the rooftop of the Yodibashi building, there is a golf course and a batting area. You can rent or buy as the top floor has a golf shop.


Location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/uFKvuS9yA24qrqiC9

Information: https://tokyocheapo.com/place/yodobashi-camera/

The Yodibashi company theme song, often played in the stores: https://youtu.be/Bnx85z78O2w?si=Vg8ib-k8_OYiRIT8

Line & retail

Line, the #1 messaging app in Japan, just like WeChat, also has the option to use mini-programs. A concept that is very convenient and useful in combining on and offline. Below you see an advertisement I saw at a shopping mall in Osaka. A shopping mall can use Line to attract people to the mall, via a Line mini program and f.e. offer:

  • Exclusive coupons and discounts
  • Send push notifications
  • Create a Line chatbot with an FAQ
  • Line offers "digital stamp rallies" that encourage people to visit several stores in a mall and get rewarded for that.
  • It is possible for the mall to get direct customer feedback
  • The Line data can also be used to do market research,

These things are so convenient in Asia, not only in China but also in Japan and other countries.

An advertisement from a shopping mall promoting their Line mini program shown with translation. 

 Rooftops in Tokyo

I don't know why, I always like rooftops. Bangkok has it's skybars, Tokyo has its rooftop gardens/entertainment rooftops. There are many buildings with a complete park on top of it, like this one at the top floor of a shopping mall. 



As you can see, a complete park on top of a skyscraper, and there are more (even more beautiful) in Tokyo.
Yeah rooftop gardens are a thing in Tokyo/Japan. I haven't been to this one, but look how beautiful it is.
Fancy a more interactive one? Check this retro rooftop amusment park on top of a shopping mall (of course) in Nagasaki.
Sushiro is the largest conveyor belt sushi chain in Japan, with over 500 restaurants nationwide. It is known for its affordable prices and wide variety of sushi dishes, which are all made with fresh ingredients. I had the opportunity to try Sushiro's new digital conveyor belt restaurant in Tokyo. Food and tech combined, who does not love that? Almost everything is done electronically. You check in via a machine, go to your section/table, order digitally, receive the food and you also check out digitally. I have visited this restaurant a few times, it was packed most evenings I went there.
This was my table, a huge, huge screen just above the conveyor belt.
The interface is animated, with huge pictures of the food, allergen information, and even games. I tested the UX of course, and it worked pretty smoothly!
Yes, I won a prize! It was a small animal toy. But you can also win coupons or free meals. I was not that lucky. 
This was my prize, I gave it away to a family dining, but to give an idea of how they distribute it. In the future maybe the can identify my profile and skip these kind of prizes and give me another type of prize.
The food tasted good as well
My ordered sushi took the right turn 
Don't know who this guy is, but there were lots of promotions on my table and he smiled, so I smiled back.

Next to the "family tables" there are also "single" sections, here the display is smaller
Show the ticket to this machine, pay, and leave! It's that easy.




Location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/PJmhuCHyaPgtVABD7



Omotenashi: Japanese stores do not simply provide service, they go way beyond

When stores open you are often greeted by all or at least many of the staff. Very attentive and a great sign of hospitality to customers. This is not only valid for shops but also restaurants. The Japanese service industry is very hospitable, much more than in other (Asian) countries in my opinion. The staff will go out of their way to make sure you have a pleasant experience.

This high level of service is based on the Japanese concept of "omotenashi", which is the art of anticipating and fulfilling the needs of others.

This Omotenashi concept is also often used in (UX) design. Japanese UX designers often use this concept to make (web) designs. As an example, you can think of:

  • Providing a warm welcome, just like in the physical stores, can of course also be done online.
  • To anticipate the user's needs and provide them with the information and features they need before they even ask for them. Every time I go into the Tokyo subway I find the display in the subway so conveniently designed compared to those in other countries, this must be omotenashi design.
    But also the fact that the metro gates are open by default, instead of closed in most other countries. It is anticipating on the user's needs.

