Convenience stores in Japan turn to creative collaborations

Convenience stores in Japan turn to creative collaborations
A new Circle K Sunkus outlet with attached cafe in Chuo Ward, Tokyo. The convenience store area is seen to the left and the cafe space on the right.

Major convenience store operators have been launching more new ventures, including in-store cafes, and outlets operated in collaboration with companies from other industries. Tie-ups include a karaoke company and an agricultural cooperative.

These moves are aimed at attracting customers with unique offerings.

Since April this year, FamilyMart Co. has announced a series of collaborative projects with companies such as drugstores and a karaoke company. FamilyMart plans to increase the number of these joint outlets to 2,000 over the next five years.

In late July, FamilyMart and the Maido Ookini Shokudo restaurant will open an integrated restaurant and convenience store outlet in Tokyo. The facility will sell both FamilyMart's bento meals and the restaurant's prepared foods, and customers will be able to eat them in the shop. "We expect to see customers who eat dinner at the restaurant and then buy bread and milk for tomorrow's breakfast at the convenience store," a FamilyMart spokesperson said.

At the end of May, FamilyMart opened an outlet in Iyo, Ehime Prefecture, with a section showcasing locally produced vegetables, in cooperation with A-Coop supermarkets, which are operated by the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh).

Another convenience store operator, Circle K Sunkus Co., opened an outlet with an attached cafe in Tokyo last month. The cafe offers a different quality of sandwiches from those normally sold at its outlets and freshly brewed coffee of a better, and slightly more expensive grade than other outlets. The company plans to adopt popular products from the cafe for sale in its normal outlets.

These experiments have been prompted by the fierce competition among convenience stores to attract customers, with the number of major convenience stores having surpassed 50,000 in April.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co., the nation's largest convenience store operator, will cooperate with East Japan Railway Co. and Shikoku Railway Co. to open more outlets in train station buildings, because of the ability of such retail spaces to pull in more customers. Lawson Inc., meanwhile, is considering providing services in collaboration with Renaissance Inc., which operates fitness clubs and day care service centers for the elderly, with an eye on the aging society.

"Optimal convenience store locations have grown scarce. Under these circumstances, efforts by convenience stores to differentiate themselves from others by providing new services or opening outlets inside train station buildings will continue," an analyst at a major securities company said.

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