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Closing time? Japan's convenience stores pressed to end 24-7 model amid labor crunch

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By Ritsuko Ando

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69 Comments
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It was originally called 7-Eleven for a reason, those were the hours. Just go back to that

15 ( +25 / -10 )

Oh and have Sundays off

-9 ( +8 / -17 )

This will bring troubles for drivers particularly for truck drivers. In big cities they will lose places to park and get rest.

-4 ( +8 / -12 )

why, do the parking lots disappear?

14 ( +15 / -1 )

Spike in minimum wage?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Convenient stores are located along roads and have toilets. They can drink coffee and parking is free.

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

Can’t find staff?

Put up wages and they will come-obvious, no?

19 ( +21 / -2 )

All these big companies want to maximise profits every year, but want workers to accept minimum wages and long hours of hard work. Rise the wages, give better working conditions to workers (insurance, health care, permanent contracts.. to name a few) and they will come. And the franchisees usually struggle to reach profit because of the contract conditions.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

Employee older people, millions of them.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

How about self-serve pay as you go without a cashier counter?

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Spike in minimum wage?

yeah I was curious about that too

8 ( +8 / -0 )

This is funny on many levels. First the convenience corps bring in their own cheap brands which lessons the profit of the owner. If you can buy a 7/11 callabee bag of chips for ¥100, why buy the same name brand at ¥150?

Convienence stores are supposed to be more expensive because of its.....wait for it.....convenience. Half of the snack area is now like a ¥100 shop.

And my personal grip, it was great when they all decided to introduce fresh donut boxes, now gone. As usual, some of the donuts were pretty good, then those disappeared and were replaced by cheaper and smaller crap products until eventually people stopped buying them.

Same with many things, smaller and cheaper products. Quality and quantity reduced.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Is this a problem only of staff shortage or customer shortage as well? Have Japanese consumer habits changed?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

A store isn't very convenient if it's not open 24/7.

0 ( +10 / -10 )

Owners of convenient stores are mostly former owners of small stores - papas and mamas. They are almost gone in today's Japan. Big business offer systems, commodities and knowhows and probably lend money. The scheme is made the big companies never lose money. Owners are all responsible for the business. They are like slaves.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

First the convenience corps bring in their own cheap brands which lessons the profit of the owner. If you can buy a 7/11 callabee bag of chips for ¥100, why buy the same name brand at ¥150? Convienence stores are supposed to be more expensive because of its.....wait for it.....convenience. Half of the snack area is now like a ¥100 shop.

7/11 is the worst about this. I walk through their aisles desperately searching for something decent. Their own brand snacks are godawful and there is virtually nothing else left on the shelves anymore. I may not buy a lot of Kit Kats or Calbee to begin with but I'm not going to buy generic crap made of god knows what, sourced god knows where.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

The article outlines three problems that the industry is facing:

a) staff shortages.

b) a change in shopping habits (internet shopping).

c) over proliferation of stores.

A wage increase may resolve (a), but (b) and (c) require consolidation. Whether that means getting rid of the night shift in some cases, and closing stores in others, is for the industry to decide.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

A store isn't very convenient if it's not open 24/7.

Sure it is...in many countries convenience stores have no need to be open 24/7/.

I would imagine most of us are not prowling around at 3am looking to by snacks, cosmetic items and magazines. I know I certainly am not.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

In Japan they never bring up one very large factor.

The pay is in general, utter crap.

Theres a lack of youth in general looking to work all night for ¥5000 like in poorer countries.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Of course, who wants to toil away in the graveyard shift for a pittance?

This is the problem.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

A store isn't very convenient if it's not open 24/7.

24/7 is 'essential service' not 'convenience'. In Japan 24/7 might have been essential during the boom when people in the city centres were working ridiculous hours and retail staff got higher wages but that is no longer the case.

IMHO, now they (the head franchise) are only doing 24/7 to compete for dubious customer loyalty reasons, but of course it's a very assymetrical relationship between franchisor/franchisee, so it's dubious as to whether customers get any benefit out of it. When there's no benefit to customers, there's no remuneration for franchisee.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

You do have to admit that there are too many conbini stores everywhere, now we have too many of them there are 2 7-11 stores on my street within 100 m of each other and another 1/2 a km up my street, they’re starting to cannibalize each other this was move was really inevitable with that many stores. It was a ridiculous move in the first place. I want and love 24/7 service that’s why it’s called a “convenient store” but when you have a few hundred in a 4 km radius, it’s just overkill and eventually this kind of situation that’s happening will arise. Makes sense why you also see more and more foreigners wanting to work where a lot of Japanese don’t want to.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Agree that one problem is the pay. But the other problem, the elephant in the room, is the declining population due to lack of immigration.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

When I was a kid living in western Tokyo in the mid '70s, we had a 7-11 operating not too far from us. And it was not open 24 hours. It was, however, open on weekends and even during most holidays.

