Hit Habit Forecast: Drive-through markets

Jan. 26, 2021
  • Viewpoints

Hit Habit Forecast is a regular column of the Hit Habit Makers, a group of young planners at Hakuhodo HQ that gamely stood up to say they were going to create hit habits—not hit products—as consumption shifts from purchasing things to purchasing experiences. Analyzing social media accounts and purchasing data of highly sophisticated users and conducting analysis on popular articles, etc. in a variety of media that have their fingers on the pulse of social trends: this is the bold, new challenge of forecasting hit habits that are about to break.


Hello. I’m Hikaru Uetsuki of the Hit Habit Makers.

How’re you all going?

I’ve always been the indoor type and recently I only go out for get the essentials, and even then, am in and out as quickly as possible and head straight back home.

In this edition, I’d like to look into “drive-through markets” as a means of buying the essentials in such a way without leaving your vehicle—whether car or bicycle. Previously in this column, we forecast “drive-in life,” a way of enjoying entertainment from your car. Narrowing in on the perspective of doing your shopping from your vehicle, I’d like to introduce drive-through markets as an evolution of contactless shopping.

You might be familiar with the drive-through in the context of fast food, but the format is recently being utilized by green grocers, fishmongers and various other sectors.


Top 10 rising Japanese language “drive-through”–related search terms

Source: Google Trends search interest over time (search terms that rose the most in the selected period)
(Ranking excludes search terms that include specific business names; period: January–December 2020)


Let’s take a look at the highly ranked “drive-through green grocer” as a specific example. These drive-throughs sell veggies that had been slated for sale wholesale to restaurants. Unused due to people staying home, they are sold off at greatly discounted prices to reduce waste. The service allows you to go to a temporary market place by car at a pre-booked time and have the vegetables you bought loaded into your trunk without leaving your car. Reducing food loss for producers and allowing sei-katsu-sha—Hakuhodo’s term for the holistic person—to purchase cheap veggies with minimal risk and fuss, these drive-throughs are popular.

“Drive-through Chinatown” also ranked high. Even Japan’s biggest Chinatown, which is normally the prefect spot for restaurant crawls and can be crowded, has been deserted lately. To recreate the feeling of a food crawl, there was a service whereby you could go to a carpark in Chinatown at a specific time and be handed your food, without leaving your car. The service only ran for a limited time, but with venerable old restaurants and famous restaurants taking part, it made a huge splash.

Lastly, let’s consider a slightly different kettle of fish, something called the “‘drive-through’ shopping arcade.” A welcome development as more people look to do their shopping as close to home as possible, local shopping arcades, which have been called “shuttered arcades,” appear to be enjoying a new lease of life. One illustrative way they are being used is by parents of small children ordering, paying for and receiving their goods from shop assistants in front of shops while remaining on their bicycles. You might think that if going by bike, they might as well go to the supermarket, but managing bicycle parking, shopping carts, etc. with a child in tow is a huge challenge. Given this, people seem to be enjoying being supported by the extra service that shopping arcades are renowned for.

So why are drive-through markets growing in number? There seem to be two main reasons.

First, reduced contact risk. In the past year, particularly, cashless payment options have expanded and net shopping increased as people look to shop without contact. As one such means, drive-through markets may have appeared as a contactless way of shopping in the real world, rather than online.

Second, the extra service. With shops charging for plastic bags in recent years, bagging one’s own shopping has been becoming the norm. Being able to have someone else do it all for you while you stay in your car or on your bicycle is a welcome service that saves time, making it even more attractive.

Finally, here are some potential business opportunities for drive-through markets.

Examples of business opportunities for drive-through markets
■ Planning drive-through bookstores that create serendipitous book encounters by bundling random sets of books
■ Rental bike firms holding drive-through flea markets you ride through, one-way, on a bicycle
■ Retailers introducing “drive-through discounts” where you can buy products at attractive prices by paying and booking a pickup time in advance
And so on.

I’m sure many of you are shopping close to home, but it might be fun to venture a bit further to visit a drive-through market from time to time for a change of pace.


Hikaru Uetsuki
Member of the Hit Habit Makers
Integrated Planning & Creative Division
Hakuhodo Inc.
Hikaru Uetsuki joined Hakuhodo in 2017. In her fourth year in marketing, she is working hard to realize her dream of creating new trends in society while being buffeted by the tides of that same society. Despite thinking she should at least not turn a blind eye on the weight she’s putting on, she enjoys an ice-cream every day.
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