Business / Tech

FamilyMart launches facial recognition checkouts at Yokohama outlet amid Japan's labor crunch

Kyodo

Major convenience store operator FamilyMart Co. on Tuesday introduced checkouts that use facial recognition technology as the company looks to make adjustments amid a nationwide labor shortage.

With the latest facial recognition and image analysis technologies developed by Panasonic Corp., customers at a newly opened store in Yokohama can register their photo and credit card information and then check out items using unmanned registers.

Customers simply need to place the items they want to purchase on a surface and cameras at the counter register both their face and the products. Their payment is processed when a passcode linked to the registered credit card is entered.

In the trial stage, around 1,000 customers will be given access to the system, all of them workers at nearby Panasonic factories.

“I am very excited to open this store with Panasonic’s latest technology. We may face some (technological) difficulties, but we must overcome them,” FamilyMart President Takashi Sawada told reporters.

Panasonic, which operates the FamilyMart store as a franchisee, has dispatched an official to serve as the store’s senior manager in order to keep a close eye on the new system. The hope is that the store will be able to effectively operate with a smaller than usual crew.

A FamilyMart official said the company would like to introduce the facial recognition system in other stores in Japan if the trial proves successful.

Amid a declining population, major convenience store operators have suffered from labor shortages and have struggled to maintain around-the-clock services.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. joined with NEC Corp. to begin a similar experiment using facial recognition tech in December at a Tokyo outlet, with eligible customers restricted to employees of NEC.

Lawson Inc. said Friday it will try operating two unmanned stores overnight from July. Customers will be able to use self-checkout machines and a smartphone app to scan product barcodes.

Company sources also said Monday that Lawson will introduce self-checkout systems at all its 14,000 stores nationwide by October.

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