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att. Japanese Culture - Convenience Stores in Japan
att. Culture - Convenience Stores in Japan
You are here: att.JAPAN > General Information > Convenience Stores in Japan
att.JAPAN Issue 43, November 2008

Convenience Stores in Japan

When you visit Japan, many of you will be very surprised to find so many convenience stores on the streets here, especially in downtown areas. According to the Japan Franchise Association, as of August 2008, the number of convenience stores, considering only the major chains, was 41,645. It is not unusual to find 3 or 4 stores located within a radius of 100 m. This column will look at the remarkably convenient nature of Japanese convenience stores.

 Japanese convenience stores – now and then
We cannot be certain when the first convenience store was established in Japan, but convenience stores are reputed to have begun appearing in Japan between 1960 and 1970, initially as grocery stores carrying daily necessities and food. Later, in the mid-1970s, convenience stores started to open 24 hours a day, and during the 1980s they introduced services such as photocopying and fax services; utility and bill payment services; tax payment services; and services enabling the purchase of tickets to various entertainment venues, such as concerts and theme parks. At present, over 90 percent of convenience stores are open 24 hours a day. In addition to household and food items, they stock liquor, tobacco, stationery, medicines and items for entertainment including magazines, DVDs and videogame software. Some even have dry cleaning services and ATMs. Although space in convenience stores is limited, it is amazing to see the variety of items they stock – they are indeed convenient stores. 

- Stores are visited according to the items to be purchased
Many Japanese people select convenience store chains depending on their purchases and services. For example, one chain is renowned for its wide variety of delicious boxed lunches; another stocks a delicious oden (Japanese fast food) selection; another store carries many kinds of desserts and regularly introduces new products; another features seasonal desserts; while still another has good ticket services, and so on. If you ask your friends, “Which is your favorite convenience store?” it might be interesting to hear their answers and stories.    

- Convenience stores maintain both food safety and neighborhood safety
Convenience stores have an important role in that they watch and maintain “food safety” and “neighborhood safety.” Each chain has set standards concerning artificial preservatives and coloring. Also, each store observes its strict standards for the freshness of its products. Recently, each convenience store chain has established its own original brand – so-called “private brand labels” – in order to improve food safety and ensure consumer satisfaction. The number of items sold under “private brand labels” is increasing. Convenience stores which are open 24 hours a day have a significant role as a deterrent to crime in their neighborhoods, as they are staffed by clerks and the stores are well lit throughout the night.

 The future of Japanese convenience stores
Ever since the emergence of convenience stores, the industry has been evolving in various ways and will continue to evolve in the future.

- Multi-national workplace
Many people of different nationalities, especially students from overseas, are working in convenience stores. Therefore, when tourists visit convenience stores in Japan, they may feel more secure because they are able to communicate with staff in their mother tongue. Lawson, a convenience store chain, announced a policy where one-third of their staff would be non-Japanese students graduating from college in spring 2009. Lawson are aiming to revitalize their whole company by hiring people from different backgrounds. They have also established overseas affiliates, so they can eventually delegate responsibility to the non-Japanese employees for the development of management and services in stores abroad. The globalization of the convenience store industry will go further in future.

- Various convenience stores are struggling to localize their services
Modern Japanese consumers’ needs are diverse. Recently, there has been a trend for convenience stores to localize their services in order to meet local needs. For example, Lawson have launched new affiliates such as “Natural Lawson,” “Lawson Store 100,” and “Lawson Plus” alongside existing stores. “Natural Lawson” is often located in urban business districts or quiet residential areas where there are many working women. “Natural Lawson” features healthy boxed lunches cooked with organic ingredients, and organically prepared food. It also carries organic detergents, soaps and cosmetics. “Lawson 100” is targeting housewives and it carries perishables and processed foods. Each item costs 105 yen, including taxes. “Lawson Plus” caters to areas where many elderly people live; it stocks a variety of perishables and prepared foods. The “Mobile Convenience Stores” (or “Vending Trucks”) project was launched in April 2008 in Kofu Town, Tottori Prefecture. Approximately 40 percent of the town’s population is over 65 years old. The town has many slopes, so elderly citizens who do not own cars are happy to be able to shop at the “Mobile Convenience Store.”       

- The role of tourist information guides
Kyoto City has placed “Downtown Kyoto Sightseeing Guide” materials in all Seven Eleven stores, and as of autumn 2007 there are more than 100 stores in the city. The staff offers sightseeing and transportation guides for the area, and provide free tourist maps and leaflets in English. This service should be very convenient for sightseers who wish to travel around Kyoto City. 

- Convenience stores supporting parents and children
A new convenience store called “Happy Lawson” was opened in July 2007 in Yamashita Park, Yokohama. The store’s concept is “a convenience store supporting parents and children.” In 2005, when Lawson celebrated its 30th anniversary, the company started a campaign to invite public contributions of new ideas based on the theme, “Let’s think about the future of convenience stores.” The best idea selected was “Convenience stores backing up parents and children.” A pilot outlet based on this idea was operated for a short period in Nihombashi, Tokyo. Later, the first store was opened. The shop has wider aisles in order for baby strollers to be pushed without obstruction. Happy Lawson also carries baby food and diapers, considering the needs of parents who are rearing young children. 3D playground equipment, toys and an eat-in space are also featured. These days, the number of parents who are anxious about childrearing alone has been increasing. On the other hand, communication in neighborhoods has been decreasing. Hence the slogan: “When you come to the convenience store, you can exchange information with other people, chat and relax here.” This could become a new role for convenience stores.

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Convenience stores are literally very convenient for travelers. For example, you can buy household goods and food 24 hours daily, withdraw money from ATMs, send packages for delivery, make use of postal services, and send/receive faxes. You can also enjoy a variety of cooked Japanese foods at reasonable prices. It is a good idea to look for souvenirs in convenience stores, too. In addition, when necessary, you can use the toilet in the convenience store. (Why not buy small items such as gum or juice as a token of thanks after using the convenience store’s facilities?) During your stay in Japan, you will have frequent opportunities to drop in to convenience stores. As you visit the various chains you will see that each store has the same standard of “convenience” – however, you will be able to see differences between them. Various features of Japanese culture can be appreciated in convenience stores. 

 

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