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Trying times

Japan

Imagine walking into a room bursting with not-yet-released products, from bath oils and bottled water to exercise machines and lipsticks. Now imagine being told to help yourself.

Welcome to the brave new world of “tryvertising”. A growing number of companies in Japan are opening “sample clubs”, where an array of new products are on display for members of the public to take home and try. In return, the company asks for feedback from visitors and so benefits from receiving instant and invaluable market research data on its new products.

The concept is spreading swiftly in Japan. Initially embraced by companies focusing purely on cosmetics – such as Club C and Deatre Salon – it is now expanding across the product spectrum.

Among the most high-profile of these “tryvertising” companies is the independent Sample Lab, which opened its doors in the Omotesando area of Tokyo last July and has since attracted close to 40,000 members.

Housed inside the glass-fronted Iceberg Building, a queue regularly trails from the gleaming white showroom, where more than 500 people visit every day to collect new products.

Members, who must be Japanese residents, pay ¥1,000 (€6) annual membership plus a ¥300 (€2) registration fee and are able to make regular appointments to take home five new products from a selection that changes every two weeks.

Hiromi Nagashima, the head of PR at Sample Lab, says, “Companies in Japan have been doing this online for a while but we wanted to allow people to see and touch the products in person – and it has been extremely popular. We’ve had to introduce appointment-only visits because there were such long queues at the start.”

Sample Labs will be opening in Osaka and Nagoya later this year and the company is also in talks to set up similar ventures in a number of large cities in Europe.

One member, Yasutaka Shimizu, 28, a designer, says, “It’s very popular. It’s always busy. I try to visit every two weeks so I can see as many new products as possible. It’s a great idea for people who want to stay on top of what is new.”

Park life

Hong Kong

On a patch of rural land in northeast Hong Kong, construction workers are breaking ground on the city’s first housing development targeted at environmentally conscious home buyers.

Lohas (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability – see issue 9) Park, which will open in stages starting around 2009, will recycle its rubbish and greywater, and promote the use of energy-saving appliances and taking public transport instead of driving. About 40 per cent of the development will be given over to parkland bristling with trees.

Lohas Park will be Hong Kong’s largest housing complex, a skyscraper village of 50 buildings between 46 and 59 storeys tall conceived by MTR, Hong Kong’s mass transit operator. If all goes to plan, some 58,000 people will call the park home. Hong Kong residents are increasingly alarmed about worsening air pollution, food safety and disease. Supermarkets discourage the use of plastic bags. Organic foods are all the rage. “People are trying more in terms of turning off lights and considering the environmental impact of the products they buy,” says Christine Loh, CEO of Civic Exchange, a local non-governmental organisation. “I think Hong Kong is ready,” says Steve Yiu Chin, MTR’s chief manager of town planning.

The city has a long way to go, though. Its streets are filled with buses belching fumes and bike lanes are unheard of. And because no development in Hong Kong would be complete without a shopping centre, Lohas Park will feature a 50,000 sq m mall, filled with products made in mainland China by the very factories that help pollute Hong Kong’s air.

Election watch

Taiwan

When will it happen?
22 March 2008.

Who are the frontrunners?
Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Frank Hsieh of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

What are the key issues?
Cross-straits relations with China and Taiwanese national status. Outgoing president Chen Shui-bian has pushed the issue, including a controversial referendum on Taiwan’s bid for UN membership, which will also be held on 22 March. Ma insists that the economy should be the main issue.

Will anything change?
The pressure is on Taiwan from Beijing and Washington not to rock the boat with China. Hsieh is seen as less provocative than Chen on his stance towards China while Ma has said he “won’t become a troublemaker in the international community”.

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