The Art of Japanese Retail: Seibu KL’s Nobuharu Yutani on redefining the luxury department store

The Managing Director of Seibu Kuala Lumpur explains how the department store is charting a different path for retail with refined luxury experiences for shoppers.
text by Halim Surin

Just six months after its official launch, The Exchange TRX mall is quickly becoming a beloved retail destination for Kuala Lumpur residents, standing shoulder to shoulder with the city’s more established shopping havens.

While much attention has been given to the mall housing Malaysia’s first Apple Store, patrons are equally captivated by the Seibu department store, which anchors the mall as prominently as the American tech giant.


Nobuharu Yutani, Managing Director of Seibu Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Robin Yong)

In a conversation with The Peak from the serene comfort of Seibu’s in-store lounge, Nobuharu Yutani, the Managing Director of Seibu Kuala Lumpur, shared his experiences in introducing the brand to Malaysians.

“This is the best location because, as you can see, all the international brands including Apple, Chanel, Dior—everyone—is here,” Nobuharu says. 

In just six months since opening, The Exchange TRX has achieved 85 per cent occupancy, a feat that Nobuharu notes is unprecedented.

“This has never been seen before, even with Suria KLCC,” he remarks. 

Nobuharu Yutani, Managing Director of Seibu Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Robin Yong)

Nobuharu is no stranger to Malaysia, having spent 17 of his 40 years of professional experience in the country’s department store market, including a tenure at Isetan in Suria KLCC from its inception in 1996, just as the Petronas Twin Towers were nearing completion.

While e-commerce has delivered a severe blow to retail in the Western world, leading to the decline of many malls, Seibu is charting a different path, offering luxury and experience that cannot be replicated online.

“We are the only kind of luxury department store in Malaysia, and this is the only way to survive for the long term,” he says.


Nobuharu Yutani, Managing Director of Seibu Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Robin Yong)

With over 700 luxury international brands showcased on a 25,000 square metre retail floor spread across four levels of The Exchange TRX, Seibu also boasts the largest Beauty Hall in Malaysia, a fact that Nobuharu is particularly proud of.

“We have the widest selection of cosmetic brands, with more than 30 in-store, and 30 percent of the brands being new to the Malaysian market,” he says.

The post-pandemic era in particular has led to a resurgence in public preference for in-person shopping and experiences. This trend is particularly evident in the sale of high-end and niche brands of fragrances, a unique experience that is only available in person.

“That market was not there before Covid,” Nobuharu says. “We found that people are now more concerned about their lifestyle and purchase more of these kinds of things.”

The same demand for the exotic and unique is evident on the grocery floor, where fruits flown directly from Japan have been well received by Malaysian customers, a fact that Nobuharu finds pleasantly surprising.

“It’s a gamble,” he admits. “But the result is every day we see people come in and directly purchase 200 to 300 ringgit worth of fruits.”

Noting the sophistication of Malaysian consumers compared to when he first arrived in the country, Nobuharu says that catering to this sophistication has been the driving philosophy for Seibu to thrive, rather than just survive, in the Malaysian market.

“They know how to enjoy London, and how to enjoy Sydney. Malaysians now have a much more global and international sense compared to the Japanese,” he says. 

This sophistication includes a heightened appreciation for Japanese sensibilities, which translates to a demand for meticulous attention to detail, exceptional customer service, and immersive shopping experiences that are the hallmark of the Japanese retail concept.


Nobuharu Yutani, Managing Director of Seibu Kuala Lumpur (Photo: Robin Yong)

Ensuring that this high standard and attention to quality is always maintained, Nobuharu shared his ethos of being “selling floor-oriented” and always putting the customer first, which translates to him spending most of his time in the store, engaging with customers and staff alike.

“I spend most of my time in the store studying the necessary improvements to achieve our aim,” he says. 

Seibu’s approach to luxury department stores in Malaysia is a testament to the power of adaptation and cultural exchange. By staying attuned to customer needs, embracing innovative concepts, and fostering a love for diverse cultures, Seibu continues to thrive in the competitive retail industry, offering a shopping experience that is as unique as it is luxurious.

Seibu The Exhange TRX 

, , ,

Type keyword(s) and press Enter