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Retail

FamilyMart to use remote-controlled robots to stock shelves

Convenience chain aims to raise productivity and cut costs as labor crunch bites

Telexistence's robots are remote-controlled. (Photo courtesy of the company)

TOKYO -- Japanese convenience store chain FamilyMart will introduce remote-controlled robots to stock shelves in its stores, Nikkei has learned.

The company will partner with Tokyo-based robot development company Telexistence to carry out a feasibility test by the end of July in some FamilyMart stores in Tokyo.

The partners will then examine efficiency results and see if a reduction in labor cost is feasible. The plan is to have such robots in all of the chain's stores across Japan in 2022 or later.

The robots are remotely controlled by an operator using a virtual reality terminal. They can move as humans do and will handle 30 items including plastic bottles and instant noodles.

Currently, it takes eight seconds for the robots to put one item on a shelf while it only takes five seconds for humans to do the same. Telexistence says it will improve the robots' speed to the same level as humans and also expand the number of items they can handle.

FamilyMart and other convenience store chains in Japan have been suffering from a chronic labor shortage. It is even harder for stores to secure enough employees who can work at night and in the early morning. Many stores must pay extra wages to those workers, pressuring on profits.

FamilyMart envisions introducing robots can ultimately reduce the number of staff working in its stores.

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