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The Future of Japanese Convenience Stores

By Sho Yamamoto
February 24, 2022

When you think of Japan, some of the first things you may think of is its rich culture, the delicious food, and the crazy technology! The small island country has built a reputation around the world for its advancements in tech, and you can really tell when you come here. And now, we are starting to see the future of the konbini, the Japanese convenience store, with new store concepts!

For those of you who have wondered what life would be like in a few years, coming to Japan may give you a small glimpse as to what you can expect. With more and more driverless cars on the road and information booths that have robots with artificial intelligence to give you directions, our everyday life is already starting to feel like a movie from the future!

Now you’re able to go to convenience stores in Japan and you won’t see any staff there! In the last few years, many konbini in Japan have integrated technology where you’re simply able to walk in, pick up your favorite Japanese snacks, and pay through a fully automated self checkout register.

Future Tech, Today!

 Family Mart’s first staffless konbini near Tokyo Station with their sub-brand, Famima.

So how do these stores work, and what happens when the shelves get emptied? These automated stores all use AI technology, smart sensors and cameras, and even robots that work behind the scene to stock empty shelves! 

In Japan, there are a couple of companies that are working with konbini brands to break into the unmanned convenience store market like Family Mart! Last year the Japanese konbini chain opened its first unmanned convenience store near Tokyo Station on the first floor of the Sapita Tower building under their Famima sub-brand.

Touch To Go, one of the companies that made the tech, and their flagship store at Takanawa Gateway Station.

The technology comes from Japanese company Touch To Go (TTG), whose mission is to create services that “realize the future.” TTG has multiple different products that are integrated with stores to make life feel easier, but also feel like it’s from the future!

TTG also opened their own store at Takanawa Gateway Station, the newest along the Yamanote Line in central Tokyo, and it serves as their flagship location to showcase the impressive technology. TTG tech is now in around eight convenient stores or kiosks, and five restaurants using their new smart terminals.

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TTG is not the only company making advancements into unmanned stores, though. Daiei Inc., one Japan’s largest grocery store chains, and information technology company NTT Data Corp. have partnered to create their own version of this tech under the name Catch & Go. Like TTG, they use AI, cameras, and sensors to identify products in the store.

These gates won’t let you out until you’ve paid for everything you’re holding at the checkout counter!

There is a Catch & Go app that allows customers to scan into stores, pick up their favorite rice balls, instant ramen, or Pocari Sweat, and walk right out without checking out. The sensors automatically calculate the items you get and charge them directly to your credit card on the app!

With Touch To Go, and other companies, migrating into convenience stores in Japan, you can feel like you’re in the future!

Lawson has also opened their own staffless stores through their partnership with Fujitsu Ltd.

All companies say that the need for this innovation is because of staff shortages, especially for late- and overnight staff. 

Other Konbini Concepts

We already know the number of things you can do at a Japanese convenience store like purchasing tickets for events and printing documents, but did you ever think about going to get a workout before or after your konbini run (see what I did there)? Well, this is actually something you can (sort of) do!

Family Mart used to own a fitness gym service called Fit & Go, but sold it in 2018, which was then renamed to Fit Easy. These Fit Easy gyms are located above a number of Family Mart locations, like Ota Ward’s Nagahara store.

The idea of the concept was to create a gym that would be open 24 hours a day (like Family Mart shops), and to sell workout-related products like towels, soap, and supplements that people could use before or after getting a sweat on! Because konbinis are part of everyday life in Japan, adding a place to workout at a store you’re most likely already going to was a pretty ingenious idea! Although I don’t recommend eating a Famichiki fried chicken right after your workout!

So the next time you’re thinking about things to buy at a konbini like Japanese picnic foods for the upcoming cherry blossom viewing season, must-try sakura food or new seasonal Japanese drinks, you can also decide whether or not you want to feel like you’re part of the future and go to an assortment of staffless convenience stores! With Family Mart and Lawson looking to open thousands of new stores in the upcoming years, we’ll be walking in and out with handfuls of our favorite Japanese treats in a flash!

Do you prefer the human interaction when you go through cashiers, or will you be looking forward to these new self- and auto-checkouts being more part of your everyday life? Let us know in the comments below!

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Sho Yamamoto

Lover of music, Marvel, gaming, and all things Cool! I'm here to dissect, digest, and disseminate culture, so come and enjoy the ride!

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