Lawson, one of Japan’s biggest convenience store chains, plans to tie up with Ryohin Keikaku to put MUJI-branded household products on its shelves. This is according to a report by the Nikkei newspaper. Lawson also plans to develop private-brand daily necessity goods in conjunction with MUJI.
Lawson and MUJI want to provide their customers with a more convenient way to buy daily necessities in bulk, as the coronavirus has changed how consumers shop. The long term changes in Japan’s demographics and population decline outside big cities also makes it less practical for major retailers, like MUJI, to open stores in mass. This means we may see other leading retailers follow the example of MUJI and Lawson to jointly develop products and to place them in smaller and more accessible retail settings.
What products will be available
Lawson plans to start selling MUJI products at three of its directly operated stores in Tokyo starting on June 17th. To start, these stores will offer selected MUJI products, including underwear, cosmetics, and stationary on special shelves, but Lawson has plans to offer as many 500 MUJI items at one of these stores, which currently stocks about 3,500 products. As for the rest of its 15,000 storefronts nationwide, Lawson will consider customer buying trends and the locations themselves as factors in whether to expand MUJI offerings.
The two companies also plan to jointly develop private brand products based on sales at Lawson stores. Examples of products being considered include eco-friendly detergents (sales of which have increased by 1.5 to 2-times due to the spread of the novel coronavirus) and nutritious pre-cooked foods packaged in retort pouches (which can be easily re-heated). The companies are also considering the development of Lawson storefronts where only private-brand products will be offered.
MUJI itself was born as the Seiyu supermarket chain’s private brand in 1980. It has since grown to 440 stores in Japan, and Ryohin Keikaku (the parent company of MUJI) has been supplying MUJI products to the Family Mart convenience store chain, but this contract was competed in January 2019.
How the coronavirus has changed people’s shopping habits in Japan
Due to the spread of the coronavirus and the government’s call for people to practice self-restraint in going out, retailers have seen a marked increase in the number of people buying food and daily necessities at convenience stores, especially in urban residential areas.
According to the Japan Franchise Chain Association, existing-store sales for Japan’s major seven convenience store chains fell 10.6% year-on-year to ¥778.1 billion in April, with the number of customers declining by 18.4%. However, the number of bulk purchases increased and the average unit price by customer increased by 9.5% year-on-year.
Throughout Japan, the number of convenience stores has grown to about 58,000 stores but this growth is occurring in the midst of a huge decline in the Japanese population. Consequently, convenience stores have to adjust to survive. For example, 7-Eleven (Japan’s largest convenience store chain) has just started a service that will allow customers to buy life insurance at its storefronts; and Family Mart is now offering more fruits and vegetables at its stores located in business districts.
Source: Nikkei newspaper, June 16, 2020 (in Japanese)
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