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Convenience stores have long been known for spotting the latest demographic and consumer trends and turning a hefty profit from them. Now they are focusing their attention on the burgeoning elderly population.

Some stores have set up spaces for their older customers to take a load off their feet. Others have taken a page from the past, making the rounds in the neighborhood to take orders from those for whom a trip to the store is an ordeal.

One Lawson Inc. outlet in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, recently underwent a face-lift and reopened in July. It now sells sweets, health food and hearing aid batteries tailored to the needs of older customers.

The store also has a lounge with massage chairs where they can take a break.

Customer traffic has doubled and daily sales have gone up by 20 percent to 30 percent since it reopened.

“(We) will change our stores to conform to (areas) where they are located,” said Lawson President Takeshi Niinami. “(If we) do that the market for convenience stores will keep expanding.”

Lawson did its homework with the Awaji shop, where nearly 27 percent of the population is 65 or older, according to the 2000 census.

Tadahiro Tanaka, who owns a Seven-Eleven Japan Co. franchise, calls on senior citizens in the neighborhood in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, and takes their orders.

A typical customer is Tatsuo Suzuki, 72 who takes delivery from Tanaka of a “bento” boxed lunch and bread, and places an order for his next meal.

Seven-Eleven’s delivery service is popular with elderly customers who have trouble going shopping and making it back home with a load of groceries. For Seven-Eleven, which is known for using technology to squeeze costs, the service seems like a throwback to the days with small retailers called on their customers to take orders. But it likes the results, saying sales are up sharply.

The small Foodiam supermarket in Setagaya Ward run by Daiei Inc. is popular with elderly customers, who are frequent buyers of its precooked food items.

Homemakers who work as part-timers at the store are there to make customers feel welcome. It raises personnel costs a bit, said Hiroshi Ito, manager of the shop. “(But) what is important is that (our staff) becomes familiar with our customers.”

As they grapple with the decline of urban districts, local governments are looking to convenience stores to provide a place for people to socialize. The strategy of convenience stores to be closely in touch with residents will likely help regional governments, which have seen urban districts hollow out with consumers shifting to large stores and shopping centers on the outskirts of cities.

The municipal government of Toyama said it is happy that convenience stores are coming to the heart of the city. It has been grappling with the problem of increasing the population in the urban center.

An official said the city welcomes a rise in the number of convenience stores because residents cannot buy fish and vegetables nearby.

Tomoyuki Koya, senior researcher at the Japan Research Institute, sees this gray market as the remaining growth market. But he said, “The problem is that the scale of the market for the elderly in a local area is small and whether it is economically viable or not.”

Further changes such as developing new goods will be necessary, he said.

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