User comments

Junichi Kanamori
Senior Sector Analyst
Okasan Securities
Hope for "Visualizing E-Commerce"

First of all, do you frequently use statistics in your work? How do you use them?

I typically analyze from both macro and micro perspectives using a varity of statistics.
For instance, a macro-level approach is useful for perceiving the overall picture and spotting trends. I use household surveys and such for these means. The drawback of this approach though, is that it's difficult to see disparities between individual companies. If we take supermarket A and supermarket B who operate in the same area for example, their sales will not necessarily be identical, completely different even. Regardless of economic conditions, variance among companies is inevitable.
To focus on these differences I employ a more micro-level approach, in which I examine individual company performances by using sales statistics and such.

This is highly insightful. You said that there are two approaches, micro and macro, but we feel that you lean more toward the macro.

Compared to other countries, Japan has far more players in the supermarket industry. Supermarkets vie with one another in prices, but I also try and pay attention to what retailers are looking at for building sales strategies.
The top management of many larger companies used to place more focus on the actual sites of sales. Today, there are many people who also emphasize macro-level statistics. Macro-level statistics are used to grasp the bigger picture and help build strategies. I think it's important that to know what kinds of reference people are using, especially when participating in discussions with people of the industry.

Indeed you seem to be using many different kinds of statistical data. Do you feel any inconveniences when using statistics?

Governmental statistics typically are one month late, and at worst, three months late. In the past the economy roughly fluctuated, based on half-yearly and quarter-yearly statistics, but today those are insufficient in grasping even an imminent sense of direction. It is difficult to match chronology with the data, if the newest data available is a month old.

Immediate responsiveness seems imperative. Some topics in governmental discussions on improving statistics include structrual ones, such as the bias of samples in surveys and the elusiveness of online consumption. Do you feel any inconveniences in understanding online consumption?

I suppose so. Putting responsiveness aside, I check out the overall size of the market on a yearly basis, as well as some statistics released by private surveying companies, but I think there is not many attempts to map out the entire picture of online consumption.

One of the key pillars in service is online consumption. For analysts specializing in retail, online consumption likely offers important data. As an analyst who researches on consumption in physical stores, what do you think are some implications online consumption has on retail stocks?

There are two ways to look at this. When e-commerce first took off in America, experts focused on a business model called "click and mortar". Click stands for the Internet, and mortar physical stores, but this is a model in which businesses synergistically benefit by combining online and offline operations. Consumers use both the Internet and physical stores; they don't rely on one side only. The two markets are simultaneously competing and co-existing, so as a retail expert, I can't just focus on one.
A product with poor sales offline could sometimes be selling well online. For example, water and rice are the top selling products in a retail shop's online business. This is because it's more convenient for consumers to buy these products online, instead of at the physical store. So even if water and rice do not sell well offline, you might come across different numbers if you combine internet sales data with it.
For now internet-related consumption statistics lack real-time responsiveness, but if it can be improved, I'm sure different analyses will be made possible.

JCB Consumption NOW is launched in May. How do you feel about using the service, and what do you think are its biggest strengths?

I think I'd like to try it out.
Its biggest strength, to put easily, is "the visualization of online consumption".
JCB is the biggest credit card network company in Japan, so I'm sure they have lots of valuable data. I'm looking forward to using this data very much.

Norihiro Tsukamoto
Vice President
Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley PB Securities Co., Ltd.
Dream Data for Confirming Economic Trends

To start off, can you tell us how important it is to research consumption trends in your daily operations?

Individual consumption is a highly important component in monitoring the domestic economy. We look at both mined data and hard data.
We think that in the long term, consumption is what creates the ups-and-downs in an economy.
For instance, many American financial policies are made based on retail sales. Of course, consumption details are imperative in forecasting GDP and stock prices, but are also significant in following financial policies.

This goes for Japan as well. In Japan's case, what is most critical is whether consumption eventually leads up to inflation or not. Therefore we combine a variety of CPIs and consumption statistics in order to forecast the Bank of Japan's policy making.

For example, if a company raises prices and experiences falls in sales, it would restore its previous prices. On the contrary, if consumption does not fall in spite of the raises, we may say that increases in consumption and prices is evident, and hence may assume that the BOJ will not conduct further monetary easing.

Do you look at some macro-level consumption data to determine whether stocks in a certain sector will go up or down?

Macro data is very useful in seeing the full picture. If for example we are talking about securities for department stores, we would make sure to examine the monthly sales report published by the Japan Department Stores Association. We also use macro statistics to find out what the long-term trends and situations of different industries are, because at our firm, proposing mid-to-long-term investment strategies is a great priority.

In addition to the current survey of commerce and household budget surveys published by the government, there are also sales reports and other data published by each industry. What are some current issues you have in dealing with these statistics?

This may be said for other countries as well, but we feel that the sampling of these data are often uneven. For example, the people surveyed in a household budget survey could only be representing a portion of the entire population.
To correct these disparities, it's best if surveyors expand their breadth of samples.
Not only expanding the size of data, but the speed of research could be improved as well to increase the responsiveness of these surveys.

It's a different story if we could perceive everybody's household expenditures, but if C2C (customer-to-customer) models of business are becoming more common and consumption patterns themselves are changing dramatically, we should take them into the picture in order to understand the market.

In what we call a "sharing economy", there are many things we cannot understand because fewer companies and businesses need to intervene in trade.
So if we are able to understand these things, we could find out whether or not Japanese consumption styles have changed.

Exactly.
We are different from economists, so our main job is to propose investment strategies, not pure market research. Hence we routinely will examine economic indicators, but we also always check market consensus. And this is why we have high interest in perceiving trends and movements that are normally undetectable with other statistics.

