Green Lawson Japanese convenience store food konbini combini no staff avatar photos news

Strangely, this convenience store turns out to be surprisingly inconvenient…

Out of all the top Japanese convenience store chains, Lawson is perhaps the most willing to explore new avenues in branding, with its Lawson Store 100 sub chain being a prime example.

Now, though, the chain is pushing the envelope even further with a new sub-brand they’re calling “Green Lawson“. As you might expect, this Lawson is all about going green for the environment, and it’s currently in its experimental stage, having opened in only one location, in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward.

Ever since the branch opened in November, it’s been making news for its unique features. For starters, you won’t find any chilled or room temperature bento lunch meals displayed here — instead, the store only utilises frozen bentos, which are made to order for the customer in the in-store kitchen, to reduce food waste.

▼ The three-step mobile ordering process for a bento involves scanning a QR code, making a cashless payment, and then picking it up at the service counter.

The “earth-friendly” store, as Lawson describes it, doesn’t offer any plastic shopping bags or cutlery like other convenience store chains, and the shopping baskets are made of recycled plastic. The chain has also set up a “Food Drive” area where you can donate leftover food from home, and there’s a “Reuse Collection Box”, where customers are encouraged to drop off used paper bags so customers can reuse them again to carry their goods home.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the store is the absence of staff behind the counter. However, that’s not to say that customer service isn’t available — instead, it’s taken care of from a remote location, with approximately 30 people working from home in shifts to operate the in-store avatars.

▼ The system includes a display, a camera, and a microphone so that staff can serve customers remotely.

Not only does this solve the problem of labor shortages, it allows people of all ages and abilities to work when they otherwise might not be able to. Lawson hopes this levels the playing field when it comes to employment opportunities for people with disabilities and other handicaps such as advanced age and rural living.

▼ A new way to work at Lawson, where people are unshackled from traditional restrictions.

Mr Sato was keen to buy a pack of cigarettes when he popped by the store, so he made sure to follow the three-step guide to purchasing age-retricted items such as tobacco and alcohol.

▼ Pick up your product, take it to the self-checkout, and insert your driver’s license or My Number card into the machine reader to verify your age.

Being able to select the cigarettes he wanted suggested the purchasing process would run a whole lot more smoothly, as Mr Sato usually has to check the number on the pack he wants and then relay it to the clerk. This can cause some confusion for near-sighted folks who can’t see the small numbers on the display, which is usually behind staff at the counter.

▼ Here, though, the display is right in front of the counter, and Mr Sato was free to take whatever he wanted, without uttering a word.

After picking out his pack of cigarettes, Mr Sato scanned it at the self-checkout, as instructed. Then he went to insert his driver’s license into the machine reader, but that’s when this smooth and seemingly easy transaction took a bumpy turn.

The machine spat his license back out at him as an automated voice from the machine said: “Please reinsert the card.”

Mr Sato did as he was told, but his license was returned to him once again, with the instructions: “Please reinsert the card.”

Inserting it a third time, the card was rejected again, only this time the machine told him: “Wipe the card and reinsert it.”

Mr Sato began to sweat, wondering if he’d have to give up on his purchase, but then, the avatar on the counter sprang to life, making him jump as it said: “Please re-insert your driver’s license.”

Placed in a position where you’d expect a staff member to be, the avatar sounded friendly, and though Mr Sato had been a little intimidated by its all-seeing presence at first, he was now happy to head over and get some help with his purchase.

However, the interaction didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped, with the conversation going something like this:

Avatar: “Can you press the orange button?”

Mr Sato: “Eh? Orange? Where?”

Avatar: “It’s the orange button on the bottom right”

Mr Sato: “Orange? Where? ”

Mr Sato looked around the cash register, but there was no such thing as an orange button. He also began to feel tense because talking to the avatar made him feel a little self-conscious and uneasy, as he didn’t know where to look or where to direct his voice. Was he supposed to look into the camera? Or at the avatar?

If any other customers had been in the store, he would’ve felt even more embarrassed, with his problem being broadcast so publicly, and he strangely felt as if he was talking to himself, given that he was essentially talking to a screen.

In the end, Mr Sato had to use the call button he spotted, which called an actual member of staff to the store. He was glad to know there was someone around to physically help customers in a pinch — this is a test store, after all — but he was also a little embarrassed to find that the orange button he’d been looking so frantically for wasn’t an actual button but a touch button on the cash register screen.

However, the orange touch button had “purchase” written on it in Japanese so if the staff member behind the avatar had explained that a little more clearly they may not have had a problem. Still, it’s easy for misunderstandings to occur when interactions between staff and customer take place through a screen, so Mr Sato felt there may be room for improvement here.

Nonetheless, Green Lawson is an admirable initiative that Mr Sato hopes will expand to more locations in future. Once avatar operator mechanics evolve and the system is further improved, this style of convenience store has so many draw-points that it’s bound to catch on.

It’s certainly a bold step forward from floating hologram registers and robot stocking pilots, so the future of Japanese convenience stores is a bright one indeed!

Store information
Lawson Kita Otsuka 1-chome store (Green Lawson) / ローソン北大塚一丁目店(グリーンローソン)
Address: Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Kita Otsuka 1-13-4
Open 24 hours every day

Reference: Lawson
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