Aside from missing the opportunity to bow a time or six, I think this was close to perfect for execution of an apology (both by Japanese standards and for companies generally). Heartfelt apology, total acceptance of responsibility, comes straight from the top, makes full amends to customers, identifies specific changes made to address problem in the future, closes with thanks to customers.
Edited to add: For extra credit, it might have been worthwhile to apologize to the merchant for failing to prevent a situation which caused their wares to be presented in an unflattering manner.
This probably stands reality on it's head, but what actually happened on one particular day in Tokyo is not maximally relevant to Groupon's Japanese business, and having a reputation for being magnanimous and savvy to how the game is played can only help them in the future. Again, though, I think they did really well.
"Aside from missing the opportunity to bow a time or six"
Bowing in this situation seems like a high-risk, low-reward behavior. He might have moved the apology from an A to an A+, but he also might have made the situation worse without realizing it. If I bowed for an apology, I feel I would make any number of rude mistakes, like maintain (or not maintain?) eye contact, have the wrong facial expression, not bow deep enough / shallow enough, slouch, not hold it long enough, do it sitting, or check Twitter at the bottom. When you don't understand a culture, it's usually reasonable to be polite and gracious within the confines of your own. Maybe Japan has different expectations, but I've worked with an uncountable number of foreign nationals, and it's understandable when they don't extend a handshake (typical American greeting), or yell "Hey, fuck you! How you doin'?" (typical New York greeting).
What you are saying is plausible, but it does not match with my experience. Folks who are easily offended need to look away now: there is a porpoise show at the Nagoya Aquarium. At the end of it, the dolphins "bow" to the crowd. Everyone says "Aww, how cute!" because the important thing isn't that the dolphin bowed properly, it is that you just saw a dolphin bowing.
In this regard, foreigners are a lot like dolphins. You're going to be graded on a curve and that curve is going to underestimate you severely -- one can (judiciously) take advantage of this sort of thing.
My ex-ex-job was Coordinator of International Relations for a tech incubator, and I never saw someone lose points for trying their six word Japanese vocabulary, a bow, etc. It may actually be more difficult for those folks who are in the uncanny valley of between "fluent enough to be assumed competent" and "actually competent." (cough Oh the stories I can't tell. cough)
Tangentially related, it is occasionally to one's advantage as a foreigner to pretend ignorance of Japanese social norms. I am not generally a fan of it, but sometimes duty wins.
I'd also add, "eat everything in sight". I've found that more than anything, nothing can symbolize that you respect a culture more than eating their food with them, respectfully enjoying it and just trying to have a good time. It shows an interest beyond superficials and most people enjoy sharing something about their culture with you through food.
You are what you eat, and if you eat what they eat, you are in some sense made of the same stuff.
Humans like to put other humans in two boxes, "us" or "them" and nothing can get you over the threshold and into the "us" box better than eating their food. In my experience, I've also found that most people want people in the "them" box to be in their "us" box and will lightly test your suitability with various social normalization tests -- often in the form of some local delicacy that they know foreigners won't be into. "Here! Try some of this delicious fermented cow stomach!"
(it also helps that most places have a friendly social structure around alcohol consumption, and chasing bites of random animal innards with some hard booze seems to do a good job of killing off whatever might not agree with you)
It also usually follows that they'll see you put a good effort into meeting them (culturally) and most folks will give you a wide berth to stumble through their social customs.
Without knowing anything else about a place, I've managed to muddle through relations with Peruvians, Ecuadorians, French, Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Saudis, Germans and a few others simply by sitting down at a table with them and breaking bread and trying to mind my manners.
In a few places, this immediately broke down walls of outward hostility and the night often ended with some kind of embarrassing duet at a Karaoke bar or similar.