Let us pretend that the numbers were low during the Christmas season in existing statistics. Ordinarily, this brings us to the conclusion in the market that consumption is weak. However, we would go a step further and doubt whether this is true. If it is proven that online consumption is rising and that people simply stopped going to the stores themselves, we could analyze that consumption is perhaps high. There are not many data that we could use to make analyses like this, but if we can, our operations would greatly expand as strategy planners.

What are your thoughts on this project launched by JCB and Nowcast?

We are incredibly excited about it.
For example, the consumption of services has risen steadily compared to goods. We think that this service will be useful in perceiving these trends. If we could look at consumption activities by gender using credit card attributes, we may be able to say something like that the economy is improving because more men are buying clothes. If we look by age, we may find out that elderly people, who have lots of savings but have not had enough time to use them, might be consuming very actively. The data will be imperative for testing such hypotheses as these, because existing data, which we have no other choice but to rely on, is mostly qualitative. We find much potential in this service for improving these issues.

May we ask for some advice in expanding this service in the future?

Diversity of the indexes is key in this service. We can no longer identify trends by measuring each slice of the pie in overall consumption, because today we are not in an era of simple mass production and consumption. If we can analyze consumption from different perspectives, like age, gender, or region, we may find a wide spectrum of trends. Whether for policy or investment, it is necessary to examine the pieces, not simply the whole.

There seems to be a tendency to focus on averages when it comes to consumption statistics.

More focus should be placed on the peripheries or in smaller details.
Focusing on the whole may have sufficed in the previous era of mass production and consumption, because everyone bought similar products. But because consumption is so diversified today and sales forms also differ greatly in each industry, without understanding consumption by sectors, it is hard to identify the ups-and-downs in demands.

If we take the recent "bakugai", or "explosive buying" activities of Chinese tourists in Japan, this is an incredibly interesting topic in investment. However, you cannot understand it simply by looking at the averages. Ideally, we want to narrow down to foreign visitors in Japan and examine consumption trends, but this was not possible with conventional data; hence we could only discuss these topics qualitatively. If big data could resolve some of these issues, that would be an incredible achievement. We would be very thankful if each segment had its own sub-indices for analysis in particular investment themes.

Tomoya Kitaoka
Senior Economist
Mizuho Securities
Ryo Kobayashi
Analyst
Mizuho Securities
Compare it with government and industry statistics
to discover intriguing information

Firstly, how are you currently analyzing individual consumption?

It differs by the objective, but if it is to forecast GDP, we mainly use household budget surveys and industry statistics. However, these statistics are difficult to use in tracking monthly and quarterly movements. The truth is that we are also constantly in doubt of their reliabilities and accuracies. The BOJ publishes consumption indexes, but they only come out 40 days after the research, which is a little slow. Department stores, supermarkets and convenience stores are slightly faster since they publish in 20 days, and food services in 25 days. Despite the admirable speed, the statistics lack completeness because we cannot see data on other service consumptions.

What kinds of statistics are important in representing individual consumption?
Household budget surveys, the current survey of commerce, the number of visiting foreigners would be some significant statistics.

We are very interested in them too. A statistic that uses interviews at airports for quarterly data is probably replete with bias, but is still speedy and useful. We think it's pretty quick for statistics from October to December be published in January.

Do these topics frequently come up in your conversations with your clients?
What are also some issues?

Sometimes we discuss quantitative, macro-level topics like the current survey of commerce or household budget surveys, but also qualitative topics like consumption of foreigners in Japan, which we get information from our analysts.

The primary issue with all of these information is bias. Qualitative data unquestionably contain bias, but the people who answer quantitative surveys are also slightly unique, and so the samples become biased too.

For instance, how common is it actually to keep a household account book? Perhaps the problem could be alleviated by multiplying the sample numbers by 100, or like current household consumption research, people could instead fill in their account books once a month. Although, this would still leave us with the issue that single-person households are not taken into account, even though they represent one-third of all households in Japan. In these ways, the current survey of commerce and industry-provided statistics are very reliable. However, because service consumption is not included, many problems are yet to be solved.

What kinds of services are you interested in most?

We are interested in a wide variety of services, such as theme parks and hotels, fitness clubs and nursing care, but our biggest interest lies in online services. Sadly, there is not much information and there are many things we don't understand about it.

Information seems to be lacking for industries like internet providers, which do not have industry-wide statistics.

We agree. For example, you can look at reservation numbers for new games in the gaming industry, or visitor numbers for theme parks. The transportation industry also has some statistics, albeit a little slow.

But online companies often lack statistics entirely, making information inaccessible.

We think that categorizing different online services and understanding the scale of their businesses is sufficient in following online trends. Like for example, how much money 10,000 people would spend annually. According to household budget surveys, 8,000 households spent 3 billion yen in a year. It would be interesting to see how much spending online services accounted for.

What kind of data do you think would be helpful in solving or improving the points and issues mentioned earlier?

Credit card payment details are very intriguing. If there are large disparities between government and industry statistics, the bigger it is, we could use that to figure out more interesting things.

Although biases in samples are problematic in existing statistics, JCB Consumption NOW should also be capable of minimizing them. The effects of price fluctuations can be greatly reduced too, such as in vegetables. Aside from supermarkets, few people would probably buy vegetables from a vender using a credit card. For these reasons, the project and the idea are very suitable for investment.

Nonetheless, there probably will be different sample biases compared to household surveys. Take age for example. The bias will likely decrease if there are greater amounts of past data to deal with, but since credit card payments also lean towards a few specific industries, the data easily could become biased too.

Also, as time passes by the portion of credit card payment is increasing, and so we need to take care this bias too.

Exactly as you say.
We will solve these biases with deep analysis of portions of credit card consumption. Foreign visitors in Japan, gaming and women in the workforce are some common investment themes. What kind of data sets do you think we could make out of this service?

We think that by mixing gender, age, and industries in use, the service could create specific investment-themed categories. Once data includes the price information, the data would be much more attractive.

