One pleasure of living in Japan is being able to pop into a convenience store at any hour to pick up a snack, pay a utility bill, or buy some essential thing that you really need right now. Japan borrowed the convenience store concept from the United States in the 1970s and, in the decades since, has made it uniquely its own. There are some 58,000 konbini in Japan today, selling a remarkable variety of foods, beverages and dry goods from compact spaces. Annual sales are in the neighborhood of eleven trillion yen.
But like much of Japan’s retail sector, the country’s convenience stores are struggling with a labor shortage, driven in part by declining birth rates. Stores are finding it difficult to operate on the 24/7/365 schedules they’re famous for, and labor costs, thanks to low supply, are rising.
As part of its broader effort to make retailers more competitive through adoption of latest-generation technology, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has entered into an agreement with five of the country’s largest convenience store companies to implement Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in stores by 2025. By applying an RFID-enabled tag embedded with a unique digital identity to every product, store owners will realize two transformations: faster, fully automated shopping, and dramatically improved inventory and supply chain management.
Labor shortages and supply chain challenges aren’t unique to Japan, of course. Grocers in the U.S. and elsewhere face many of the same dynamics, and the wise ones are keeping an eye on Japan’s RFID implementation. Like sushi, anime, and emoji, what’s considered “Japanese” today is likely to be a global phenomenon in the near future.