That does help. My dad was in the army and was stationed in Korea for a few years. One weekend he was eating lunch with some Koreans he would be working with. Well, near the end of the meal he was offered some burnt rice. He graciously accepted it and ate it. After the meal his translator informed him that burnt rice was considered a delicacy in Korea. Furthermore his predecessor had been offered the same dish and refused. His predecessor lost a lot of respect by that decision
I and my japanese wife have the feeling that this apology is really "light".
I mean, he is alone in a shirt, no suit, no tie, seamingly from his personnal computer (no pro involved, no one else), with an improvised background.
It may be felt as sincere and straightforward, but on the other hand it lacks seriousness and commitment. One would say he didn't care to do something more formal, or even to get someone to help, and just hacked a quick reply before getting home.
I seems more targeted at future investors than to angry customers.
Edit: perhaps I should add that the apologies from groupon japan on the official site where basic style, plain text ones. This is the first video published on the issue, so it's a bit jarring to see something so casual.
I agree completely. Compared to any other public apology I've seen in Japan, well his simply doesn't compare. Unfortunately I think he comes off as the insensitive-to-cultural-norms American which actually does more damage in Japan than it does to smooth over problems, at least in my experiences living there.
The New Year osechi meal is like Thanksgiving or Christmas. People pay a lot of money to have a good meal. I saw photos of the results of this deal featured on TV news several times over the past few weeks which is pretty significant. They are advertising extremely heavily on the web and TV in Tokyo so it is really important for them to get in front of this and handle it properly.
Merchant protection is something that really needs to be done better.
I also liked that it was all done in one take and it wasn't given corporate PR-treatment, it was just a guy in front of his webcam. Also quite clever to do it at the office, when everyone has gone. Gives the impression of the hard-working shacho (which I'm sure he is, anyway).
It came across as a business owner who genuinely cares about customer experience.
This is exactly why I think Groupon is way more than just another group-buying site. They not only have people on the ground in so many places (in a product where first to market seems to have a huge advantage), but they also are savvy enough to understand social norms in the various countries. Really cool.
To apologize is the first single thing I was taught during
my 'Hourensou'/報連相 training at the Japanese company I'm working on.
Whenever something bad happens, you first have to put yourself in their shoes,
and just apologize."Moushi wake gozaimasen...".
It does not matter whose fault was it, before trying to explain anything you have to
first apology and then you can explain, otherwise it is going to be considered as rude.
I'm going to charitably assume you are neither trolling nor going for a boorish Reddit joke: Japan is a highly developed Western nation. In cultural studies, "Japanese people commit suicide to apologize" is one example of something that might be called a narrative. When you say it, it isn't just saying something, it is doing something. One purpose to which that narrative has been historically employed, both by some foreigners and some Japanese people, is to exaggerate the difference between Japanese people and everyone else. Another reason is there were, historically, a small handful of suicides which were extraordinarily public and so garnered disproportionate media attention. They are now several decades old, and are about as instructive regarding Japanese culture as school shootings are instructive about American culture. No morally responsible person would suggest that shooting up school is normative behavior in response to minor slights.
There are forms of apology which are distinctively Japanese. One is a videotaped press conference during which a speech very similar to that video would be delivered by the CEO. He would likely be accompanied by three or four people close to the matter. At a scripted moment during the speech (likely, several of them), all will simultaneously bow deeply. On the video you would hear audible clicking noises as every print photographer in the room simultaneously went for the photo opp, because Japanese papers run with photos of bows for apologies the same way American newspapers run with photos of handshakes for peace treaties.
He hasn't lived in Japan very long at all if he doesn't recognize that this is one of those stereotypes with some significant basis in reality. Japan has almost twice the US's suicide rate, and it is indeed an act with heavy cultural significance.
Suggest removing sticks from nether regions... both of you.
If you read Patrick's response you will see it is polite, realistic and nuanced. Your comment: not so much.
Japan has twice the suicide rate which is still not a lot. It's about the same as Finland. This is not a subject that can be (nor should be) easily reduced to a "Japanese people commit suicide a lot" kind of stereotype, so lets not do it.