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FamilyMart taps Panasonic technology to beat staff shortage

Tokyo

JAPANESE convenience store chain FamilyMart said on Tuesday it was partnering with Panasonic Corp to incorporate a range of labour-saving technologies into its 24-hour stores which have struggled with a shrinking workforce.

Convenience stores in Japan are grappling with the tightest labour market in more than 40 years. "We are faced with a labour shortage, and the issue of 24-hour operations. There is no time to waste," FamilyMart president Takashi Sawada told reporters at the opening of the first store using Panasonic technology in Kanagawa, southwest of Tokyo.

The convenience store arm of retail group FamilyMart UNY Holdings said the changes will include advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to help stores re-stock more efficiently, as well as self check-out, digital displays and price tags.

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The companies did not announce terms of the deal, saying the scale of their partnership depended on whether the initial steps prove successful.

Rival Lawson Inc has also teamed up with Panasonic for self check-out services but such features have been slow to take off amid worries about dissatisfying customers accustomed to high levels of service.

The ubiquitous stores began expanding in the 1970s as their 24-hour format proved a perfect match with the country's dense population and long working hours.

They have become an essential part of modern Japan, offering everything from packaged bento lunches to ATM services. REUTERS