You’ve probably heard or seen these convenience stores (konbini) in a drama or a Japanese film, sometimes in a video game. Perhaps even unwittingly, but this is a concept so inseparable from Japan that we had to describe it in a dedicated post. The term konbini (or combini) is an apocope as the Japanese language likes them, taken from the English expression “convenience store”. Open 24/7/365, they simply don’t close a single minute in the year. Yes, even during Golden Week. The phenomenon landed in Japan during the late ’60s. Today, there are more than 50,000 konbinis in Japan, which is about 1 per 2,500 inhabitants! These convenience stores are everywhere, especially in large cities, especially Tokyo, where there’s one in almost every street corner! The Japanese go to konbini on a daily basis. Among the largest chains, include: Lawson, Seven Eleven, AM PM, Family Mart, Heart In, or Ministop. But there are many more of these franchises.
Products sold in konbinis
So what can we buy at a konbini? Food of course: salty, sweet, frozen, and the sales champion: bento (it’s a meal tray with rice, sushi and/or meat… which the Japanese particularly enjoy at lunch). There are of course also drinks: water, milk, fruit juice, sometimes alcohol, heated cans of coffee, tea or cocoa milk. Hot water and microwave ovens are usually placed behind the counter, respectively, to prepare cup noodles and rice… The food products are generally slightly more expensive than in supermarkets.
But konbinis aren’t limited to selling food. They offer a lot of other services, such as selling magazines, stationery, tobacco and cigarettes, or even the best-selling manga and video games. In addition to the stamps, it’s also possible to send letters and parcels, which is extremely convenient because Japan Post often close at 4 or 5PM. Konbinis also offer basic medicines such as aspirin or painkillers, band-aids, but also toiletries and cosmetics. You can make photocopies, send faxes. Touch screens help you order movie tickets and concert tickets. Even better, these terminals offer to pay bills: water, electricity, gas, internet service provider, telephone and from other administrative services. Finally, note the presence of an 24/7 ATM (as convenient as postage, for the same reasons), the ability to print digital photos or to recharge a mobile phone credit.
Why konbini is indispensable in Japan
One of the key points of konbinis’ success: the sale implantation system. Generally, premises are 100 to 200 square meters at most, and the storage room is not huge. Managers must therefore work with very specific and precise stocks. To manage this difficulty, the system is set up to retrieve information about consumers at the checkout: a part is automatic (time of purchase, barcode of the product and its price) and the other filled by the cashier (age of the consumer, sex). This information is transmitted directly to the headquarters of the franchise, which define precise statistics on consumption patterns according to the outlets, and can efficiently dispatch necessary products, at the exact moment they’re needed. Deliveries are nearly automated and stocking shelves filled with products highly relevant to the data collected.
The staff is young (students seeking to finance college, or looking for a better job) or seniors (retirees looking for an activity and / or a financial supplement to their pension).