If you needed proof that shopping really does make you feel better, look no further than post-earthquake Japan. An informal survey by a consumer brand consultancy one month on from the 3/11 quake and tsunami showed that although only a few people had increased their discretionary spend, 50% of those who had had done so to cheer themselves up.
Convenience stores reported sales increases of 7.7% in March as consumers stocked up on emergency necessities such as batteries, bottled water and instant noodles. Less obviously perhaps, sales of high-end consumer goods have bounced back quickly. The trend is particularly strong among buyers of luxury brands. Conversations with representatives of top UK brands in Japan - Daks, Dunhill, Paul Smith, Mackintosh - show that their sales all returned to pre-quake levels within 2 weeks. Apparently this is a well-known phenomenon: after the Kobe earthquake in 1995 95% of the regular customers of Chanel's destroyed Kobe store had been shopping at their branch in neighbouring Osaka within a week. Brand loyalties really do run deep!
For some brands the story is brighter even than that: Chanel have seen fragrance sales rise 45% since the quake. No-one's entirely sure why, but one theory is that people wanted to spend to make themselves feel better, but felt they should be discreet about it. A puff of perfume fitted the bill perfectly: made them feel good without being too ostentatious. Another is that people have been reminded that life is short and perilous and they might as well indulge themselves now rather than saving for the future. Maybe that lies behind the surge in enquiries that Ferrari have evidently received since the earthquake.
Nicely poised, then, to take advantage of that need for retail comfort, is Anya Hindmarch's new flagship store in the heart of Tokyo's luxury-shopping paradise Aoyama. Anya is a longtime fan of Japan, desperately saddened by what has happened here, but feels strongly that going ahead with her shop opening was the right thing to do (view her message of support below). Certainly the crowds gathering around the shop on preview day seemed a good indicator of an appetite to spend, and with the Golden Week holiday coming up and more people than usual deciding to spend it at home with their families the prospects for the next couple of weeks look good. Anya brought her family with her to Tokyo and they were having a fabulous time enjoying the delights of a Tokyo springtime and visiting the Tsukiji fishmarket at the crack of dawn - another place where sales have already returned to pre-quake levels and further evidence, if needed, of the resilience of Japanese consumers.
So there's the answer for any British companies wondering whether now is the right time to delve into the Japanese market: consumers still have money and can still be tempted to part with it if the product offers them something unique, something authentic and something that they perceive as value for money. Therapy indeed – for the shopper and for your financial director!