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Nobuko Kobayashi writes for Nikkei Asian Review

EY-Parthenon Partner Nobuko Kobayashi explores how Japanese convenience stores adapt to changing environments to stay relevant in the Nikkei Asian Review opinion piece “Japanese convenience stores need empathy and entrepreneurs to thrive.”

Taking Sayaka Murata’s novel Convenience Store Woman as an example, Nobuko explains the deeper meaning of convenience stores, or konbini, in Japanese culture.

Over time, the stores have extra value for their customers: “some older customers are known to drop in multiple times a day to a neighborhood konbini, often just to say hello to the store clerk they have befriended,” Nobuko writes in the article.

“The growth of the personal relationship over the faceless transactional one offers a hint about the way forward for convenience stores,” Nobuko says, though the konbini “suffer from outlet saturation, a labor crunch and the resulting stagnation of same-store growth.”

To create a valuable personal relationship with customers, store management must understand local needs and, thus, rely on feedback from franchisees. Nobuko says a new model of convenience store is emerging, and “a major upgrade in data analytic capabilities using artificial intelligence will be necessary to support the tailored operation, outlet by outlet.”

However, as artificial intelligence has its limits, “the store owner’s entrepreneurial insight and human touch need to act in combination with the digital capabilities at headquarters.”

Read the full article.