TOKYO - The Japanese market for Web-based commerce is significantly different from markets in other major wired countries, although the actual Internet process is roughly the same.
First, Japan has fewer Web users. Japan's Internet use rate sharply lags not only that of the United States, but also Korea and Singapore.
That's because of fewer personal computers at home in the first place and, secondly, because high phone rates discourage people from logging on at home. So the late-night Web surfers so common in the United States are still rare in Japan.
Sunday is a slow time for Autobytel and CarPoint as well.
Instead, the peak time for Web use in Japan is noon to 1 p.m. weekdays. That's when workers log on from their office computers over their lunch hour.
An alternative is accessing the Web via cellular phone. Indeed, the fastest-growing means of Web access in Japan is called i-mode, a form of wireless connection available on select cell phones.
I-mode users are charged by the amount of data downloaded rather than by the duration of the phone connection.
However, i-mode taps Web sites specially designed for the tiny screens used. That means fewer graphics and less dense data. The information-intensive auto-retailing Web sites are not suitable for i-mode, said Autobytel Japan K.K.'s executive vice president and COO, Yoshikuni Kato.
But he and others in the industry see the Web becoming more common in Japan. Sony's Playstation2 can be used for Internet connections, and WebTV is coming to Japan, Kato noted.
Are Japanese consumers really in the mood to kick cyber-tires on their one-hour lunch break?
CarPoint K.K. President Saburo Kikuchi thinks so: 'As long as it is a car for personal use, it's an entertaining process for the customer.'
That's why CarPoint recast the U.S. site's format to be more entertaining in Japan. After all, Kato said, 'A car in Japan is half an entertainment purchase.'