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Japan: FamilyMart prepares to launch unmanned minimarket

Thousands of automated digitally managed shops using artificial intelligence

By the end of fiscal 2024, the FamilyMart convenience store chain will open approximately 1,000 unmanned stores in Japan. Faced with the demographic decline of the country and the consequent shortage of manpower, more and more companies are moving towards a simplification of management thanks to the use of digital technology.

In June 2020, in response to repeated requests from groups of retailers, the Japanese ministry of health and labor announced changes to some rules on food hygiene. While previously in the establishments in which pre-cooked dishes are sold, the presence of permanent staff on site was required, now the sanitation checks can be carried out by inspectors who will go to the shops for periodic checks.

FamilyMart will use AI-equipped ceiling cameras, as well as shelf weight sensors, to monitor which products the customer removes. After that it is sufficient for the customer to stand in front of a payment terminal for the product names and prices to be displayed on a monitor and the payment, electronic or in cash, can be made. This system also eliminates the need to read barcodes and makes shoplifting more difficult.

The large-scale expansion was decided following the success of a pilot store of 50 square meters, opened in Tokyo in July, in which the proper functioning of the system was ascertained in the simultaneous presence of about 10 customers. Around 50 cameras were used in the store to monitor the 750 items on offer. The opening of an automated shop involves higher costs of about 20% compared to a traditional one. Labor costs, however, are considerably reduced as the presence of personnel is only necessary for the receipt and storage of the goods.

FamilyMart, a Japanese convenience store franchise chain, the second largest in Japan, has about 16,000 stores throughout the country and on average opens 200 to 500 new stores every year. From now on, the new stores will be largely unmanned. In Japan, there are over 50,000 stores in this category (conbini). Ice from Tokyo reports it today on Nikkei Asian Review source.

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EFA News - European Food Agency