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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.
Seven & i Holdings has released a strong set of annual results (ending 28 February 2019), posting a 12.5% increase in operating revenue to JPY6,791.2bn (US$60.7bn), with operating income up 5.1% to JPY411.5bn (US$3.7bn).
Revenue from its domestic CVS operations grew modestly at 2.9%, with existing store sales rising for the eighth consecutive year at 1.3%. Strong growth categories were frozen food, rice products and sandwiches. Seven-Eleven Japan continues to focus on expanding counter, refrigerators and frozen food sales area. Network expansion slowed compared to recent years, adding net 616 stores to reach 20,876 nationwide. It is also set to enter Okinawa on 11th July, the only Japanese prefecture where the retailer's presence is missing. The retailer plans to open 50 new stores next fiscal year and reach 250 by 2024.
Sales at the retailer's main supermarket banner, Ito Yokado, was flat at 0.1% YoY. It ended the fiscal year with 159 stores across Japan, five fewer than the previous year. Further closures are expected, with the retailer forecasting to end FY2020 with 157 stores as it continues to reform and restructure the business.
Total convenience store sales in the U.S. for the fiscal year ending 31 December 2018 increased 27.4% to JPY3,993.2bn (US$35.7bn), thanks to the acquisition of Sunoco stores. Gasoline sales was up 47%, and existing store sales increased 1.9%.
Seven & i continues to bring new initiatives to its stores to offer shoppers greater convenience. In July, it plans to add a payment function to SEJ APP. A 7pay app is set to launch in October for external participating stores. As part of the retailer's digital strategy, it plans to develop the function further by integrating the payment app among Group companies' applications by Spring next year.
FamilyMart UNY posted a 3.1% fall in gross operating revenue to JPY617.7bn (US$5.5bn), but core operating income increased 23.7% to JPY51.5bn (US$460.2m) (mainly attributed to the sale of UNY hypermarket business). More profitable operations and post-merger activities in Japan have been key focus areas rather than opening new stores. Newly converted FamilyMart stores recorded higher daily sales, as well as stronger customer footfall than pre-conversion. FamilyMart UNY ended the fiscal year with 16,430 stores in Japan, 802 fewer stores than last year. The retailer's overseas network grew steadily, with 189 new stores to reach 3,357 in Taiwan and 372 new stores in China to reach 2,569.
Hypermarket operations in Japan are classified as a discontinued business, after Pan Pacific International Holdings Corporation (PPHI) (Don Quijote) completed full acquisition of UNY on 4th January. The retailer has also released a statement outlining the merger of FamilyMart UNY Holdings Co., Ltd. and FamilyMart Co., Ltd. This will change the retailer's trade name to FamilyMart Co., Ltd effective from September 1, 2019.
FamilyMart UNY has outlined four key areas of focus: enhancing support for franchised stores, strengthening store profitability, moving forward with the shift to digital and promoting business collaboration with Pan Pacific International Holdings Corporation (PPHI) (Don Quijote).
Under the enhancing support for franchised stores strategy, it will focus on store investment to drive efficiencies in-store. There are approx. 1,000 FamilyMart stores in Japan equipped with self-checkout registers in response to increasing labour shortages. It is also beginning to test different business operating hours for its stores. For its moving forward with the shift to digital strategy, the retailer will launch a FamiPay smartphone app in July. The FamiPay app will allow customers to make transactions using the retailer's "FamiPay" digital currency. The app will look to improve customer convenience by offering discounts and coupons exclusively to app users.
Lawson continues to be the fastest growing retailer amongst the big four in Japan. It recorded a 6.2% increase in net convenience stores sales to JPY2,424.5bn (US$21.7bn), and 6.6% rise in operating revenue to JPY700.6bn (US$6.3bn). This was mainly driven by new store openings, with a net increase of 667 stores to reach 14,659 convenience outlets across Japan. Existing-store sales in Japan (excluding ticket and gift-card sales etc.) declined by 0.5% YoY as customer numbers declined. However, average customer spend increased, with strong sales of rice balls and boxed meals, and growth in night-time food options where the retailer has been upgrading.
Operating profit fell 7.7% YoY to JPY60.8bn (US$543.4m) following investment in new POS cash registers into all stores to drive efficiencies to in-store cash management, plus costs relating to the launch of Lawson Bank. Store numbers overseas increased by a net 614 to 2,171 stores, with expansion mainly coming from China, where it operates in Shanghai, Chongqing, Dalian, Beijing, Wuhan and Hefei.
Lawson is looking to establish a more profitably model across its international operations, targeting 5,000 stores by FY2021. In China, it plans to build scale through regional and franchise agreements, while in Southeast Asia, it hope to develop win-win partner relationships to expand its store network.
Transforming its products is a key priority for Lawson. It is changing nutritional and information labelling, e.g. low salt and low-carb logos, and is also reducing food waste and the use of plastics. Furthermore, it will have a stricter new store opening criteria ongoing to drive stronger profitability. The retailer plans to open 700 new stores next fiscal year but close the same number in Japan. This will be a significant change to the last five years, having averaged a net 668 new stores YoY.
Lawson plans to use digital technologies to boost store efficiency, particularly with rising costs and labour shortages. In July, Lawson will test unstaffed stores during the early hours. In FY2019, Lawson will use its new POS registers to enable customers to self-checkout by reading product barcodes. This system is expected be rolled-out to all stores by the end of 2019. Lawson plans to introduce its own mobile payment service, “Lawson smartphone cash register” to allow customers to pay by mobile app.
AEON has posted a 1.5% increase in operating revenue to JPY8,518.2bn (US$76.1bn), with operating income rising 0.9% to JPY212.3bn (US$1.9bn). The performance of the retailer's GMS Business was flat, posting operating revenue of JPY3,080.6bn (US$27.5bn). Operating revenue from its Supermarket Business, which includes Maxvalu and Ministop convenience chain, fell 0.2% to YoY. The retailer's International Business, which includes operations in Malaysia and Hong Kong, recorded robust revenue growth of 4.5% to JPY437.5bn (US$3.9bn).
AEON's Health & Wellness Business, which operates under Welcia Holdings Co., Ltd continued to perform strongly, highlighting growing demand in this segment. Operating revenue increased 11.7% to JPY793.9bn (US$6.6bn) YoY, with a net 426 new stores to reach 4,964 across the business. The retailer ended the fiscal year with 1,878 and 2,050 Welcia and Tsuruha stores respectively.
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