AWS News Blog

How Tokyu Hands Architected a Cost-Effective Shopping System with Amazon DynamoDB

I am a flâneur! I enjoy wandering around a new city, exploring the nooks and crannies, and figuring out what makes it unique and special. On one of my trips to Tokyo I was walking through Shibuya and found and amazing hobby store. The 8-floor building contained tools, supplies, and kits for almost every imaginable hobby. As you can read from the post below (written by my colleagues in Japan), this store, TOKYU HANDS, is now an AWS customer!


TOKYU HANDS improved its customer experience with an innovative retail point-of-sale and online shopping system. Here’s what Hideki Hasegawa-san (CTO) had to say about their new solution:

As a retailer, we are always conscious about costs and DynamoDB’s easy scalability make it cost-effective to operate. For a few hundred dollars a month, we get a fast, highly-available and scalable database. We don’t need to spend any money on expensive hardware or personnel to operate the database.

TOKYU HANDS is one of Japan’s biggest and most popular retailers. It is a one-stop shop for zakka, Japanese stationary items, creative do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions, and other home items. TOKYU HANDS operates 40 stores across Japan and Singapore. In addition to its retail locations, TOKYU HANDS operates an online store where customers can shop 24/7 using a computer or a mobile device. To keep pace with its rapid growth and new business opportunities, TOKYU HANDS operates a fast, flexible and scalable IT system built entirely on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Prior to AWS, TOKYU HANDS’ IT systems were located in its on-premises data center. Operating and scaling the data center became a significant burden. So TOKYU HANDS decided to go all-in on AWS and migrated its applications from the on-premises data center to the cloud. Offloading infrastructure management to AWS allowed TOKYU HANDS to focus on delivering more value to its customers. Hasegawa-san, says “I like AWS because we can spend time and resources innovating for our customers, and not on infrastructure management. AWS offers a wide variety of fully managed services that makes it easy for us to architect our entire IT system. Amazon DynamoDB is one such service that is at the core of critical applications.”

The Challenge
TOKYU HANDS’ most important applications for customer experience are its e-commerce system and Point of Sale (POS) + Merchandising System. Its e-commerce system contains all of the business logic to keep the store running. Choosing the right database for the e-commerce system is the key to achieving the scalability, flexibility and customizability needed to match its pace of innovation. TOKYU HANDS’ POS + Merchandising System has a customer-facing application that processes customer orders at the store registers and for online purchases. Among other things, the POS + Merchandising System also keeps track of item inventory as well as customer purchase history. Rather than spending time on routine backend maintenance tasks, TOKYU HANDS wanted its software development team to focus on its customers’ experience by making the POS + Merchandising System better. With its previous architecture, developers spent an inordinate amount of time maintaining and operating the backend data store to support the POS + Merchandising System.

A telling example of the operational burden TOKYU HANDS endured was trying to scale the e-commerce system to handle traffic spikes during “Hands Messe” – an annual super sale similar to Black Friday. The Hands Messe sale generated several times more traffic than usual for TOKYU HANDS’ retail and online stores. In the past, scaling up the database system to handle the spike during Hands Messe was a time-consuming and difficult task. TOKYU HANDS spent a lot time adding, configuring, and operating hardware needed to handle the Hands Messe traffic. Often, they would experience node failures during the sale, resulting in system outages. Even when hardware didn’t fail, TOKYU HANDS experienced sub-optimal database performance. The net result was an inferior shopping experience for their customers and loss of revenue during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. For startups, such service interruptions erodes customer confidence. As a result of their painful experience in managing an on-premises database, TOKYU HANDS began searching for a fully-managed database optimized for availability and scalability.

Here is the Tokyu Hands dev team:

Back row: Hideki Hasegawa, Toshiharu Ozawa, Yoshimitsu Sugawara, Minoru Saito, and Taiji Inoue.

Front row: Seigo Miyoshi, Yusuke Usui, and Manami Osawa.

Burden-free and Cost-effective Operations with DynamoDB
“My first encounter with DynamoDB was at AWS re:Invent. Through presentations and conversations with solution architects, we learned about DynamoDB’s capabilities and were intrigued by its high availability, scalability and worry-free operations. When I learned that core applications for and other AWS services were using DynamoDB, I decided to give it a try”, said Hasegawa-san, explaining how they started using Amazon DynamoDB.

In just a few months, TOKYU HANDS was able to re-architect its e-commerce system to use Amazon DynamoDB. In 2014, TOKYU HANDS put the new e-commerce system to the test with its annual Hands Messe sale. Amazon DynamoDB’s multiple availability zone architecture ensured their tables were highly available. TOKYU HANDS did not have to worry about system down-time resulting from node failures. TOKYU HANDS was also able to handle traffic spikes easily by scaling up DynamoDB throughput just before the sale.  Unlike previous years, none of the database requests were rejected due to capacity constraints. After the sale ended, TOKYU HANDS dialed back throughput, thereby saving them money. TOKYU HANDS is considering purchasing reserved capacity for throughput in order to save even more.

Easy Application Development with Amazon DynamoDB
Using Amazon DynamoDB together with a host of other AWS services including Amazon S3, Amazon SQS, and Amazon SNS, TOKYU HANDS was able architect a brand new POS + Merchandising System. “Most of our team is made up of former clerks at our retail stores. They know our customers in and out, and we want them to use that knowledge to build powerful applications and not worry about infrastructure. With AWS, we are able to do just that”.

Here is a diagram of their architecture:

TOKYU HANDS has experienced three important benefits with AWS and Amazon DynamoDB:

  • Cost effective operations
  • Hands-off, worry-free operations
  • Easy development of high-availability applications

See how your business can leverage this fully managed AWS NoSQL service to achieve cost-effective scale by visiting our DynamoDB Getting Started and Developer Resources pages.  Then head over to the FAQs to learn how to leverage DynamoDB Streams and Triggers using serverless programming with AWS Lambda.

— AWS Japan Solution Architects