Dr. Tsutomu Watanabe
Professor,Graduate School of Economics, Faculty of Economics, The University of Tokyo/Technical advisor at Nowcast, Inc.
A breakthrough service that answers today's needs for faster and more accurate statistics

How important is consumption analysis in macroeconomics?

The main actors in a given economy are households, corporations and governments. Society's primary objective is to make households happier.
For instance, corporations are making lots of profit and increasing their retained earnings alone cannot make a society happier. Likewise, the government amassing more money (through increased taxes and such) cannot make a society happy. What's most crucial then, is the household.
One way we measure "happiness" in households is through assessing incomes. Increase in incomes is a definite positive. Yet, there is something off about simply examining incomes. What's important is not whether someone's incomes and savings increased, but whether at the end of the day, if one's happiness is increased by spending their money. Of course, money cannot buy all kinds of happiness. Many factors other than purchasing things with money deeply contribute to our well-being.
However, the prospect that consumption makes us happy is paramount in our capitalist society. Hence, consumption statistics may be considered one kind of measure for happiness.

The government and the central bank acknowledge similarly, which is why tracking consumption holds special meaning for any country. Of course GDP is another big measure of a country's economy, but consumption accounts for 60%, making it the largest piece of the pie.
This is why consumption is crucial in determining whether an economy is performing well or not.

What data has been common in Japan for examining individual consumption?

The most widely used statistics are the household budget survey published by the Statistics Bureau.
This asks over 10,000 households to keep an account book to research how their expenditure. The survey is also used as raw data to determine the size of consumption within Japan's GDP. I hear however, that it's quite difficult to find people that are willing to participate in this survey, and I presume this is because most people are too busy in their everyday lives to cooperate with the government's research. The large burden on survey participants is one issue that should be solved.
Besides household budgets, there's also the current survey of commerce published by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. While the household budget survey researches consumption using household budgets,the current survey of commerce takes its numbers from stores that sell to households. Although purchasing and selling correspond to each other closely, there are many instances in which statistics show discrepancies.
"Bakugai", or explosive-buying as they say has supposedly waned, but the trend only appears in the seller side's current survey of commerce - not in the buyer side's household budget surveys.
Regardless, both statistics have proven to be too slow in publication, meaning that statistical data is lagging behind in our lives and businesses today.

There seems to be some discussion within the government on improving economic statistics.
What kinds of discussions have there been regarding consumption?

A new committee on revising statistics was recently set up in January, 2017. Led by Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga, the committee is currently working on extensively renewing government statistics. I am also a member of the group, but I would say it is a very large-scale project. There are two main reasons for such moves.

The first is stagnance of Japan's economic growth. Compared to its heyday, Japan's growth has been sluggish in the last two decades. Nowadays its numbers only hover closely around zero. Growth is negative when the economy is unwell, and becomes positive if it recovers, but either way statistics never are far from zero. Although the differences may seem insignificant, growth being positive or negative mean very different things. If the growth rate is negative, the government or the central bank must churn out policies to revive the economy. Consequently, it becomes necessary to measure the growth rate with precision, so as to distinguish between positive and negative. If this was a while back when Japan's growth rate was at 10% or so, a few decimals wouldn't have mattered so much. In that case you do not need to care about precision so much. On the other hand, in the economy with low growth rate, we need so precise measurement, i.e. economic statistics. But this is a widespread issue among most developed nations; Japan is no exception.

Secondly, demands for real-time statistics have gone up significantly.
Massive developments in information technology have enabled us to speed up everything in our lives and businesses, but in turn we become pressed to make decisions more quickly too. Ironically, Japan's statistics system seems as if it were stopped in time. Rules that were decided over seven decades ago still prevail.
It is inevitable to maintain a certain level or conservativeness to guarantee consistency, but current government statistics are far too obsolete to be used today.
Corporate decisions cannot be made with statistics that are two-months old; they are of the past and are hardly useful. The government recognizes this issue, and is making moves to speed up statistical procedures.

What do you think of this project between JCB and Nowcast?

As I said earlier, I believe that the project is something that can responds to today's needs for faster and more accurate statistics.
My colleague, Professor Noriyuki Yanagawa and I have been proposing what we call "privatization of statistics". Up until now, the state had a monopoly over statistics, whereby data compilement, analysis, and publication were all done by the government. I presume this was because generating statistics was too costly for the private sector, leaving the government the only capable organization.
Today however, the private sector holds both data and the technology to analyze statistics. This is why we think that the they should be opened to the public. I personally see this project as the first step in privatizing statistics.

That being said, there are two things that I would ask JCB and Nowcast to keep in mind upon the service's release.
First of all, immense care must be placed on extracting information from credit card data. Collecting and analyzing the payment details of individuals would obviously help illustrate a better picture of consumption trends in the entire Japanese economy, but that is still inadequate.
For example, let's pretend that overall payments increased by 10% one month. Maybe every user had increased their credit card usage by 10%, but it also could be that big spenders increased their use by 20% and that raised the average instead.
If the former is true we may say that everyone is "happier", but if the latter is true, perhaps it is only a certain portion of people that are "happier" than before. Moreover, the latter would indicate that the consumption gap is increasing - an undesirable phenomenon for society.
This is merely one example, but what I want to emphasize is that some important detail may be lost if the data is compiled haphazardly. Because the service deals with an invaluable sort of big data, I hope that good technology is developed to better extract information.

Secondly, I would like for the companies to be careful of the some of the data's partialities.
Although government survey samples lack in size, it ensures diversity by collecting data from different kinds of people. As opposed to that, big data is derived from businesses carrying out their operations, so there is the possibility that the data is somewhat partial. If we leave this problem, the output data doesn't express true circumstance of Japanese economy. Credit cards are no exception, because you can't tell the what the consumption activities of people who do not have and use credit cards are.
There are a couple of ways in which these "sample biases" may be resolved, but unfortunately no panacea exists for now.

