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News Navigator: Will convenience stores in Japan stop 24-hour operations?

This photo shows inside a convenience store in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. (Mainichi/Kengo Suga)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about changes in convenience stores' operating hours.

    Question: Are changes being made to convenience stores' operations?

    Answer: The relationship between convenience store headquarters, which provide the trade name and operational know-how, and their franchise stores has been worsening in recent years. A Japan Fair Trade Commission investigation found cases in which headquarters had refused negotiations with overworked franchise owners to shorten their business hours, along with cases in which franchisees were forced to buy items they didn't want. Eight major convenience store chain operators that were singled out over such problems submitted improvement plans to the Fair Trade Commission last November.

    Q: What were those improvement plans?

    A: The commission pointed out that the actions of headquarters in which they abuse their superior position to force disadvantageous measures onto franchisees "may violate the Antimonopoly Act." The chains' headquarters have admitted to being at fault, with Seven-Eleven Japan Co. stating that their employees lacked understanding in some areas, and proposed plans to boost dialogue with franchisees by educating their employees thoroughly so that they sincerely comply with requests for shorter business hours. The plans also include, when opening new stores, that they give consideration to existing franchise owners in the neighborhood.

    Q: What will change at stores?

    A: There's a possibility that the number of stores abandoning 24-hour operation will increase. As of December last year, some 900 of the around 20,000 7-Eleven stores across Japan had shortened their business hours -- about twice the figure seen in the same month in 2019 -- as headquarters have begun proactively allowing shorter store hours.

    Q: Will there be other changes?

    A: It looks like instances of "clearance sales," in which stores reduce the price of items that are near their expiration dates, will increase. Also, if headquarters stop forcing franchisees to buy unwanted items, profit losses caused by stores disposing of foods that are still edible will decrease. But at the same time, customers may face situations in the future where they can't find products they are looking for at convenience stores because shelves are unlikely to be filled with an abundance of items.

    (Japanese original by Hajime Nakatsugawa, Business News Department)

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