No More Cashiers! How Japan Is Leading the Charge Into a Workerless Future

Japan is seeing a boom in cashierless retail stores, often called “unmanned shops”, as retailers look to cut labor costs amid worker shortages and inflationary pressures.

Major convenience store chain FamilyMart announced plans to open 1,000 cashierless locations by the end of 2024. The stores will use artificial intelligence, sensors and cameras to track customers’ purchases so they can simply walk out without having to stop at a register.

FamilyMart isn’t alone. Cosmetics company Orbis opened its first unmanned store in Tokyo, while bookseller Hontasu launched a cashierless outlet at a metro station.

Illustration of a Japanese woman, young adult with long black hair, in a modern, cashierless store similar to Amazon Go. She is reaching out to grab a bottle of perfume from a shelf. The store is sleek and high-tech, with digital displays and sensor-equipped shelves. In the background, there's a cashierless exit area, equipped with automatic gates and numerous overhead cameras and sensors, indicating a high-tech, seamless checkout process. The environment is bright and clean, with an air of luxury and convenience.

The trend started before the pandemic but accelerated as retailers sought contactless options. Now, the technology is being embraced as a solution to Japan’s shrinking labor force and rising labor costs.

Japan’s working-age population is projected to fall to 45 million by 2070, down from 75 million in 2020. With many sectors struggling to find workers, automation provides a way to operate shops efficiently without large payrolls.

Still, the rise of unmanned stores does raise concerns about potential job losses in retail. While cutting labor costs is a benefit for companies, it comes at the expense of cashier jobs.

Consumer response has been somewhat mixed. Some appreciate being able to shop without interacting with staff, while others miss the human touch. As the technology improves, cashierless stores seem poised to become a growing facet of retail in cost-conscious Japan. But their effects on employment remain to be seen.

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