Both points that I have just raised consist of difficult technical issues. Nonetheless, I am confident in Nowcast's abilities and experiences in big data analytics to contribute in solving these challenging issues. The road is tough, but I personally am very excited for the fruits of this service and would like to actively offer my own experiences and knowledge in helping them do so.
The new committee on revising statistics is also attempting to revamp statistics through big data. I hope that this service will become an example to follow.

Saisuke Sakai
Senior Chief Economist,
Economic Research Team, Research Department
Mizuho Research & Technologies, Ltd.
Yuriko Shimanaka
Economist,
Economic Research Team, Research Department
Mizuho Research & Technologies, Ltd.
JCB Consumption NOW is useful for understanding the current state of the economy and making economic forecasts because it picks up the latest trends in service consumptions in detail.

For what purpose do you use "JCB Consumption NOW"?

Mr. Sakai:
We are economists, so we look at the current economic indicators every week or month to judge the trends on the economic climate. We regularly monitor the consumption of goods and services, so that “JCB Consumption NOW”, which allows us to see consumption trends on time by credit card payment data, is very useful.

In addition to regular reports, we also use this (JCB Consumption Now) for timely reports that evaluate current events in near real-time as they unfold. For example, the "Economic Effects of Accelerated Vaccination", released in June, was analyzed at the RIGHT time, based on people’s interest in companies and government for the possibility that the spread of vaccinations would bring a positive outlook.

These reports are posted on our website and are widely read by the news media, internal and external executives of the Mizuho Group, and government officials.

Ms. Shimanaka:
I am in charge of household and employment data of the Japanese economy. I use "JCB Consumption NOW" with a particular focus on service consumption, and I often look at trends in "travel," "lodging," and "outdoors dining" in the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, I have had more opportunities to look at trends by sector and industry so I find it useful in that respect as well.

JCB Consumption NOW emphasizes fast reporting and updates its data once every half month. How is it comparing with government statistics?

Ms. Shimanaka:
Forecasting the future of the economy is our fundamental task as macroeconomists. The movements of “JCB Consumption NOW” match well with government statistics, and we use it to forecast government statistics such as the Survey of Service Industry Trends and the Current Survey of Selected Service Industries, which are included in the basic statistics of GDP.

We also use high-frequency data and industry statistics of “Nikkei CPI Now” and so on as foreseeing indicators. I think JCB Consumption NOW is quite excellent for understanding service consumption at an early stage.

Mr. Sakai:
I think one of the characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic is that even in the same service industry, there is a big difference between industries that were affected by the shock or not. People are interested in the industry trends which are heavily affected by the pandemic, but there is inevitably a time lag in the release of government statistics, so it is difficult to meet the need for a quick understanding of the current data. In addition, GDP, for example, is only coarsely classified into durable goods, semi-durable goods, non-durable goods, and services, which is insufficient if you are interested in the ‘lag in recovery' of each industry.

In this respect, “JCB Consumption NOW”, which picks up the latest trends in service consumption in detailed categories, such as "eating out" and "lodging," is very helpful in supplementing information in government statistics and in forecasting future trends.

As statistics users, people want to see the impact of shocks on the economy as soon as possible. Government statistics are usually delayed by one to two months, especially the tertiary industry activity index for services, which has a time lag of about two months. With the COVID-19 pandemic, I think the need for JCB Consumption NOW is increasing among economists and other professionals who view consumption data.

How is the evaluation from customers?

Mr. Sakai:
At this moment, we explain the results of our analysis to client companies, especially focusing on the trends of industries that suffered severe consequences due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As an economist, I am required to explain how deeply the economy has been impacted and how the economy will recover in the future.

By using “JCB Consumption NOW” to "visualize" current trends, customers have praised it as "very easy to understand”. We then analyze the future pace of recovery employing our techniques, which are also highly evaluated by our clients.

For example, when we think about the future based on the scenario that "vaccines may spread in the future and the government may resume the GoTo Campaign," we can use the trends in “JCB Consumption NOW” from the time of the GoTo Campaign last year to the present to make the connection. "In the past, we saw this kind of movement, and now we see this, so in the future, it will be like this.” This kind of analysis is very persuasive to our audience because it provides data support as an advantage.

I think what you have just said has something to do with EBPM (Evidence-Based Policy Making). Are there any examples of government agencies use the report?

Mr. Sakai:
As for the effects of last year's GoTo campaign, aside from the pros and cons of the timing, we can see that there was a temporary boost in service consumption from the “JCB Consumption NOW”. If we can supplement this with other data, we can get more multiple views.

Also, if we can forecast that the spread of vaccines will increase the number of people going outside, we can predict the future to some extent by analyzing past “JCB Consumption NOW” data in combination with mobility and "foot traffic" data.

The other day, I had the opportunity to explain to Prime Minister Suga the contents of the "Economic Effects of Accelerated Vaccination," and I used the data on consumption of personal services from the “JCB Consumption NOW” database to explain that “if vaccines become widespread, consumption and the economy in Japan will be affected in this way”. I also plan to give an explanation based on the same report as an expert at the ministerial conference on the progress of countermeasures against COVID-19*.
Nowcast Note: Explanation given at the 2nd Ministerial Conference on the Progress of Countermeasures against COVID-19 on June 30, 2021.

I think the fact that our analysis was the right timing to match the government's direction of accelerating vaccination is a major factor in this case, but I understand that the government also welcomes policy discussion objectively through non-government think tanks using the data.

Tell me if you have any expectations or requests for the future of "JCB Consumption NOW"?

Ms. Shimanaka:
This is one of the advantages, but since the original data is based on credit cards, I have the impression that the strength of the system lies in items purchased with credit cards. Since credit cards are conveniently used for expensive items such as travel, service consumption can be well captured. However, for goods consumption such as daily necessities and groceries, I feel that it is better to take a comprehensive view based on their lower prices and higher frequency transactions. If credit card payments increase along with the penetration of cashless payments in the future, the bias towards high-cost consumption may naturally improve.

