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Konbini Appear in Post Offices and Even a Police HQ (October 24, 2003)

Convenience stores offer a wide variety of goods and services. (Jiji)
It has been nearly 30 years since the convenience store distribution model was introduced to Japan from the United States. In that time, Japanese konbini, as the stores are known colloquially, have developed a vast array of services and have become a cornerstone of Japan's retail sector. An original Japanese business model has taken shape around these bastions of convenience, and this model is sure to evolve further as consumer expectations and tastes develop in the coming years.

Much More than Just a Shop
Japanese konbini today not only sell food and other everyday items but offer a huge range of services. At most stores, customers can pay their utility bills - water, electricity, gas, telephone, etc. - and book tickets for concerts and other events at the same time as they do their shopping. Another recent development is for stores to be fitted with ATMs, enabling them to fulfill many of the functions of a small bank.

The kinds of "convenience" consumers demand of konbini are constantly changing, and the Japanese convenience-store model developed as store operators made efforts to respond to these changes. As a result of this process, the konbini industry has grown into a medium for the distribution of a massive range of goods and services.

According to statistics, in fiscal 2001 (April 2001 to March 2002) there were 43 corporations operating chains of convenience stores in Japan. They had a total of 40,844 outlets, whose combined sales amounted to ¥7.14 trillion ($62 billion at ¥115 to the dollar). This compares to sales of ¥8.53 trillion ($74 billion) registered in the same year by department stores nationwide.

Tie-Ups with Partners in Other Sectors
One recent trend is for convenience stores to join forces with companies in other sectors. More and more gas stations, video rental stores, and others are teaming up with konbini operators to add a convenience store to their outlets. These firms are keen to take advantage of the ability of 24-hour convenience stores to attract customers.

Another manifestation of this trend was the opening in August of the first combined post office/convenience store in the Tokyo district of Yoyogi as a result of a tie-up between major konbini operator Lawson and Japan Post. The outlet is open 24 hours a day and enables customers to complete such tasks as buying stamps and sending parcels even after the usual post office closing time of 5:00 pm. In the daytime, the store allows people waiting for their turn at the post office to pass their time by listening to the latest CDs or reading electronic books. August also saw the opening of the second such outlet inside the Aobadai Post Office in Yokohama.

Japan Post Pursuing Efficiency
Postal services in Japan, which were for a long time run directly by the state, were placed under the auspices of the Postal Services Agency in the reorganization of central government undertaken in January 2001. This agency was replaced by Japan Post in April 2003. This process of reform was undertaken in line with one of the key goals of the central government reorganization, to reduce the role and increase the efficiency of state organizations. The government demands that Japan Post manage its operations efficiently, and the recent convenience store tie-up is one example of the organization's efforts to achieve this.

Meanwhile, in September 2002 a Family Mart convenience store opened inside the new headquarters of the Osaka Prefectural Police. Just like the police, the store operates 24 hours a day, and this has made it an instant hit among the hard-working officers of Osaka.

With convenience stores offering an ever increasing range of goods and services and sealing tie-ups with a variety of retail and other partners, Japan's konbini model is sure to continue developing as customer needs evolve.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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