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Business trends

Japan warms to cool delivery lockers as online food sales surge

Companies testing market for refrigerated parcel boxes at condos and homes

The Japanese market for delivery lockers is expected to hit 25 billion yen in 2025, a fourfold increase from 2016.

TOKYO/OSAKA -- Demand for refrigerated delivery lockers is heating up in Japan as online sales of fresh food and other perishables increase.

Japanese electronics maker Panasonic is in talks with a number of condominium developers to install refrigerated delivery lockers, or cool lockers, at Tokyo condos scheduled to go on the market in 2019.

Outside Japan, the company will test cool lockers at three large apartment complexes in Mexico.

Nasta, Japan's largest mailbox maker, is targeting homeowners with 25- to 30-liter cool lockers priced at about 200,000 yen ($1,843) each. The company wants to keep the price of these models to less than twice that of its unrefrigerated lockers.

Through tie-ups with builders, Nasta hopes to attract more buyers of new homes. This summer, it will test cool lockers at about 10 households in Tokyo in cooperation with online supermarkets to gauge delivery efficiency and decrease evening deliveries.

According to Fulltime System, a distributor of delivery lockers for condos, more than 90% of new units in Tokyo have lockers, mostly unrefrigerated models. But despite an estimate by research company Fuji Keizai that the locker market will reach 25 billion yen in 2025 -- up fourfold from 2016 -- Fulltime has installed cool lockers in only 30 buildings.

Meanwhile, as online shopping continues to skyrocket, courier companies are clamoring for more lockers -- refrigerated or unrefrigerated -- to avoid redeliveries. Japan's e-commerce market stood at 16.5 trillion yen in 2017, up 9.1% from a year earlier, according to data from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Although many Japanese are still reluctant to buy food online due to problems with deliveries and the proximity of supermarkets, sales are slowly gaining steam.

"Demand for food delivery will continue to grow as the number of working women increases," said Kazuhisa Matsubara, assistant manager of Nasta's business development department. "The spread of refrigerated delivery boxes will prompt consumers to decrease bulk purchases and increase online shopping," he said.

E-commerce sites are also helping drive demand for cool lockers. In 2017, Amazon Japan launched "Amazon Fresh," a home-delivery service for fresh groceries.

"Online shopping of perishable food will become quite common sooner or later," said a Panasonic representative.

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