Mr. Sakai:
I am interested in an analysis that links consumer attributes with consumption behavior. For instance, if we can pick up data on COVID-19 consumer behavior, such as the fact that consumption fell sharply for people with certain attributes but not so much for others, we can use this information to consider what kind of support should be provided to which people in terms of the policy. There are many different types of "households”. Some households were damaged by COVID-19 and some were not, or those who are susceptible to damage and those who are not. If we can use “JCB Consumption NOW” data in a way that links it to these consumer attributes, we will be able to broaden our economic analysis and conduct multifaceted analysis.

As an economist, what kind of research and analysis do you plan to do in the future?

Mr. Sakai:
In the future, as vaccines become more widely available, I recognize that we will enter a phase where the economy will gradually return to normal from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the topics is the pent-up demand for service consumption. As the vaccine spreads and economic activity normalizes, service consumption will return to levels before COVID-19. Additionally, there is a possibility that the government will once again implement demand-boosting policies such as the GoTo campaign, and one of the major topics in the short term will be how people will react to the fact that they have been holding back on travel for so long. One thing to watch is service consumption from the second half of this year to 2022, especially what kinds of people will spend their money in what kinds of places.

In addition, if the changes in trends that occurred during the COVID-19, such as the development of EC consumption, are structural, they may remain in the post-Corona world. Looking back at the period before the COVID-19, consumption growth was weak even during the Abenomics period, and I think one of the major keys to future economic growth will be whether this will remain the same after COVID-19 and where to expand the base of consumption.

The structural changes in after-COVID-19 consumption is a topic that I am interested in greatly.

Mr. Sakai:
There are various ways to think about it, such as whether the economy will normalize and everything will return to normal, whether it will not return to normal and a new world will emerge, or whether it will partially return or partially not return, etc. I don't think there is a right answer at this point. However, trends such as remote work and EC have developed during the COVID-19, and I think that some of these trends will probably remain after the pandemic. Perhaps there will be a trend toward soloism, in other words, a world in which individuals live their lives without being part of a community, and consumer demand may respond to this trend. In addition, although the rate of EC use among the elderly has been lower than that of other generations, EC use may become more widespread among the elderly in the future. It is very interesting to think about how this might lead to the emergence of new consumption systems such as experiential services targeted at the elderly, and I would like to pursue the theme of how much of an impact this might have on the economy.

What role does "JCB Consumption NOW" play in verifying such hypotheses?

Mr. Sakai:
It depends on the theme of the analysis, but when we look at fast-reported data, we sometimes notice trends that are different from what we expected. For example, service consumption would not recover after the state of emergency was lifted beyond our expectations, or on the contrary, it would recover beyond our expectations. When we see this, we can speculate, for example, "Maybe the elderly are more active and consuming more than we think due to vaccinations?”

Looking at the actual data and thinking, "Huh?” This is where the motivation for analysis and ideas for themes are born. This sense of "what?" is a discrepancy from our view, and to recognize this discrepancy as soon as possible, we need the most up-to-date data. In this sense, I feel that “JCB Consumption NOW” is valuable in that it allows us to quickly grasp the data movements and notice the points that make us wonder "What?"

Ms. Shimanaka:
Services like “JCB Consumption NOW”, which allow us to obtain data timely and quickly, are attractive in that we can analyze the data in the sense of “just looking at it”. I would like to continue to make use of this service, both in response to customer requests for research and as a means of conducting my analysis based on my awareness of the issues.

This interview was conducted on June 29, 2021.

Nobuo Nakajima
Senior Financial Manager,
Financial Department
Lego Japan Inc.
“JCB Consumption NOW” offers macro data on consumption trends of related industries and assists smooth discussion on “action plan”

What made you interested in “JCB Consumption NOW”?

I belong to the financial department, dealing not only with finance and accounting, but also working closely with teams of sales, marketing, and operations as a financial business partner. We study the trends in business and consumption, and while forecasting the coming trends, we suggest ways to spend our budget to realize the brand image we set forth.

There are various kinds of data, but they are of no use unless we use them efficiently and effectively. That is why we do not often purchase data.

So far, as references, the research on the market of toy companies, the exchange of information with clients and the temporary surveys on the impression of brands used decision making from the “action plan”. However, due to the wide spread of coronavirus, the situation of the market has become uncertain, and it is very difficult to grasp what is happening only from the information we have. In such circumstances, some employees argued that they wanted to understand the current situation of individual consumption and gather preliminary reports.

I thought that I wanted to know in what ways consumers spend money in the overall market and found “JCB Consumption NOW” through the Nikkei. This was the first time I applied for the free trial.

In fact, the number of samples is very large and a number of specific industries are covered. In addition, the data is updated every two weeks, so this product matched our demand. The collected data from the previous year was also shown in parallel with recent data; this was also useful. Moreover, the data we truly wanted was offered in this product. Therefore, we did not hesitate at all to subscribe to this service.

To be more specific, in what ways do you use “JCB Consumption NOW”?

Every half a month, when the data is updated, we download each dataset and make graphs in order to grasp the situation of each industry at one glance. Then, we use them in meetings in the office. To be more specific, “JCB Consumption NOW” is referred to every time when we discuss the current trend of consumption for a business performance review, which is held every week.

For example, in October of last year, sales dropped sharply. I referred to the data of “JCB Consumption NOW” and found that consumers spend more money on recreation, such as travel, rather than on goods, partly because of the “GO to Travel” campaign. Then, we set up a hypothesis that the overall sales of toys decreased and our sales also did not rise as we assumed. The data is used to consider whether the trend continues or not. Then, we discuss the next “action plan”.

Posing a hypothesis by macro data and making the next “action plan.” Indeed that is the ideal way of using “JCB Consumption NOW!” What other ways are there to make full use of it?

