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Japan's Aeon offers video interpreters for foreign shoppers

Smartphone-based service handles 10 languages at 550 domestic stores

A shopper at an Aeon store near Narita Airport uses the interpretation service on the smartphone.

TOKYO -- Japanese retailer Aeon has introduced a video interpreter service at roughly 550 of its domestic stores to serve the country's rising number of foreign shoppers.

The interpretation service, provided by a Tokyo-based company, uses video chat to let a store clerk and a customer communicate in 10 languages including English, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish and Tagalog. A store clerk calls up an interpreter using a store-provided smartphone or tablet. 

Thai and Chinese shoppers looking for cosmetics and medicine often use the interpreter to ask questions about the products, according to Aeon. The service is used five to 10 times daily at the Aeon store near the Tokyo area's Narita Airport, where it was rolled out last year.

The interpreter service is available at chains including Aeon and Aeon Style. The retailer intends to expand the option to group companies in phases, anticipating increases in foreign visitors for the Lunar New Year holiday and international sports events such as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Foreign shoppers in Japan often cite the language barrier as a challenge. Sellers of men's clothing and eyeglasses have employed similar services in the country, but Aeon is the first one to introduce a major program.

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