It seems to me that the underlying problem here is the lack of freedom for franchise operators. And the sheer arrogance of 7&i , who only care about their own pocketbook. They are shielded from the pains that franchise operators have to endure.

When corporations end up abusing those that they control, the usual end result is heavy government intervention. All it will take is for one franchise owner to die on the job or commit suicide and 7&i will find itself in the same situation as Dentsu.

Clearly, they need to rethink their policies and provide flexibility. For example, stipulate that all stores MUST be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but that franchisees can operate longer hours if they wish. And stipulate the days that stores must be open, but provide for exceptions based on weather / natural disasters and the like.

I am reminded of an old business model that we learned in business school: think global, act local. That is the sort of mindset that is needed here.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Makes sense why you also see more and more foreigners wanting to work where a lot of Japanese don’t want to.

It certainly does to the execs running these companies. They're desperate to maintain a source of cheap labor and continue to extract all the profits. As with blue collar Japan or the health care sector, this is why so much pressure has been brought to bear on the ruling government to welcome in foreign workers.

What's stunning to me is how consolidated retail has become in Japan just over the past decade or so. Ko-nan and Daiso are literally the most crowded places in my area as competitors have just been plowed under. Ditto AEON which has taken over Daiei and Izumiya.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

24/7 is for convenience.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Well, they got themselves to blame too. Around my place in one intersection alone there are 3 Family Marts. Three! One at each corner. Their business plan (Lawson, 711, Fam. Mar) is to open as many conbinis and dominate one specific area. Maybe fewer stores in one area?

And is Amazon Prime a real competitor to conbinis? I don't think I've ever thought getting toilet paper in Amazon in the fly over walking to the conbini.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

but when you have a few hundred in a 4 km radius

Same here. My guess is that 7/11 is in the real estate and loan bidness, not necessarily convenience stores.

But the other problem, the elephant in the room, is the declining population due to lack of immigration.

Why jump on the perpetual growth, immigration, globalist plan so easily? So many things can be done, if the JGovernment had the guts, to ease the high cost of raising children and daily life.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Now is the good time to optimize service to meet each area’s characteristics. Single standardized service across the nation will end.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Is internet shopping really to blame? I'm not buying my can of beer at 10 PM on amazon. The really problem here is that there is a shortage of staff. why? Because they only pay 960 yen an hour.

And my personal grip, it was great when they all decided to introduce fresh donut boxes, now gone. As usual, some of the donuts were pretty good, then those disappeared and were replaced by cheaper and smaller crap products until eventually people stopped buying them.

Oh this!!! This happens for many products. They make you happy with some new product and then when it becomes popular they redesign the package and the content changes to make it cheaper. Had it many times.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Why jump on the perpetual growth, immigration, globalist plan so easily? So many things can be done, if the JGovernment had the guts, to ease the high cost of raising children and daily life.

Yes that would help too, but Japan had a population decline of over a million people in the last 4 years. Lowering the cost of raising children isn't going to do much about that.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I love their (7/11) egg sandwich, hasn't change in taste or quality for me, been buying it for years.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Convenient stores have become like smart phones with many applications. They have bank ATMs, people can pay  utility fees, can get books ordered to Amazon etc. My problems living in a town of about 50,000 population is I cannot buy clothes and underwears unless I drive to a supermarket. Also bookstores disappeared.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Close 1am to 6am Sunday night to Thursday night. That strips 25 hours of time out that almost no one will notice and when they probably run at an hourly loss. Some will choose to remain open and they will get enough custom to run profitably during these hours.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The unique convenience of Japanese conbinis is that they stock everything you need in a hurry, are located in walking distance and stay open 24 hours. They should absolutely continue opening 24 hours. Don't change or customers won't be happy!

-13 ( +0 / -13 )

Once they stopped selling porn they lost all of their night customers.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Japan have relatively simple solution to the labor shortage problem. I am using the word simple because many countries have shown the correct way to do it. Provide practical childcare support so mothers can work, increase minimum wage, or increase immigration to replenish the decreasing labor. A better strategy would be have a multi-pronged approach. Yet somehow we keep seeing such articles very often without any serious action on part of the government.

I feel that government will realize ultimately that they have to do something real. But it might be too little too late by then.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

thepersoniamnowToday 07:55 am JSTIn Japan they never bring up one very large factor.

The pay is in general, utter crap.

Theres a lack of youth in general looking to work all night for ¥5000 like in poorer countries.

