Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is ending 24-hour operations at some outlets, becoming the first major convenience store operator to scale back around-the-clock hours to address Japan’s labor crunch.
Eight stores will begin cutting back on their operating hours on Nov. 1, because they are finding it increasingly difficult to staff the night shift, the company said Monday.
Additional stores may also shorten their operating hours, joining some 200 outlets, out of a total of 21,000 nationwide, that are currently trying out shorter hours on a trial basis.
“We will talk with shop owners in line with our new guidelines. They will make a final decision” on whether to shorten operating hours, Seven-Eleven Japan President Fumihiko Nagamatsu said at a news conference.
Japan’s biggest convenience store operator by number of outlets introduced the 24-hour business in 1975.
Around-the-clock operations improve efficiency by allowing shelves to be restocked during late-night hours, Seven-Eleven Japan said. It decided to try out shorter operating hours after a franchise owner in Osaka Prefecture stirred up controversy when he said he had to cut business hours at his store, without getting approval from Seven-Eleven Japan, because he couldn’t find enough people willing to work there.
Among other major convenience store chains, FamilyMart Co. said 612 stores, or 3.7 percent of its overall franchise outlets, are trying out shorter hours on a trial basis.
A FamilyMart spokesman said the company will decide whether to end its 24-hour operations after the trial period.
Lawson Inc. said about 100 of its stores have stopped operating overnight. Unlike Seven-Eleven, Lawson’s contracts with franchise owners do not require that they are open 24 hours a day. Still, to mitigate the labor shortage, the company has decided to temporarily close about 100 outlets this New Year’s Day to give its workers a break on the national holiday.
Labor scarcity poses a serious threat to other industries, including restaurants, construction and nursing care, as Japan’s population rapidly grays.
The workforce is projected to drop 20 percent in 2040 from 2017 levels due to the overall population decline, but that could be mitigated by more women and elderly people joining the workforce, a government study showed earlier this year.
The government started a new visa system in April to bring in more foreign workers to help industries struggling to find staff.