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Japanese Convenience Stores Combat Labor Shortage With Automation

Chains are also shortening their hours because of the difficulty in finding workers.
January 12, 2018

TOKYO – Japanese convenience stores have long been open 24 hours a day, but a national labor shortage is making it difficult to staff locations round the clock, the Japan Times reports. While the major c-store chains continue to open new locations, some are closing overnight because of staffing issues. 

FamilyMart Co. is one that has has tried closing stores late at night. FamilyMart President Takashi Sawada recently said that always-open operating hours aren’t “necessary” at some locations. 

Automation is another way to work around not having enough manpower in their outlets. FamilyMart also is experimenting with vending-machine based stores. Lawson Inc. will test an overnight unattended checkout system that allows customers to purchase items via a smartphone app. 

Seco

ma Co., operator of Seicomart stores, operates a fourth of its stores as 24-hour locations. In addition, around half of its stores closed for New Year’s Day. The company said such measures improve working environments and provide a more flexible schedule for employees. 

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. has no plans to limit operating hours. “The best measure (against the labor shortage) is to prepare a good working environment,” said Seven-Eleven Japan President Kazuki Furuya. “We’re not running short of staff.” 

However, convenience stores acknowledge that hours of operation changes would impact more than just a store’s bottom line, as stores often prevent crime and help with disaster response because of their 24-hour operations, according to Lawson President Sadanobu Takemasu.​​​​​​