• Kyodo

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Faced with a severe labor shortage and grappling with heavy workloads amid a surge in online shopping, courier companies are teaming up with convenience stores to distribute parcels and relieve some of the burden on drivers.

In April, Yamato Transport Co., which runs the country’s largest door-to-door delivery service, began installing lockers at 30 Seven-Eleven convenience stores in Tokyo. Busy recipients can register online to have packages delivered to the lockers, then pick them up at their leisure.

The aim is to reduce the need for delivery workers to make repeated visits until they find the recipient at home.

Government data show that nearly 20 percent of packages were not delivered on the first attempt, a huge burden on delivery services that have seen workloads skyrocket as online retail sites such as Amazon.com gain popularity.

The number of packages Yamato handled in fiscal 2016 reached a record 1.87 billion, up 7.9 percent from the previous year. The figure has soared 59 percent over the past 10 years.

The issue came into sharp focus last year when Yamato took heat for failing to pay delivery workers for overtime hours. The company said it will hire 9,200 more workers this fiscal year and raise fees, and that it is considering doing away with same-day deliveries for clients including Amazon.

Facing a similar labor shortage, Japan Post Co. started a trial program in April incentivizing people to retrieve packages at post offices and convenience stores by handing out points usable as store credit.

The former state-run postal service said the program will run through September, but may continue past that if it helps cut down workloads.

Government data released Tuesday confirmed a labor shortage in the industry, with new job offers in transport and postal services increasing 8.3 percent in April compared to a year earlier, up for the sixth straight month.

Meanwhile, convenience stores are also looking for help from couriers in reaching more consumers.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. said in April it is partnering with trucking firm Seino Holdings Co. to deliver lunch boxes and other products to homes, a service gaining in popularity as Japan’s population ages and becomes less willing or less able to visit stores.

Rival convenience store chain Lawson Inc. has worked with SG Holdings Co., parent of parcel delivery firm Sagawa Express Co., since 2015 to deliver products such as ready-to-eat dishes.

“We’re entering an age where companies won’t be able to survive without partners in other industries,” said Hisashi Yamada, chief economist at the Japan Research Institute. “With the current labor shortage, this trend will only gain momentum.”

However, some worry that such collaborations between delivery service providers and convenience stores could lead to problems of their own.

Being a convenience store clerk used to mostly entail ringing up purchases and managing inventory, but the job has become more demanding as chains now handle various services including serving food products that are cooked in-store, issuing tickets for concerts and sporting events, and processing utilities payments. Adding parcel pick-ups to the list would increase the workload.

“(Our staff) may not be able to handle it,” said an official at a major convenience store chain.

Couriers say they are not worried about deliveries of convenience store products becoming an extra burden on workers because they are hiring additional staff. But hiring could become more difficult as demand increases and more competitors enter the fray by joining up with convenience stores.

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