Major convenience store chain Lawson Inc. said Friday it will experiment with leaving stores unmanned late at night amid growing calls to modify the industry’s round-the-clock operations to cope with the national labor shortage.
The trial will last a few months starting this summer with two Lawsons being run as self-service stores from midnight to 5 a.m. Lawson has yet to select the outlets.
Customers will be able to unlock the doors with a smartphone app during the unmanned hours and make purchases via self-service checkout machines or by scanning products’ barcodes with their smartphones.
Although an employee will initially be available to provide assistance with system glitches and tidy up, the stores will eventually run completely without staff.
As a precaution, Lawson will increase the number of security cameras in the two stores and make items like cigarettes, alcohol, and postage stamps unavailable during the unmanned hours, the company said.
As of December, Lawson had 14,574 stores in Japan and 2,165 abroad, mostly in China.
Japan’s graying population and low birthrate is leading to acute labor shortages in many industries.
Convenience stores, which have become an important part of the nation’s social infrastructure, have also been affected, prompting the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry to urge the nation’s top four chains to come up with measures to address the discontent among their struggling franchisees.
Earlier this month, Seven-Eleven Japan Co. began testing shorter operating hours at 10 stores in Tokyo to gauge the impact on sales and consumer traffic after a franchise owner in Osaka began closing his store overnight due to lack of staff.