 This video shows Omotenashi design in practice both visually (metro signage) and physically (ticket gates)

The display shows exactly in which car you are, where it stops, and how to go to your next train (anticipate the user's needs). This also is connected to navigation apps, so you always exactly see in which car to drive to get to your destination or transfer fastest.

  • Omotenashi designers provide helpful and constructive feedback to users. For example, when a user makes a mistake, the interface should provide clear and concise instructions on how to fix it.
  • Omotenashi designers go above and beyond to make the user feel valued and appreciated. For example, a customer support representative might offer to personally help a user with a problem, even if it is something that could be solved through the website's self-service help center.

So in my opinion, many things to learn from Omotenashi both on and offline


A Family Mart with a bar integrated in Tokyo

Japan has convenience stores (and vending machines) at literally every corner. In fact, Japan has the most convenience stores in the world, with over 55,000 stores! You can do almost everything in such a store, including banking services or paying utilities. Many are open 24 hours. Now, this one is a special one, this has a bar inside. They are testing this new concept. Convenience stores in Asia, but especially in Japan (and Taiwan) are of another level, so much better than any convenience store in the west.

Now this bar that is integrated sells (almost) obsoleet drinks, so not only good for Family Mart, but also for the customer and the environment.

Have to say I liked it in this bar! But probably this concept does not really work outside of some Asian countries.

This family mart has a bar inside

Great fun, drinking a beer between shoppers
And I am not the only one enjoying a drink

Convenience stores are everywhere in Japan, you even see them integrated in other retail outlets, like for example Muji or in the Tsutaya bookstore I wrote about above.




There is also the "New Day" convenience store brand in Japan, which is owned by Japan Railways. This convenience store has fresh beer on tap (all via machines). I didn't test that one though but you will find more information in the link below:


Location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/F7fiVFRmjPuADmse7

Don Quijote

I want to mention Don Quijote as well. This is a discount chain that is famous in Asia. I wrote a topic on that before including a video (see below) on their Bangkok branch. Many of these stores are open 24 hours, but this one, the flagship store, in Osaka is not. Unfortunately, I was there at 7 a.m., and they opened up at 11. Could not visit because my Shinkansen train left at 11.30. But this flagship store has an actual functioning Ferris wheel as you can see, that you an ride for 600 Yen.

It's a great concept, to get an idea what it is like inside, check out this video I made at their Bangkok branche.

Super Potato

Super Potato is a video game store located in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan. It is a haven for retro gamers from all over the world, offering a vast selection of vintage video games, consoles, and collectibles. Although I am not a hardcore gamer, I could not resist taking a look at this special store (mainly catered to tourists). In this store you re-live the glory days of gaming, it really feels like that. 


First, you get greeted by Mario, but you cannot touch him. 

There are many retro game stations where you can play, these ones you are allowed to touch :)

Of course huge sections with games, of all kinds of consoles. 

Old Atari game stations are there as well 

Location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/ZeyHP4AEwm5pbzZeA



Everyone knows Uniqlo, the Japanese fashion brand. I visted the Ginza Uniqlo. Ginza is the district in Tokyo where all flagship stores are. It looks a bit surreal. 

The Uniqlo flagship store in Ginza looks Amazing, in fact, they have 2 stores in the Ginza area. 

They have digital displays where you can find products. The display gives the route to the prodcut (that you can also transfer to your phone) and you can also browse through popular products.

This section, called "Hello Neighbor" has products from neighboring shops. I saw several of these sections in the building. As I understood this was set up during covid times to support local businesses. It is a popular section in the store. 
I haven't seen these self checkout terminals anywhere else yet, just drop all clothes in the basket and it automatically calculates the amount, no need to scan anymore.

I guess Japanese like coffee, almost all flagship stores in Ginza have a coffee corner, and Uniqlo is not an exception. 

