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Japan’s Convenience Store Operators Aim for Efficient Logistics

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A driver delivers items to a Lawson convenience store in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, on June 7.

Convenience store operators are taking steps to address upcoming logistics issues as the work style reform law will be implemented next year. Among the law’s reforms are measures to cap truck drivers’ long working hours.

The three major convenience store operators in Japan are focusing on improving efficiency by reducing the number of deliveries for their core products, such as rice balls and bento boxed meals.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is reducing the frequency of deliveries for those daily food items delivered to stores on a daily basis. The number of deliveries has been reduced from four times a day to three times daily. Additionally, late-night deliveries of these food items have been consolidated with trucks transporting food at room temperature, such as bread and pastries, resulting in reduced working hours for drivers and employees involved with sorting goods.

In autumn, franchises will experience a change in the delivery schedule for processed foods, such as instant noodles and confectioneries, shifting from same-day delivery to next-day delivery.

“Improvements in demand forecasting accuracy using AI ensure that product shortages are avoided even with next-day delivery,” said a Seven-Eleven Japan spokesperson.

Similarly, Lawson, Inc. is reducing the frequency of deliveries for bento boxed meals and side dishes to their stores, transitioning from three times a day to twice daily. This system has already been implemented in some regions and the company plans to expand it nationwide.

Additionally, Lawson is actively focusing on developing frozen boxed meals that have an extended shelf life.

Since autumn last year, FamilyMart Co. has been utilizing AI to optimize delivery routes, streamlining operations.

The major operators have implemented the market dominance strategy to open their stores en masse in an area to make them nearby and convenient to the people of that area. This strategy has helped enhance the stores’ visibility in the chosen community and improved delivery efficiency. The operators have been dedicated to devising a strategy for minimizing shortages of items on offer by efficiently transporting products from food factories and warehouses to these stores.

The chronic labor shortage in the transportation industry could be exacerbated by the reform law. Nomura Research Institute, for example, estimates that about 35% of the nation’s cargo will not be able to be transported in 2030. Convenience stores would be facing more serious logistics problems in rural areas, where the population is smaller and stores are farther apart from each other.

In 2020, the three major convenience store operators conducted a joint delivery experiment in which they used the same trucks to deliver products to their respective stores. Products were transported from their own facilities to a distribution center in Tokyo, reloaded onto a joint delivery truck, and delivered to their own nearby stores. Cooperation across companies and industries is essential to solving upcoming logistics problems.

Yoshinoya Holdings Co., which operates the beef bowl chain Yoshinoya, is rehiring as delivery truck drivers its employees who have reached retirement age.

In January, the company began a trial in Osaka Prefecture, delivering food from its distribution center to its stores. The company currently has one truck in operation but looks to increase the number of trucks by the end of the year.

“Convenience stores are small and have small warehouses called backyards, so deliveries of items used to be frequent,” said Yutaka Suzuki of the Distribution Economics Institute of Japan. “If delivery frequency is reduced, product selection could change.”