On April 1, FamilyMart opened a new branch inside the Sapita Tower building, near Tokyo Station. Inside, you’ll see the sort of food and beverages you’d expect in a Japanese convenience store, but what you won’t see are any employees at the registers.
That’s because the shopping transactions are all done through a slick, unmanned system. The store, technically part of the slightly fancier Famima sub-brand, is located on the first floor, so we stopped by to check it out for ourselves.
One difference you’ll notice right off the bat is that there’s a gate you pass through when entering the shop. As we stepped through, a recorded voice called out “Irasshaimase!”, the standard greeting shopkeepers in Japan give to customers.
▼ There’s also a sign explaining the purchasing process, so that you don’t end up waiting in front of the register for a clerk who’s never going to come.
Once inside, the shelves look they would at any other Family Mart branch, with bento boxed lunches, onigiri rice balls, and bottles of coffee and tea.
The total selection isn’t quite as wide as it is at some FamilyMarts, but considering the compact floor space, that only makes sense. We noticed that no books or magazines are sold, but you can still get toiletries and face masks.
There actually is one FamilyMart employee on the premises, but just for shelf-stocking and customer inquiries. We knew this ahead of time, so we weren’t startled when we walked up to the register with our pouch of drinkable Morinaga In Protein gelatin and no human cashier was present. What did startle us, though, is that we didn’t have to scan anything. The terminal already knew what we had in our hand to buy, and it made an electronic peep to draw our attention to the screen, where the total amount to be paid was displayed.
You can pay with an IC e-money card, credit card, or, if you want to mix high and low-tech, cash.
▼ We’re not sure what payment is “coming soon,” though. Gold bars? Edo period-style koban coins? An AI-administered barter system?
Oh, and by the way, there’s also a gate you have to pass through in order to leave the store, and if you have an unpaid bill, it won’t open up until you settle your account.
So far, this is Family Mart’s only unmanned-purchase store in Japan, but now that the technology is possible, odds are we’ll be seeing more in the near future, maybe in conjunction with their remote-controlled VR robot program.
Famima (Sapia Tower branch) / ファミマ（サピアタワー店）
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-7-12, Sapia Tower 1st floor
Open 7 a.m.-11 p.m.
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