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This in-depth guide to Japan explores the key trends in grocery retail and the growth strategies of the leading retailers in the country.

We review Seven & i's retail outlook over the next five years and the key markets to watch, as it continues to expand around the world.

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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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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."

First phase of launch announced; CEO for joint venture appointed.

Eight 7-Eleven stores to open in Mumbai

After signing a master franchise agreement with 7-Eleven last month, Future Group announced that it will open eight 7-Eleven stores in Mumbai as an initial phase. In addition, the Group shared that it is exploring two different retail formats of the chain.

The Group is experimenting between two sizes for its stores – 111 sq m and 185 sq m. While the exact store locations are not finalised, it is expected to be near shopping malls, hospitals and business parks. Future Group had previously announced plans to rebrand some of its existing convenience stores.

CEO for 7-Eleven India named

Future Group has also named Mr. Hardeep Singh as the CEO for 7-Eleven India. Singh was the founder of Vulcan Express, a logistics firm that provided supply chain solutions to ecommerce platforms, before it was acquired by Future Group. Prior to that, Singh also led the supply chain and logistics function at Walmart India.

Mr. Kishore Biyani, CEO of Future Group, said that the expansion of 7-Eleven India “will be a critical part of growing our food and FMCG brands and bringing new services, formats and conveniences for our customers. An effective supply chain and distribution setup will define the future of a retail format like 7-Eleven."

Find out more information about Future Group here.

 

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AEONs Maxvalu in Hiroshima and a handful of 7-Eleven stores are reducing their operating hours in Japan.

Maxvalu in Hiroshima ending 24-hour operations

Maxvalu Nishinihon, a Hiroshima-based subsidiary of AEON, is ending 24-hour operations for 25 stores later this month. The company plans to refocus its staff members' attention on improving customer service. The move should also help the business cope with labour shortages in western Japan prefectures, including Hyogo and Hiroshima, where its stores are mainly located.

7-Eleven reducing opening hours in some stores

Seven-Eleven Japan has announced that it will reduce operating hours at some of its stores later this month. This will be tested on 10 company-run 7-Eleven stores across the country, operating only between 7am and 11pm rather than 24 hours.

Labour shortages driving change

Around 96% of 7-Eleven stores in Japan operate 24 hours a day, excluding any located inside external office buildings and train stations. Labour shortages for the night shift remains a challenge for convenience operators across the market.

Both Lawson and FamilyMart have experimented with reduced opening hours at their convenience stores. The former for example, has also launched self-checkout counters to support staff members. With increasing pressures, many franchise owners are trying to negotiate shorter operating hours and other subsidies.

Retailers are introducing a number of different initiatives to combat labour shortages in the market. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is also helping drive automation in retail. Furthermore, 50 Japanese banks have recently joined Tokyo bank J-Coin to set up a cashless payment system developed by Mizuho Financial Group. J-Coin payments are processed via a mobile app using a QR code, a phone number or a LINE Messenger ID number. We expect Japanese retailers to further integrate cashless payments in-store to drive efficiencies and offer shoppers greater convenience. 

 

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Seven & i Holdings partners with Future Retail to develop and operate its iconic brand in the country.

First stores expected this year

7-Eleven, the world’s largest convenience retailer, announced that it has signed a master franchise agreement with Future Retail to begin operations in the country.

The deal looks set to benefit both parties as the Future Group gains access to global technology and processes while 7-Eleven will leverage on the retail experience and local knowledge of Future Retail.

It remains unclear how 7-Eleven will coexist with the 1,300 Easyday stores that Future Retail currently operates. The group has already stated that it will rebrand some of its existing stores.

Giving shoppers greater convenience

By introducing greater convenience to shoppers, 7-Eleven’s entry into India looks set to accelerate the modernisation of this channel. Kishore Biyani, founder and group chief executive officer of Future Group said, “we are proud to bring this globally trusted convenience store to India and build new pathways together that will offer Indian customers greater convenience and choices, within their own neighbourhood."

Future Retail is one of India’s largest multi-format retailer and currently operates Big Bazaar, Hypercity, Nilgiris, Heritage Fresh and Easyday banners. Its loyalty programmes, Big Bazaar Profit Club and Easyday Savings Club, has close to 30m members.

With more than 65,000 stores globally, 7-Eleven has successfully introduced the convenience format into more than 18 countries worldwide. In Japan alone, it operates over 20,000 stores.  

 

Find out more information about Future Retail here and Seven & i Holdings here.

 

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