Business

METI panel calls for flexible hours at Japan's convenience stores

JIJI, Kyodo, Staff Report

A panel of experts under the industry ministry published a draft report Monday recommending that major convenience store chains allow stores to have flexible operations amid a severe labor shortage.

The draft report said major chains should review their around-the-clock operations due to a changing business environment and shift in customer demand.

Store owners should be allowed to institute flexible hours depending on their circumstances, the draft said. Currently, stores are more or less required to stay open even during the New Year’s holiday period.

The introduction of cashless payments and self-checkout services were also suggested in the draft as ways to deal with labor shortages. It also called on chains to develop new businesses using customer data.

The draft also urged major chains to enhance the role of convenience stores as hubs for public services, including addressing the needs of an aging society and considering the roles of convenience stores in times of disaster.

Meanwhile, the draft report pointed out that burdens on chains and stores have been increasing due to the variety of services that they offer, such as utility bill payments.

Fees should be collected from customers for these services, the draft said, calling on chains and stores to consider the possibility of raising fees.

The panel began its discussions in late June amid rising tensions between major chains and stores over long working hours. It drew up the report after listening to opinions from both sides.

The panel, headed by Motoshige Ito, a professor at Gakushuin University, is set to finalize the report in January. The report will not be legally binding but is likely to prompt major chains to reform store operations.

Amid the serious labor shortages, major convenience chains have shown signs of shifting their operations. In October, Seven-Eleven Japan Co., which runs about 21,000 stores in the nation, announced that it was ending 24-hour operations at some outlets.

Eight stores began cutting back on their operating hours on Nov. 1 because they were finding it increasingly difficult to staff the night shift, the company said.

The company reportedly said the number of shops cutting hours is expected to increase to 75 in January.