Entirely unstaffed convenience stores have become a realistic possibility in Japan after the country’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced the success of a pilot project that involved many of Japan’s leading retailers.

METI launched the pilot in 2017 as one way to address labour shortages and cost increases caused by Japan’s ageing population and long-term declining birth rate, which has affected the retail sector in particular.

The “convenience store of the future” project also aimed to reduce the burden on in-store staff created by supply chain issues, ranging from traceability and authenticity to wastage and returns, The Drum reported.

After successful trials – in which 7-Eleven Japan, FamilyMart, Lawson, Ministop, JR East Retail and the Japan Association of Chain Drug Stores all participated – the Japanese government is now aiming to have a full rollout of tech-empowered, unstaffed convenience stores by 2025.

The successful trial saw three convenience stories fit radio frequency identity (RFID) tags to products in order to improve the monitoring of item-level inventory.

Based on RFID technology called “WaveSave” that was developed by Avery Dennison, the US-based specialist labelling firm, the pilot enabled consumers to pay for their basket of goods automatically on leaving the store.

Their in-store experience was enhanced also by the RFID readers identifying items approaching their ‘best by’ or ‘use by’ date and offering discounts to buyers of those items, as well as additional product information presented via digital shelf signage. In addition, it is expected that the RFID rollout will improve advertising optimisation.

“The impact of declining birth rate is a long-term challenge being felt across all industries and areas of society in Japan. Identifying and developing solutions to long-term challenges requires long-term investment,” said Francisco Melo, vice president and general manager of global RFID at Avery Dennison.

“By combining our materials science expertise and knowledge of RFID technology over the past ten years, we have been able to develop WaveSafe to meet the needs of the food industry.”

Sourced from The Drum; additional content by WARC staff