The children will have fun playing with them. They play rock-paper-scissors. Shall we play with me? First, goo, then rock-paper-scissors!”
This reporter was easily defeated. His rock-paper-scissors opponent was a young female avatar projected on a large panel. Although we could not see her actual face, the staff talked to her from a distance in a friendly manner through her avatar.
The reporter visited “Green Lawson” in Kitaotsuka, Tokyo. The major convenience store “Lawson” opened this futuristic store on an experimental basis. Taiji Yoshida, manager of the company’s Business Development Department, explains, “This is a new type of store.
It is a new type of store. We have in mind the improvement of environmental issues by reducing food loss and plastic waste, the realization of an unconstrained working style in Avatar, and warm communication with customers. The store in Kitaotsuka opened in November 2010 and will be the first “Green Lawson” store. We are still in the verification stage, but we plan to gradually improve our services and increase the number of stores nationwide by 2013.
Food Waste Costs Cut in Half or Less
Green Lawson” is a completely different service from conventional convenience stores. The main measures are as follows.
To reduce food loss and plastic waste, frozen lunchboxes and food prepared in the store kitchens are used instead of room-temperature lunchboxes.
Avatar” system → allows people with disabilities such as childcare or physical handicaps to work remotely at any time of their choice.
The installation of refrigerated showcases with doors→Improved cold air leakage, resulting in significant energy savings. ……etc.
When you step into the store, you get the impression that it is more spacious than a conventional convenience store. Mr. Yoshida explains.
The aisles are more than 1.5 meters wide, and the sales floor space is about 1.5 times larger than that of the previous store, so customers will feel more space. We offer seven types of frozen bento boxes, including “Chicken Teriyaki Jyu,” which are priced at around 500 yen. By eliminating room-temperature bento boxes, food waste costs have been cut by more than half. We believe we can cut electricity costs by 30-40% with the introduction of showcases with doors.”
The real staff in the store are about two people who are mainly in charge of the kitchen. Avatars provide support for the self-checkout system. We interviewed a female staff member in her 40s who works through an avatar.
I work remotely from Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture. At first, some customers, especially the elderly, were not aware that avatars could speak and provide service. Now the customers are used to it and there are no major problems. The only problem is the occasional audio glitch. Children seem to enjoy the avatars as characters that speak freely.
It’s not all good.
Because of the self-checkout and avatars are the mainstay of the store, security measures are not perfect. Alcohol and cigarettes cannot be purchased without presenting a driver’s license. Some elderly people may find self-checkout a hassle. It remains to be seen whether “Green Lawson” can be established as a consistently profitable business model.
Economic journalist Takashi Matsuzaki explains.
The “Green Lawson” program is also intended to solve a problem facing the convenience store industry: the enormous amount of food waste. The cost of food disposal is enormous. Food waste is the responsibility of each store owner, and has been a major issue for the convenience store industry. The cost is so high that it is difficult for individual stores to make a profit. In recent years, major convenience store operators have been increasing the number of stores, but it has been difficult to find new owners who are willing to bear the burden.
Green Lawson” has created a stir in this problem. Rather than placing the burden of food loss on the owners, the challenge is to create new stores together. However, unmanned services such as self-checkout cannot be realized without the understanding of users. The key point is how much we can appeal the benefits to customers.
The store will be staffed by avatars ……, who will also play rock-paper-scissors-paper. In a few years, such convenience stores may become the norm.
Photographed by： Takayoshi Yamazaki