And who wants to work those hours for peanuts, and risk getting robbed or at least having to take lip from irate customers all the time?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

So tired of 7-Eleven. I hate the food there. They are everywhere leaving no space for new business owners. If your only choice of food was a bento from 7-Eleven you would feel depressed too. it's the same thing everyday unless you make your own bento or buy from a supermarket the night before. Supermarket shelves are usually bare at night unfortunately.

Embrace diversity and allow new types of shops and restaurants to offer something different for the people Abe. Rice, meat and pasta all the time just isn't healthy. That's literally all 7-Eleven has to offer besides the grease box near the register.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Give the franchise owners the decision to keep their stores open from 11pm-7am.

If franchise owners do keep their stores open 24 hours reduce the royalties they have to pay their parent corporation. This could free up money to pay their workers more, too.

In short make it financially worth the store owners' while. The corporations are making profits hand over fist as it is.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Vending machines? No staff required.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's interesting how a lack of workers will ultimately result in increased unemployment as many stores close their doors.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

automate with ROBOTS...

0 ( +3 / -3 )

24 hours shop is like being connected to the net. It became a norm though it did not exist such a long time ago. The new generation cannot get away without being connected, but 20 years ago mobile phone did not exist (oh it was just the start).

As for the conbinis, it became a norm to open 24 hours, but it was a time when this what not the case and people could really accommodate too. In my country, no convenient stores, and supermarkets do close quite early in my city, between 7 and 9pm. People adjust their schedule according to.

Here in Japan, it is convenient until the last train, but who goes in the middle of the night at 3am. For an urgency to get medicines maybe, or for alcohol. I used to go late just to buy alcohol, to get more drunk than what I was, but do not drink anymore.

Anyway, close the conbinis at night. Leave staff sleeping. Late opening is only useful in the busy districts of major cities.

And as for the strategy, all the 3 majors open of a lot of conbinies along roads to, to close some (quite a lot) of them a few years later if no benefits, after killing off the land/rice paddy that was there. It leaves the premise empty and most of them are not used anymore (some by dental practitioners or soft massage places).

3 ( +4 / -1 )

automate with ROBOTS...

I agree 100%. Problem is, at present, robots that are able to perform all functions of customer service are too expensive for conbini franchisors. Perhaps the national government can subsidise putting 1 robot in each store to work night shift with 1 human. This is the future when robot costs come down. It would also boost tourism, as foreign tourists flock to witness robots in use.

-12 ( +0 / -12 )

Don't let amazon in whatever you do

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

automate with ROBOTS

They already exist, they're called vending machines

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I would be disappointed, gutted frankly if my local Lawson or 7-Eleven were to abandon their 24-7 model.

Working sometimes irregular hours, I rely upon the practicality combined with a comprehensive product range. Particularly the hot food and fry's,

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hey, as long as they don't get rid of all the booze vending machines...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

sf2kToday 06:46 am JST

Oh and have Sundays off

Let's not get crazy. They used to do that nonsense in the US many years ago. It was so inconvenient for people, and business was so good for those that opened, that business owners were willing to pay the fines for opening on Sundays.

Eventually, the archaic laws were stricken, and stores could open legally. Such religion-based laws should never have been enacted in the first place, and would be doubtful in a country as secular as Japan.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

ghosthandToday 11:12 am JST

Don't let amazon in whatever you do

Too late. They're already in. The ¥3900 annual fee for Prime membership is the single best value in Japan, if only for the video and music. But, the free 1-2 day shipping plus designated delivery windows makes it hard to resist.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"The question is, how much demand is there for 24-hour service in an age when online shopping is expanding?"

Like I'm going to order a late night beer and bento on Amazon. Give me a break. Convince store are the only businesses in Japan that operate 24 hours. Without them, you would have no where to go to eat if you get off work late at night. Modern societies operate 24 hours. We need 24 services. They need to look into self checkout systems. That way they can reduce the staff to one person at night.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Give the franchise owners the decision to keep their stores open from 11pm-7am.

Yes, that is the surprisingly simple answer. As things stand, the corporation, who has no extra cost or burden from operating overnight and profits from the extra sales, is forcing it onto the franchise owner, usually a member of your local community, who loses money and/or has to overwork himself/herself to stay open.

I can't speak for anyone else but I'd be up for a selective boycott of each convenience store chain in turn until they change this policy.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My community will finish without a 24 hour store. Student visa workers can’t get 50hour jobs to support their families in Nepal. It is a stupid idea.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There are too many convenience stores and they're boring as heck. I hardly ever use them because they mostly sell the brands of beer I don't want to drink and I don't eat very much food from them.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I do not see on line shopping as a hit to convenience stores. After all people want these goods on the spot and not waiting for delivery.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Why doesn't the parent company just offer guidelines ( say , set the irreducable minimum work hours) and let the owners decide ?. Those who still want to go 24/7 do so and so on . I'd guess operating a store in a busy urban set up isn't the same as doing so in some remote / isolated place. The operators know what hours are best for them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Franchisors are greedy.

