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We round up the latest trading updates and news for Japan's four largest retailers, Seven & i Holdings, FamilyMart UNY, Lawson and AEON.

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Customers at select GS25 convenience stores in South Korea will be able to charge shared electric bicycles from June.

Shared electric bicycles and charging facilities

GS Retail's convenience chain, GS25, is setting up charging facilities for 800 electric bicycles in partnership with GoGoSing at its stores. The service will be made available in Gangnam District in Seoul and Pangyo in Gyeonggi Province.

Customers will be able to use an electric kickboard, charge, exchange and return batteries to a nearby GS25 store. With competition in the convenience channel in South Korea fierce, GS25 is exploring ways to attract new customers, offering new services in addition to selling products in-store. GS Retail has already introduced charging facilities for electric vehicles at 45 locations, and is now beginning to offer delivery services for convenience store products in partnership with the delivery app Yogiyo.

Shoppers can pick up their parcels from more than 300 Circle K stores at their own convenience with a new feature by DHL Express.

On-demand delivery by DHL Express

Shoppers are informed of their shipment’s progress through SMS or email on the day of delivery. They can then choose a variety of delivery options through a mobile-optimised website, including redirecting their delivery to a DHL service point or nearby convenience store. Couriers will be alerted to any changes in delivery methods in real time.

Shoppers avoid missed delivery

By adding the new feature, shoppers know the exact time when they can expect to receive their package. They can pick up their parcels at any time at a service point if they cannot be present. The partnership allows shoppers to access over 600 DHL service points.

DHL Express Hong Kong and Macau’s senior VP and MD Herbert Vongpusanachai said, “the familiarity and convenience of Circle K will help enrich the connections we have with our customers as well as ensure we stay on top of their evolving needs. With this service, we offer local consumers a hassle-free international online shopping experience whilst supporting retailers around the world to reach their customers reliably and punctually”.

 

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Vingroup has acquired all 87 Shop & Go chain of convenience stores for just US$1. There are 70 stores in Ho Chi Minh City and 17 in Hanoi.

Shop & Go withdraws due to competition

Shop & Go opened its first store in 2006 and became one of the first operators of modern convenience stores in Vietnam. A representative for the retail chain said, “we have invested a great deal in the Shop & Go system, however the results are not as expected. The Vietnamese retail market still has potential space to grow, but competition is tight. Therefore, we decided to retreat. In the market, Vingroup has proven its superiority in the retail sector. We decided to donate Shop & Go so that Vingroup can continue its investment and development.”

Vingroup likely to rebrand stores as VinMart+

Vingroup operates 108 VinMart supermarkets and about 1,900 VinMart+ convenience stores. It will upgrade the infrastructure, train the staff and refresh the products of Shop & Go stores in the month of April. Last year, the group acquired FiviMart, which had 23 stores that were rebranded as VinMart after the merger. We believe the retailer will do the same with Shop & Go.

 

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The three leading convenience store chains in Japan are facing increasing challenges to hiring staff for their stores. Labour shortages driven by the country's ageing population is deepening and retailers opening new stores require new workers.

Discounts and benefits for workers

The current approach for many convenience store operators is to incentivise workers with benefits and discounts. The average wage for convenience staff is around JPY1,000 an hour, but varies based on location in the country.

Seven & i Holdings, which operates over 20,600 7-Eleven stores in Japan, opened a day care centre for employees on the second floor of a store in the northern city of Sendai in July. In April 2017, it began offering workers discounts on hotels and travel services.

The second largest CVS chain in the country, FamilyMart, is partnering with Iris Ohyama to offer part-time workers nationwide discounts of up to 60% on rice cookers and other appliances. While Lawson, which operates more than 14,300 stores, offers its employees discounts on DVDs and books, serviced by the retailer's subsidiary companies.

Automation part of the solution

At an exhibition in October last year, Lawson launched an unstaffed store concept, featuring a robot that can prepare food as per customer preferences, e.g. cook gyoza dumplings. About two years ago, we covered how Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is backing the introduction of RFID technology in retail. Since then, we have seen Japanese retailers in different industries trial this technology. Retailers are now working harder to retain and attract new employees, but also promote automation to drive efficiencies in-store.

Lawson testing unstaffed stores during early hours

To reduce the burden on store employees and compensate for labour shortagess, Lawson has announced that it will test unstaffed operations at two outlets for several months from this summer. The concept was first announced back in December 2017.

Unstaffed service hours will be between midnight to 5 a.m each day. While a staff member will be available to support during the trial, Lawson hopes the outlets will be fully operational without personnel in the future. Certain categories, including cigarettes, alcohol, and postage stamps will be unavailable for purchase during unstaffed hours.

Smartphone-based self-payment is already available at Lawson stores in Shanghai. If self-checkout is rolled-out to other times of the day in Japan, customers will be able to avoid long lines at cash registers during busy hours. It will also help drive in-store efficiencies and boost productivity.

FamilyMart UNY partners Panasonic Corp

FamilyMart UNY has partnered Panasonic Corp to introduce technology in its stores to drive in-store efficiencies. The first FamilyMart store using Panasonic technology has opened in Kanagawa, southwest of Tokyo. The retailer will test advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to help stores restock more efficiently, as well as self-checkout, digital displays and price tags.

A shrinking workforce has seen retailers reduce and test shorter operating hours. FamilyMart in Japan plans to test reduced hours at up to 270 of its stores in Tokyo, Akita and Nagasaki prefectures beginning in June.

FamilyMart’s UNY’s Representative Director and Executive Vice President, Takashi Sawada, said, “We are faced with a labour shortage, and the issue of 24-hour operations. There is no time to waste."

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