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Business trends

Japanese rail commuters get a taste of drink subscription service

JR East to offer sharp discounts on vending machine purchases

Subscribers to the service will use their smartphones to purchase beverages from vending machines.

TOKYO -- The East Japan Railway group will launch a subscription service on Oct. 1 that allows users to purchase beverages at a discount from "smart" vending machines via a smartphone app.

For a monthly fee of 2,480 yen ($22.80), subscribers can receive one drink a day for the duration of the month from any of the latest smart vending machines in JR East train stations. In comparison, nonsubscribers would have to pay 4,500 yen if they bought a 150-yen beverage every day for 30 days.

The discount service will be run by the group's beverage unit, JR East Water Business. Dubbed "every pass," the service issues users unique QR codes for daily drinks.

To promote the service, JR East Water kicked off a marketing campaign on Sept. 2, offering 500 subscriptions in a lottery that ended on Sept. 16. Winners can choose a one-month subscription for 980 yen, or the 2,480-yen premium option.

The one-month subscription can be used only with the company's Acure-brand vending machines, while the premium subscription makes available any of 400 vending machines in JR East stations equipped with a special QR reader.

Subscribers have to first install the company's app, acure pass, then enter user and credit card information.

JR East's campaign is similar to one by Kirin Brewery, which allows patrons at Beer to Go -- a Ginza craft beer bar operated by subsidiary Spring Valley Brewery -- to receive one 250 ml beer per weekday for 2,496 yen a month.

Tokyo-based Favy, a food-industry service provider, also has a subscription service. For 3,000 yen a month, subscribers can drink all the coffee they want at three coffee shops located in central Tokyo. The service, launched in 2016, lost money for the first nine months before it began to turn a profit, according to the company.

In addition to its new beverage subscription service, JR East will also beef up its reward program in October for users of its Suica rechargeable smart cards.

The two services are designed to goose demand after the consumption tax hike on Oct. 1, which is expected to put a damper on consumer spending.

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