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Business

Japan convenience stores plan next generation of self-checkout

Speedier system helps chains seek efficiency amid retail labor shortages

The new self-checkout system will eliminate the need to scan each item individually.

TOKYO -- Seven-Eleven Japan and four other major convenience store operators in the country will introduce self-checkout registers that can read the prices of items that are still in a basket, the latest effort to cope with a severe lack of manpower.

The Seven & i Holdings unit will be joined by rivals LawsonMinistop, FamilyMart shops under FamilyMart Uny Holdings and East Japan Railway's Newdays stores. The chain operators look to debut the system next year in large cities and reach all outlets across Japan by 2025.

The system will employ chips so that items can be tallied simultaneously, rather than the current method of self-checkout in which each item's bar code is scanned separately.

All five operators will employ the same type of radio frequency identification tags, easing the burden on suppliers of products. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry hopes the technology will spread widely to other retail sectors such as supermarkets and drugstores. No major retailer of household items in the world has completely introduced such technology.

The RFID tags, thinner than 1mm, can be scanned by machines that likely will cost 1 million to 2 million yen ($9,216 to $18,432). Introducing the system to around 50,000 stores could spur investment of 50 billion to 100 billion yen.

These tags can hold product information such as the manufacturing date and location as well as expiration date. The information can be viewed remotely, letting producers check sales status in order to adjust production capacity and sales plans. Manufacturers could better match the demand in stores, minimizing product returns from shops and easing the workload of logistics companies. Consumers also could have online access to this product information.

The move is chiefly a means to cope with severe labor shortages in the distribution business. The ratio of job offers to job seekers for part-timers in retail was stuck at a high level of 2.8 in February. The five chain operators also are considering fully automated outlets with no staff.

As the tags currently cost 10-20 yen apiece, adoption could face a barrier at stores that handle merchandise selling for less than 100 yen. Consequently, the ministry will support technology development and the move toward mass production via subsidies and other means. The ministry will create a council for the technology this fiscal year, involving players such as convenience store operators, information technology companies, food makers and logistics businesses. 

(Nikkei)

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