Information: https://www.worldwandering.net/destination-in-japan/the-worlds-largest-uniqlo-store-in-japan/


Just missed this Uniqlo pop-up initiative in Harajuku unfortunately: https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXZQOUC1150R0R11C23A0000000/

Location: https://maps.app.goo.gl/AW26Th4dvGiS2BNf8

Dream Sleeper Japan

Once I read about the dream sleaper concept. The dream sleeper is a nightbus service in Japan that I haven't seen anywhere else in the world. So because I was in Japan I wanted to try it. I booked a ticket and went to Shinjuku station to board the bus.

Shinjuku bus station is an environment in itself that is super well organised and bustling even around midnight when my bus departed.

The bus is like a hotel on wheels. You get your own private room, a box full of amenities, a pyama and much more. It's a unique experience and you wake up in another city. I think I paid around 80 euros for the all nights trip that took around 6 hours or so. Back to Toyko I took the Shinkansen, Nozomi train and that takes only 2.5 hours, but is mostly more expensive.

I made a video about it, so you can see how it looks. 

I can for sure recommend it just for the experience. I took the nightbus dream sleaper to Osaka, but you can take it to many destinations. I booked the ticket via: https://japanbusonline.com/en and/or via https://www.kanto-bus.co.jp/english/nightway/dream-sleeper/

These are concepts probably unique to Japan and might not work elsewhere.


Loft is a Japanese variety store chain that sells a wide range of products, including stationery, kitchen utensils, accessories, cosmetics, toys, travel accessories, and furniture. Loft stores are known for their stylish and modern designs and their wide selection of unique and innovative products.

I like these stores a lot. They are so colorful and you will find trendy (and cute) products. I can recommend also that every Amazon or platform seller that is active in this product range to check this brand. There is lots of inspiration to be found in this store. 

Loft departement store in Tokyo, very colorful
Look how colorful everything looks. It's a joy to enter this store.


Lots of floors, it will take you some time to visit them all

They also offer local products, from the immediate area.


They also have a collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and together they create unique products that are sold here. 
Some products from the MoMa section. Yeah the clock on the upper left really turns a page every minute.
Most products look really cute/colorful and are often in mini format. I think that'sets them apart.

 They also have limited edition products regularly
When I was visiting they had a country section as well, very nice idea, in this case a korea section with Korean inspired products.

The Dream Sleeper Tokyo-Osaka

When I read about the Dream Sleeper bus I decided to give it a try. I haven't seen this anywhere else in the world, so it was something unique to try. So instead of taking the very comfortable Shinkansen, I took this unique nightbus. Unique because it has 12 private cabins on board so you can really have a good night's rest.
I took a video of the journey:

It is really like a hotel on wheels. I hope this one day would be possible in Europe as well, but I doubt it if this can be in this exact form. The Japanese collective culture makes a difference, these private cabins and the public areas kept very clean and there is also not any disturbance by other passengers during the trip.
It's fun to take the dream sleeper, and if you are on a budget it saves you a hotel stay. On my way back to Tokyo I took the Shinkansen and instead of a whole nights drive the Shinkansen takes you back from Osaka in 2,5 hours. Also comfortable.

Thanks for reading this blog post

Retail in Asia in my opinion is often/mostly much more interesting than in the west. That's why I like both the on and offline retail environment there.
Yesterday I walked in the local shopping mall here in Hilversum, Netherlands. At 7pm, some exits were aleady closed, most shops were closed, the toilet was already closed. Such a difference with Asia.

 A shopping mall in Hilversum at 7pm a friday night
Japan's retail is really different again from China's and other Asian countries. I guess Japan's collective culture, on one hand is positive, but also it can block maybe innovation as well.
China's retail is much more bustling and seems more innovative
Having said that, retail in Japan is an experience at its own, many things to learn from and a better experience then in most of the western world.
I am sure I will go back to travel to Japan to make more videos and pictures. Many parts of Asia you are (from a western perspective) now in the future.

I have some more pictures on retail at this LinkedIn post about Japan.

Thank you for reading this blog post, it's always nice to get into contact with people who have the same interests, so do not hesistate to connect and contact.


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