In February and March of this year, according to the limited traffic data we have, human mobility recovered; so, we referred to “JCB Consumption NOW” to confirm that the tendency was the same on macro data. “JCB Consumption NOW” had a time-lag of two weeks compared to the traffic data, so we use “JCB Consumption NOW” only as a backup. However, due to this process, we were able to suggest “action plans” and make decisions such as “we basically sell toys online but arrange toys in shops during the Golden Week in May” or “Certain effectiveness can be expected if we have discount sales.”

Consequently, in Osaka, a state of emergency was announced and many stores were closed in the latter half of April, so our prediction strayed from the mark. However, in suburban areas, people went outside so the situation was better than that of January. Our policy to focus on actual stores as well as EC was, in the end, effective.

Last year, as a whole, people stayed home for longer hours and our employees willingly worked online, so our company’s sales increased. “JCB Consumption NOW” also helped us grasp the trend of EC consumption.

You mentioned the word ”EC”; Which category of data do you specifically pay attention to in “JCB Consumption NOW”?

We basically sell toys played at home, so we use data in order to know whether people spend money for recreation outside their homes or indoors. So, we focused on various kinds of industries such as retail, travel, food, cosmetics, entertainment, EC, and so on.

To be more specific, we checked on consumption data of EC and stores, and monitor whether the whole EC market grows or not. We gathered some information through interacting with related companies. We used “JCB Consumption NOW” in order to comprehend the consumption from more macro perspectives.

In addition, we also focus on what consumers do in their leisure time and how their lifestyle changed. Some kinds of data, such as travel, food, and home appliances are quite subject to change, so through monitoring them, we find out how consumers spend money.

Finally, we also pay attention to other kinds of data which are basically stable, such as food and drinks, and closely monitor whether there is a big change or not.

What do your colleagues say about “JCB Consumption NOW?”

Because of our profession, we do not have much information on marketing, so it is difficult to discuss based on data and facts. Each worker has a vague sensory idea as a consumer, but it is hard to integrate those ideas.

However, when a third party provides us with visual data like “JCB Consumption NOW,” we can have a common view on the current market situation instantly and conduct a smooth discussion. Therefore, employees say that they feel convinced because their intuitions about market situations correspond with data provided, instead of being surprised. Substantial evidence enables us to lead discussions more constructively.

Many clients of this product are hedge funds, who want to know market trends as soon as possible. However, Nowcast hopes business companies like you also start using “JCB Consumption NOW”. Please let me know what you expect from this product from a business company's perspective.

I think this product already fulfills our demand. However, from having conversation about new functions and services underway with Mr. Nakazawa, who is in charge of this product, I now have new expectations.

The first is demographic analysis. This service will make “JCB Consumption NOW” more attractive. We collect customers’ data not only from purchase records, but also from researching markets of toys. We can have more insights if we understand customers’ categories as well as the situation of each market.

Information on consumption trends based on each prefecture or particular area is also useful. Our company mainly targets big cities, but we want to sell toys in wider areas. In order to do so, it is vital to grasp the trends in macro perspective. Data on human migration from cities to the rural areas is useful.

Of course, I wish to gather more information concerning the toy sector. Nonetheless, I am presently satisfied with the quality of service. I will continue to make full use of the provided data.

This interview was conducted on August 25, 2021.

Yoshihiro Sasaki
Business Administration Headquarters
Vega corporation Co., Ltd.
A wide range of industries and stores as well as EC are covered; this is useful to objectively grasp our company's performance.

Please let me know what you actually do and what made you interested in using “JCB Consumption NOW.”

Vega Corporation is a business company which runs an EC site for interior furniture, such as “LOWYA” and EC platform beyond borders. I belong to the business management headquarter and report analysis of the external environment to executives and prepare documents on general meetings of shareholders.

Last year, due to the wide spread of coronavirus, the demand for interior EC rose sharply. I wanted to know the extent to which the macro environment caused this rise and from where our company grew by itself, so I searched for market data and found “JCB Consumption” NOW and applied for a free trial.

How do you make use of “JCB Consumption NOW” in your work?
Which category of data do you specifically pay attention to in “JCB Consumption NOW?”

Every time the data is updated, I mainly pay attention to business sectors similar to our company, such as interior or EC in general, and to the data which enables us to understand macro consumption trends, like goods and services. By comparing this data to our company’s orders, I check to see how much the patterns of our company’s orders can be explained by macro environments.

I also pay attention to search data of major enterprises and the sales trends exclusive to the interior category in shopping malls. However, such data, which can directly tell us the flow of trades and money, is rare. In addition, the data is trustworthy since the data comes from a major credit card company.

Our company engages in the EC market, so EC data is usually our guide. However, the trend of EC becomes more understandable when we compare this data with that of actual stores. If the overall kinds of interior are sold, the sales of stores matches that of EC. If the effect of coronavirus is so serious that people have to stay home, the sales of the two become quite different. We make hypotheses by referring to both stores and EC data.

To be more specific, in what ways do you make full use of “JCB Consumption NOW?”

For example, last autumn, the sales did not rise as much as we estimated. I expected that the full renovation of our EC site, LOWYA in the latter half of August, would negatively affect our sales. On the other hand, I had a hypothesis that the “Go To Campaign” encouraged consumers to spend more money on food and travel. So I wanted to know which assumption was correct.

I referred to “JCB Consumption NOW” and found out that the sales of interior EC in general dropped. Other industries, which can be affected by people's eagerness to go out, did not go well either. In contrast, the consumption of travel and dining went up, so I found out that the decrease in sales in autumn overlapped with macro trends. The data of “JCB Consumption NOW” did not contradict our expectation, so we could prove our strength from an objective point of view.

When explaining to investors, it is important to clearly reveal whether the change in sales comes from your own company or from macro reasons.