Japanese population is dwindling each year at a faster pace.

A business approach needs a local market study that surely shows in some areas that it is a financial loss for some nights (or all of them?), without even consideration of preliminary upfront payment to franchisor.

I was once amazed to see a combini open on my one km walk to office, just 100 m away from another.

It closed 5 or 6 months afterwards. Any 10 year old boy or girl could have guessed it was not going to get enough customers...

No young Japanese with more and more choice for jobs is going to accept low wages since they need higher wages to get a decent living to raise a family.

And if you want to kill Japan, bring immigrants for those useless jobs like Abe is asking for to keep wages lowest possible and earnings for the rich highest possible.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The monthly profits for the franchise owners, which are mostly couples, working very long hours, is an average of about ¥500,000 after everything is paid, including the staff. The wages of the staff are set by the franchise company and not the franchise owner, as are all the other conditions. Seems like a lot of hard work like 24/7 for not such a great return on the capital investment.

In our new location, in Tatsuno City, the streets are mostly empty after 9pm. Passing through traffic are the only overnight customers. There's one Lawson and one Seven Eleven in the hood.

They are important for the banking services, post office service, paying the bills. There's a single bank in our location. I think their ATM closes at 7pm. Even receiving parcels from Amazon or Rakuten.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

LDP policy to fix this:

1) Raise retirement age to 75.

2) Issue at least 500,000 "trainee" visas only to workers from Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

3) Reiterate the duty of women, to make babies.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I support this mainly because working all night is unhealthy from a public health point of view.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The monthly profits for the franchise owners, which are mostly couples, working very long hours, is an average of about ¥500,000 after everything is paid, including the staff.

There must be something missing in this statement, because if someone is willing to pay me 500,000 yen a month, and all I have to do is manage a store 24h and I even get to have subordinates to handle the grunt work and also to actually be on-watch so I don't have to myself, perhaps just snoozing not too far away ... sign me up.

I mean, look at what a (non-elite) civil servant makes:

https://kyuryobank.com/komuin/kokkakomuin2.html

It can be worse.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I mean, look at what a (non-elite) civil servant makes:

which is the salary for one person plus benefits like bonus, vacations, National Holiday, pension, health benefits. None of those apply to a self employed couple running a convenience store. The initial capital investment is ¥10 million plus.

I even get to have subordinates to handle the grunt work and also to actually be on-watch so I don't have to myself, perhaps just snoozing not too far away ... sign me up.

So what's stopping you? If you qualify you can apply for a franchise.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

simple rule of thumb, probably more than 80% of the items sold in combini can be dispensed through vending machines. the other 20% just sell during normal hours 7am to 11pm.

what is the real demand for postal, banking and bill paying functions from 12 midnite to 6am ?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Labor shortage is a myth. There is a shortage of people who are willing to work for the crap wages many companies offer. Japan will regret the day they passed the law allowing unskilled foreign workers. Just like in America, eventually these foreign (under paid) workers will suppress the wages of everyone. Importing workers is just a quick-fix to a long-term problem. All companies must seriously re-evaluate their business practices regarding personnel requirements. Been to a bank in Japan? There are always dozens of employees dancing around in the back office shuffling paper -- I could list dozens of human resource inefficiencies. I remember when JNR went private and they had to cut 15% (approx. 60,000 workers) and the system still works fine -- what the hell were those 60K people doing?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

In England we tried 24 hour pubs. They died a death pretty fast as no one used them. We went back to 11:00 - 23:00. I did like the convenience stores when I was in Japan but I very rarely used them after 22:30. If I did, it was only for a late night beer but that's because I knew they were open. If they weren't 24/7, I'd just buy more beers earlier. 06:00 - 23:30 would be fine for me as I always found 23:00 closing a little early. They don't need to be 24 hours.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The only time I may go out after midnight is when I have jet lag.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If someone is having a nightmare and suddenly wakes up at 2 am. He/She can go to nearby 7-11 and relax there with some beer and food.

Some people prefer working night shift to avoid populated and polluted daytime.

Missed 90s retro 7-11 fun time at night back in HK.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

If someone is having a nightmare and suddenly wakes up at 2 am. He/She can go to nearby 7-11 and relax there with some beer and food

Actually I can that right in my own kitchen without bothering to get dressed and go out.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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