• Kyodo, Staff Report


Convenience store operator FamilyMart Co. has said it will allow its franchise owners across Japan to shorten operating hours from March, in a bid to address a severe labor shortage during late-night hours.

Under the new policy, which will cover nearly 16,000 stores, franchise owners will be able to shut down for part or all of the period from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. if they notify the headquarters in advance.

“It is up to each of our franchise owners to make a decision” to end 24-hour operations, said Takashi Sawada, president of the company, at a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday.

Store owners who want to cut operating hours would be able to choose to do so either every day or only on Sundays, according to firm, which is Japan’s second-largest convenience store operator based on number of outlets.

FamilyMart will also raise its monthly incentive to ¥120,000 ($1,100) from ¥100,000 for stores that maintain around-the-clock operations.

The timing of the announcement coincides with a Friday hearing on FamilyMart and Seven-Eleven Japan Co. by a panel under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is discussing how convenience store operators should adjust their operations to the changing business environment.

The move also came after Seven-Eleven Japan started cutting operating hours at eight stores this month as part of its own efforts to mitigate labor shortage.

“We want to support shop owners as much as possible, as it is a fact that some shops are suffering from a labor shortage, rising labor costs and low profitability,” Sawada said. “We have to speed up our support for our outlets as quickly as possible.”

FamilyMart Co. said it didn’t know how many stores would make use of the new policy on operating hours.

The firm started a trial of shorter open hours in June that now includes more than 600 outlets in designated areas, but decided to expand the policy nationwide before studying the trial’s results in more detail.

Further information on the new business policy will be provided by March, the company said. About 7,000 outlets — nearly half of all FamilyMart stores in Japan — have said they are interested in reducing operating hours, according to a company survey conducted in June.

FamilyMart also said it would start a voluntary early retirement program to reduce its head count by 800, equivalent to 10 percent of total personnel working at franchises, by February as part of its restructuring efforts.

Lawson Inc., the nation’s third-largest convenience store operator, does not require its franchise owners to open 24 hours, and has about 100 outlets that close for some period during the day.

At its own hearing with the ministry’s panel on Tuesday, Lawson also said that it aims to launch a store without cash registers, to be called Lawson Go, sometime next year.

By removing cash registers, Lawson is hoping to eliminate some of the work for employees. The firm intends to use smartphones and face-recognition systems for payment, and is planning to develop robots to stock shelves and cook food at the stores.

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