That is true. It is important to see ourselves objectively. Even if the sales did not increase as we expected, if the reason for this is macro, then there is a possibility that our company has outperformed other rivals in actual value. On the other hand, even if the sales rose, there is a possibility that macro reasons are triggering it; in which case our company may be underperforming in the market. Therefore, in order to judge objectively, we need to see external data that shows both good and poor trends.

Other than for IR, what is “JCB Consumption NOW” used for?

“JCB Consumption NOW” is also used when the business department inspects its hypotheses when analysing the sales trend. This department monitors detailed data, such as access data to our EC site and conversion data, as well as search data and sales trends in shopping malls. They interpret the changes in sales from such data, as well as from their past experience. Our company’s data shows the trend of the EC market overall to some extent. However, when the number of access to our site changes dramatically even when we did nothing special, then we assume there are macro reasons.

For example, when the business department assumes that the change of our sales comes eighty percent from macro, “JCB Consumption NOW” is used to confirm if there is no major difference compared to the whole market. Using macro data, I think we can find more accurate hypotheses that lead to a different action.

“JCB Consumption NOW” includes data of credit card transactions and sales, which directly interact with the market, so we place trust in this product as objective data. In addition, we can get “JCB Consumption NOW”s past data, so it is also possible to know how the market is doing in general and how other kinds of industries have changed from two years ago when the coronavirus had not spread yet. I think “JCB Consumption NOW” is superior in that this product enables us to analyze holistically and objectively not only the interior EC market, but the market as a whole. The data of other kinds of EC and real asset services is required when explaining the trends of interior EC.

How did you grasp macro trends before using “JCB Consumption NOW?” Was it through government statistics?

To grasp the macro trends, we looked up government statistics, such as household surveys or commercial dynamics statistics, IR papers of other companies, search data, and sales trends in shopping malls. However, we only got the data of interior EC and could not refer to the data that directly dealt with consumption.

Before the spread of coronavirus, the market of interior EC continued to grow by 5% per year and there was no drastic change in our market. But after this pandemic, the demand of this industry went up sharply and our company’s sales also surged, so we started to feel that it is necessary to understand our company’s relative position in the whole market and we needed macro data from JCB Consumption NOW.

Our company believes that we are growing more than the market itself and we have the potential to do so. However, when investors question whether this is just temporary growth or not, it is hard to persuade them objectively without substantial data. We wanted to show them, based on data, the whole market trend and how our company outperformed in such situations. In fact, we cited “JCB Consumption NOW” when writing IR papers. Without this data, it is not convincing when we argue that the market is annually growing by 30% based on our experience.

In addition, we now put emphasis on mostly LOWYA and focus our investment on this sector more than EC stores. When we closely examined “JCB Consumption NOW,” we found that LOWYA outperformed the market, whereas EC mall performed worse. By using “JCB Consumption NOW,” we could explain to our investors that LOWYA in general, including the EC mall, performed better than the growth of the market. We were able to inform our investors by showing concrete data.

That sounds nice! We provide Vega Corporation the data of interior EC, which is not usually included in the service of “JCB Consumption NOW.” What brings you to this situation?

We already knew that “JCB Consumption NOW” included the data of interior and EC through a free trial, but I wanted to directly receive the data of interior EC, so I frankly expressed my demand in the web meeting, which is usually held a few days after starting a free trial. Then, we realized that your company already launched this project and could provide us such data a month later. However, we were only offered IM data at first and the sales of interior EC dropped yearly. I argued that this data is different from our intuition and obtained EM as well, which corresponds with our intuition. I soon emailed Mr. Nakazawa, in charge of sales, saying that this data was very good and I would report this to executives. Last year, the pandemic affected industries like interior and EC, so it was good to know that the sales of such industries changed greatly. The data that helps us understand how the market changes is what we truly want.

We also feel honored that you use “JCB Consumption NOW” as we supposed. The last question is what are your expectations for “JCB Consumption NOW.”

It may be that I demand a lot from “JCB Consumption NOW”, but I wish the data was offered more quickly. Of course, the data is updated twice a month, which is faster and more detailed than government statistics. However, the data on orders is offered to all employees at a certain time of day, and all of them can analyze data in detail through BI tools, so if the data on markets is as detailed as that of our company, we can do more when using data.

Our aim is for the customers to freely enjoy choosing the interior, treat large collections, and improve service to satisfy this aim. This is quite obvious, but LOWYA prepares what customers want to buy and tries to satisfy their purchase journey, which will surely lead to the growth of our sales. I believe the fact that our company outperforms the market means that we are favored by clients and highly evaluated. That is why we are particularly concerned about understanding our company in relation to its market and we are committed to growing at a faster speed than the market. We will continue to use “JCB Consumption NOW” in order to understand our company objectively.

This interview was conducted on September 2, 2021.

仲田 泰祐
経済学研究科 准教授
東京大学大学院
藤井 大輔
経済学研究科 特任講師
東京大学大学院
コロナ禍における経済分析のナウキャスティングに
欠かせない速報性と高頻度性

「コロナ感染と経済活動」プロジェクトでは、どういった目的・用途で「JCB消費NOW」をご活用されていらっしゃいますか。

藤井様:
2021年の1月から始めたプロジェクトでは、新型コロナウイルス感染症対策と経済活動のトレードオフに関する分析を行っています。
コロナの感染状況は都道府県ごとに違うため、都道府県ごとの高頻度な経済データが必要でした。しかし、日本では月次の都道府県ごとのGDPなどというデータは存在しないので、我々で手作りしようと決めて、公的統計データの第3次産業(サービス産業)活動指数や地域別IIP(Indices of Industrial Production: 鉱工業指数)を用いて、月次の都道府県GDPを独自で作成しています。ただ、コロナに関しては直近のデータが必要で、例えばこのプロジェクトのWebサイト上で公開しているのは先週までのデータですが、その「先週までの経済活動」というのは本当にデータが少ないんです。

