Japan’s first avatar-staffed convenience store opens in central Tokyo
Stars and Stripes December 15, 2022
Digital avatars greet customers at a near futuristic prototype shop opened recently in Tokyo by one of Japan’s largest convenience store franchises.
Lawson’s opened a “Green Lawson” for a trial run in November in the Toshima ward, a four-minute walk from the Otsuka Station on the JR Yamanote Line. The store aims to tackle food and plastic waste and manpower shortages, the company said in a November news release.
“Green Lawson is a sustainable store that will be created together with customers and the community,” according to the company. “Lawson will try to solve public problems by dealing with changes in the community as well as customer needs.”
Employees working remotely through two-way cameras are behind the two avatars, the female Aoi and the male Sorato, who guide customers through the check-out stations and even make interactive small talk. Aoi made peace signs and posed for photos during a customer’s recent visit.
She also gave step-by-step directions through the self-serve check-out, such as what buttons to push and where to insert payment. She chatted during the process, asking about the weather in Tokyo. The conversation was in Japanese; the avatars are unable to assist customers in English and there are no plans to introduce other languages.
The Lawson’s employee operating Aoi said she was working remotely from Osaka in western Japan. The company release said about 30 employees are controlling the avatars throughout Japan and that working remotely allows them to accommodate a flexible schedule, caregiver roles or disabilities.
Green Lawson is meant to be an environmentally friendly store that sells a larger variety of frozen bento boxes, which have a longer shelf life, along with bentos that are made to order on the premises to reduce food waste, according to the company.
In the green store, refrigerated shelves that are usually uncovered have doors to reduce energy consumption. Also, the green store does not provide or sell plastic shopping bags and from Jan. 10, it will not provide disposable plastic utensils.
The store also collects unwanted paper bags to reuse as shopping bags and conducts food drives to reduce food waste.
Lawson plans to open another 100 Green Lawsons across Japan by 2025, Kyodo News reported Nov. 28.
Location: 1-13-4 Kita Otsuka, Toshima-ku, Tokyo
Hours: Open around the clock, seven days per week
Prices: Comparable to other area convenience stores.
Directions: A short walk from Otsuka Station on the JR Yamanote Line.
Information: www.e-map.ne.jp/p/lawson/dtl/209496/?&his=cb (Japanese only)