East Japan Railway Co. will accelerate plans to open 100 unmanned convenience stores within the next four years, sources close to the matter said Tuesday, as it takes advantage of the need to reduce human contact amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The company’s first unmanned convenience store began operation in March at Takanawa Gateway Station, which opened earlier that month as the first new stop on Tokyo’s Yamanote loop line in nearly 50 years.
Utilizing a system developed by Touch To Go Co., a joint-venture company of JR East, stores have around 50 cameras installed inside to identify every item customers pick up.
Cash registers are unnecessary as customers can checkout simply by tapping their IC cards, such as a Suica commuter pass, as they pass through the exit.
The system will be introduced at NewDays and other convenience stores affiliated with JR East, as well as in small stores operated by external companies in the future.
Although workers will be needed to restock shelves and change window displays, the vast reduction in labor costs is a major selling point of the system, which may also address the labor shortage in regional areas.
With no need for money to exchange hands, unmanned stores are also expected to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection.
“Inquiries increased more than expected,” said Touch To Go President Tomoki Akutsu, who is now ramping up the company’s business operations faster than initially planned.
In addition to unmanned convenience stores, the company is developing a system that can automatically limit the number of visitors allowed entry at hospitals and commercial buildings.