Tsutaya – an evolving brand

On a recent visit to Japan we discovered a fantastic brand which continues to evolve from its creation in 1983 – Tsutaya.

From its origins as a shop from which you could rent music and film, it has become one of the largest lifestyle brands in Japan with approximately 1400 stores.

It is not only in its physical growth that it impresses, the Tsutaya brand has become an exemplar of the value of ‘place’. As it moved into books, and then added lifestyle goods and even more specifically electrical goods (Tsutaya Electrics), the brand is increasingly becoming one of Japan’s most influential arbiters of good taste. In our current business environment, what is often termed the ‘experience economy’, it has become increasingly important for brands to extend their value proposition beyond simply transactional.

Tsutaya is shaping up as a brand that is more of an taste advisor than a retailer.


The brand is being shown through a myriad of ways, from user experience to brand partnerships. For example, the books in many of the stores are arranged in a way that makes it simpler for people to find a book they might find of interest. There are even genre-specific concierges who give advice to people on their specific area of knowledge. The book shops afford considerable space to comfortable seating, where people are encouraged to sit and read. In fact, the architects of the Daikanyama T-Site explain that the space was designed so that many seating areas were located by the large windows, meaning that the natural light enabled comfortable reading but cleverly everyone walking past the building can see these people engrossed in and enjoying reading. What better advert for reading and books is there than that?

Tsutaya is making even more smart moves with its brand. In building brand partnerships with the likes of Starbucks (there’s one in many of their bookshops), Apple (the only smartphone available in Tsutaya Electrics) and Panasonic, they are aligning their brand with these. They are suggesting that Tsutaya is the Starbucks / Apple / Panasonic of books, without actually ‘saying’ it.

But all of these decisions on what books to stock, which brands to align with, where to open new stores aren’t all based on total guesswork. Tsutaya run a membership card called the T Card, which now has membership of over 50 million people. It is the data collected from this membership card that informs any expansion or diversification strategies, amongst all other strategic decisions.


If you know what your customers want from their life, then you can find ways that you can help them get there.

The Tsutaya brand has become a guide or the cicerone in the realisation of your desired lifestyle.


B Magazine, issue no 37 – Tsutaya

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