Vertu Opens First Japan Store

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Vertu, the luxury cell phone brand created by Nokia, has opened its first store in Japan to sell hand-crafted cell phones to wealthy consumers despite the recession currently gripping the country.

The company's first store opened its doors on Thursday to customers in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza district with handsets selling at prices up to ¥6 million (US$64,400). Vertu is also establishing itself as a cellular carrier here, working on the MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) model across NTT DoCoMo's network, so it can provide tailored service to customers.

But the service comes at a price. Monthly subscriptions to the Vertu MVNO cost ¥52,500, according to local media. That's 15 times the cheapest basic monthly tariff offered by NTT DoCoMo.

Vertu is betting that its target audience -- wealthy consumers -- won't be put off by the price but rather attracted by the handsets, which are hand-assembled in the U.K., and virtual concierge, an on-call service that can help with advice on travel, entertainment, restaurants and events.

The shop opens as other luxury goods retailers are feeling the heat of the growing recession in Japan.

Sales at LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton dropped 10 percent in 2008 and the company has postponed plans to open a new store in the same Ginza district of Tokyo in 2010. Cartier-brand owner Richemont saw sales in the last three months of 2008 drop 18 percent and Tiffany just cut prices by an average 9 percent to stoke demand.

The wider economy isn't doing much better. On Thursday the government said the Japanese economy contracted by 12.7 percent on the year in the final quarter of 2008, which represents the greatest quarterly drop since the oil shock of the 1970s.

Vertu is coming to Japan only months after Nokia pulled out of the market. The world's largest cell phone maker found the Japanese market, with its fast product cycles, quick moving trends and demanding carriers, a challenge and last year decided to withdraw as part of a global restructuring.

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