Pleo Falls Into Trap in Japan

Well, unfortunately it looks like we won't be getting a Pleo anytime soon, at least not here in Japan. If we really want one we'll have to buy it in the US during one of our trips and bring it back with us. Ugobe, the developers of the fascinating robot dinosaur have apparently fallen into the same trap that other foreign manufacturers have in the past, which is unfortunate.

Pleo will be introduced in Japan with pre-orders being accepted by Business Design Laboratory starting December 1st. But, the list price will be 52,500 yen (almost 500 dollars)! Business Design Laboratory sells other robot products at a premium, like the $4,000+ Hello Kitty robot, the ifBot that sells for close to $6,000, and Nuvo at well over $5,000. None of these products appear to be setting any sales records.

On the one hand, people can argue that the Japanese consumer is willing to pay a high price for unique technology. To some extent that's true, but the market segment is limited to the early adopters and technology geeks. 

A good example is the iROBOT Roomba, which could sell extremely well here in Japan since the typical Japanese housewife is almost paranoid about keeping things spotless. But so far sales have been very disappointing and the market penetration minimal. The Roomba lists here for almost three times it's US price, and is primarily marketed through a few robot distributors like Tsukumo. Even though it does the job it was intended for extremely well, people don't buy it primarily because it isn't generally promoted so they don't know about it, and it is way overpriced.

Lego Mindstorms suffer from similar problems here, The pricing is way above US list price and the products aren't generally available. While there are very active Lego robot organizations here in Japan, their membership comes from the upper class, well educated segment with considerable disposable income.

Of course, we totally understand the need to modify products to meet safety standards in different countries, and to produce local language documentation. And, we don't mind paying a reasonable premium for that, and often do. And, at the same time, pricing, distribution channels, and market positioning are totally the manufacturer's decision. But the Mindstorms, Roomba, and now the Pleo, pricing are way beyond the 'reasonable' level, at least in our opinion. By going after the small niche they have missed the opportunity to really gain awareness, market share, and profitability.

Hopefully Pleo will fare better, but somehow we doubt it. It's really too bad because Pleo has all the potential to do really well here.


3 thoughts on “Pleo Falls Into Trap in Japan

  1. I think you raise good points. However, a common business strategy (at least in the U.S.) is to introduce a product with a high price point at first, to get the most out of the price-insensitive early adopters, and then reduce the price later for greater market penetration. Perhaps they’re going to do something similar here. Unlikely, but perhaps.

  2. Why not buy these overpriced items through mail order? Many North American RC buyers have been making purchases this way from Asia for years. Shipping is generally in the $30 to $40 range for medium sized items.


  3. I agree with you that Pleo could have the potential to do very well in Japan. It seems robotic pets/companions are among the most desired there… especially affordable ones. With as long as it has taken UGOBE to release Pleo, I imagine it will be some time before we see any price drop.

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