そこでナウキャストをするために速報性の高い「JCB消費NOW」を使わせていただいています。例えば、現在は7月ですが、5月頃までは他の公的なデータを用い、それ以降は「JCB消費NOW」などを使って更新しています。速報的なデータとして「JCB消費NOW」を使い、その後、公的統計などが発表されたらそちらで置き換えていくかたちです。

別のインタビューで、仲田先生が「最初から毎週更新しないと意味がないと考えていた」とお話しされていました。プロジェクト当初はどのように推計されていたのでしょうか。また、「JCB消費NOW」の活用に至った経緯についても教えてください。

仲田様:
おっしゃる通り、新型コロナに関する動向は状況によっては毎週アップデートしないと意味がありません。でも、ナウキャストの部分は前述のRDEIが無い。都道府県別GDPに関してはそこまで速報性は求められないものの、3ヶ月前のGDPを元に議論をしても仕方ないので、代わりに何かを使わなければということで、当初は人流データを使っていました。問題は、人流と経済の相関関係が変わってきたことです。2020年前半は、人流が大きく動けば同時に経済活動も動くというのがはっきりしていたのですが、2020年後半になると、人流を抑えながらも経済活動を維持できるように変化してきた。人々に行動変容が起き経済活動がコロナ禍に明らかに慣れてきた頃、人流だけを元に最新のGDPをナウキャストするのはよくないと考え、人流以外のデータを取り入れていかなくては、となりました。そこで、「V-RESAS」の中で一部データが無料公開されていた「JCB消費NOW」に注目した、という経緯です。

「JCB消費NOW」を活用することでどのような利点があったか、具体的に教えていただけますでしょうか。

藤井様:
一番役に立っているのは速報性です。また、地域別かつ高頻度なデータというのはすごくよいと思っています。我々は都道府県別GDPというのを生産サイドと消費サイドから個別に作って最後にまとめています。消費データに関しては、RDEI(Regional Domestic Expenditure Index)という地域別支出の総合指数があるのですが、公表は3ヶ月に一度なので数ヶ月のタイムラグがあります。そこで「JCB消費NOW」のデータが非常に役に立つのです。

新型コロナのショックや昨年の動きを見てみても、地域別にけっこう異なるトレンドがあります。例えば、四国の消費だけがほかと違う動きをしていたりなど。そういう地域別のバリエーションも捉えられるというのは、すごく興味深かったです。新型コロナが直撃した都市と、感染者が出ていなかった地方とでは違いがありそうだなとは思っていました。ただ、感染者が全然出ていない田舎の方でも消費がシュリンクしたという話もあって、その差がいったいどの程度なのか、ちゃんと数値で見れるのはよかったですね。

今回のプロジェクトにかかわらず、これからの「JCB消費NOW」に期待することはありますか?実は現在、どこから来た人がどこで消費をしたのかが都道府県別にわかる指数(From To 指数)を開発中です(※1)。

仲田様:
それは非常に面白いですね。今後どこかでGoToトラベルの検討が始まると思いますが、その時に起こり得る議論として、ワクチン接種希望者が接種済みという状況で、医療リソース不足の懸念と経済効果への期待をどうトレードオフするか、という問題があると思います。個人的には、前回のGoToトラベルの効果や感染への影響に関する分析が供給不足だと思っており、ミクロレベルのデータを使ってできれば、より意義ある分析ができそうです。

藤井様:
私も同感です。どこに旅行をして、さらに何を消費したのかがわかることは、コロナ禍における経済分析にとって重要なファクターだと思います。今は、GoToトラベルと感染拡大との因果関係が全く明らかになっていなくて、データやファクトに基づいた議論になっていない印象です。京大の西浦さんがデータを集めたという論文はあるのですが、感染に与えた影響や因果関係まではわからないので、「JCB消費NOW」のようなデータに期待したいです。

コロナ禍によって、高頻度性や速報性を持つオルタナティブデータへの注目度が一段階上がったように思います。平時に戻った後、経済分析におけるオルタナティブデータの重要性はどう変化するでしょうか?

仲田様:
まず、コロナ危機によって、「ちゃんとデータを見て分析して、目下およびこの先の政策を決めなくてはダメなのでは」ということが多くの人に伝わったのかなという印象があります。平時に戻った後に今ほど速報性が求められることは多分無いとは思いますが、データに基づいて政策判断をすることの重要性を、今は全国民が感じているのではないでしょうか。個人的には、コロナ危機が収束してもそういった方向に世の中が向かって欲しいなと思っています。

藤井様:
「JCB消費NOW」の特徴としては3つあると思います。一つは頻度、もう一つが速報性、最後が100万人というサンプル数(※2)です。また、そのサンプルがアンケートではなくて実購買データであることも強い。最後の点は政府統計も参考にすべき点だと思っていて、やはり実際に100万人の人間が使った消費データというのは、仮に高頻度・速報性がなくても、年次であったとしても重要なものです。今ほどの速報性が今後も求められるかはわかりませんが、高頻度性に関してはニーズは色々あると思います。例えば災害時。日本は大雨、洪水、地震が多い国ですが、年次データでは平均化されてしまい、月単位で大きく落ち込んだ後に急回復した、などの細かい動向を捉えられません。災害みたいなケースでは少なくとも月次、欲を言えば週次で、さらに地域別のものを見なきゃいけない。そういうニーズは、これからの日本でかなり出てくると思います。その点、実際に消費した地域やカードホルダーの居住地や実際に消費した地域がわかって、消費への影響をダイレクトに計測できる「JCB消費NOW」は、重要な役割を果たせると思います。

(インタビュー日:2021年7月2日)

※1 2021年11月11日に「JCB消費NOW」リニューアルし、「From To 指数」の提供を開始しました。詳細は以下のプレスリリースをご確認ください。

 JCBとナウキャスト、国内消費指数「JCB消費NOW」をリニューアル

※2 現在のサンプル数は約1000万人。

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