A Convenient Truth

November 14th, 2008 | Sources: Washington Post

The convenience store is a fixture of Americana. There are 150,000 of them in the US, and collectively they do $577 billion in annual sales. That’s 4% of our gross domestic product.

But the truth is Japanese convenience stores are more convenient.

You can’t buy 900 calorie soft drinks or roller grilled hot dogs at Japanese convenience stores, but you can buy hot soup, cold beer, french fries, fresh sushi and fresh pastries. Fresh food is available because delivery trucks stop up to 10 times per day to drop off new stuff and cart off perishables that haven’t sold fast enough.

And the toilets are spotless.

Oh, and you can book concert tickets or airline tickets, order home appliances, sign up for driver’s education, change diapers, pay taxes, or pay bills at Japanese convenience stores.  Japanese people paid $80 billion worth of bills this way last year.

Not yet convinced? You can drop off luggage for your next shinkansen ride and get this, you can park your baby stroller at the small indoor play area next to a bar that serves vodka coolers.

“For mothers to maybe have a sip of alcohol while children play is, I think, welcome,” Kazuo Kimera told the Washington Post. She works for Lawson Inc, which operates 8,600 convenience stores in Japan.

Lawson’s also caters to Japan’s aging population by carrying false teeth cleansers, gravesite adornments, hair dyes and so forth. They’ve widened the aisles and enlarged the print on signage. Most stores have blood-pressure machines and lounge chairs as well.

At FamilyMart, another ubiquitous Japanese convenience store, you can arrange for someone to clean your home, and at a Japanese 7-Eleven you can drop off your laundry.

Japanese convenience stores also coordinate with the government to distribute water and other emergency supplies after natural disasters like earthquakes. And they are viewed as places of refuge where victims of physical abuse can wait for the police. Last year 40,000 Japanese used convenience stores for this purpose.

Convenience stores aren’t exportable thank heavens, but the concept of a more convenient convenience store is. Hmmm…


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