COVID-19: latest updates from Japan

Charles Chan
Senior Retail Analyst
@RetailAnalysis

Date : 02 July 2020

We round up the latest COVID-19 related news from Japan as retailers respond to changes in consumer trends and government policies.

1 July - plastic bag charge now mandatory

On 1 July, the government made plastic bag fees mandatory across the country. Matsumoto KiYoshi and some other businesses such as Aeon had already been charging fees for plastic bags since April.

25 May state of emergency lifted

  • On 25 May, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended the state of emergency, almost a week before originally planned (31 May). The government is now planning to allow restaurants to stay open longer and schools to gradually resume classes
  • On 21 May, Abe lifted the state of emergency in the western Japanese prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo. State of emergency has been lifted in 42 out of 47 prefectures. The five remaining are Hokkaido, Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa
  • On 14 May, Abe lifted the state of emergency in 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Restrictions maintained in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto until further notice
  • On 4 May, Abe extended the nationwide state of emergency to 31 May 
  • On 16 April, state of emergency (until 6 May) was extended nationwide (previously seven regions), due to an increasing number of Coronavirus infections
  • On 7 April, Abe declared a month-long state of emergency in seven regions until 6 May

Seven & i Holdings

  • 7-Eleven is recommending its stores install transparent plastic shields at checkouts
  • Department store business, Sogo & Seibu, has temporarily closed all of its 15 stores except for the food section. It plans to reopen them when the state of emergency is lifted
  • All Ito-Yokado stores will close at 8pm (shortening trading hours of some stores)
  • In March, 7&i set up refrigerated delivery lockers at two 7-Eleven outlets in Tokyo. Customers purchasing goods on Ito-Yokado’s online store can have them sent to the 7-Eleven lockers to pick up at their convenience
  • March online sales year-on-year (YOY):
  • Seven Net Shopping sales up 30.9%: books, games, etc. performed strongly due to restraint from going out
  • IY Net Supermarket (Nishi-Nippori) sales up 7.1%: growth in meal kits, retort pouched foods, and frequent-use products (milk, eggs)

AEON

  • Jiji Press reports that Aeon has released new guidelines (July 1) on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, affecting all group stores in 13 Asian countries. Facilities must be ventilated at least twice every hour. Up to four people are allowed in an elevator at one time. In relation to disinfection, the Group is requiring stores to use both alcohol and surfactants to clean shopping baskets and trolleys after each use and freezer handles once an hour
  • AEON is paying a JPY10,000 (US$94) bonus to more than 100,000 part-time employees
  • AEON has placed tape on the floors of its supermarkets to guide and ensure customers keep a distance from each other when they line up in front of checkout counters
  • AEON has temporarily closed its specialty stores at about 150 of its shopping malls nationwide. The supermarket sections, however, remain open
  • Most of AEON’s supermarkets remain open, some are operating for shorter hours

FamilyMart

  • A rise in demand for buying food and other essentials in bulk, leading to an increase in the average sales per customer
  • Stable supply of daily necessities. Food and water: utilise company-owned and dedicated factories
  • Strengthen product offer geared towards the trend of remaining at home for long periods (processed food, frozen food), foods that can be stored and are easy to prepare
  • Sales promotions that support lifestyles “Mother’s Kitchen,” fast food, ready-to-eat products
  • Ordered 30,000 vinyl sheets for locations around the country. The barriers will also be used in offices to partition space at desks. At stores, these plastic curtains / sheets at checkouts are being added to help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 between customers and store employees

Lawson

  • Lawson will continue to review what it can do to support communities. So far, the retailer has distributed rice balls free of charge to after-school facilities nationwide, sold hot milk at half price to support milk consumption and customer health, and offered colouring materials to help children waiting by in their homes
  • Lawson is creating a safe environment for both staff and shoppers:
    • Displaying posters advocating social distancing in-store
    • Markings on the floor to maintain social distance at checkout
    • Ventilates stores by regularly leaving the door open
    • Provides hand sanitiser for customer to use
    • Separate some checkouts with plastic sheets to prevent droplet infection
    • Expand stores with self-checkouts
    • Expand stores with smartphone checkout
  • To support franchisees, Lawson is paying all expenses for disinfection measures and the partial cost of product disposal
  • Strengthen range of long-life staple goods (frozen foods, instant noodles, retort packaged food, tins, and drinks, etc.)
  • Expand unique Lawson products to provide readymade side dishes for evening meals, supporting consumers staying home
  • Extend Uber Eats delivery service to approx. 500 stores. The service was launched in August 2019. As of April 2020, it is available at 14 Tokyo metropolitan stores, approx. 200 types of essential and other goods including lunch boxes, rice balls, noodles, fast food, desserts, frozen food, sweets, drinks, alcoholic drinks, etc.
  • On April 28, Lawson began to close its shop toilets to customers. The retailer is also temporarily preventing customers from using store garbage bins and ashtrays

Seiyu / Walmart

  • Seiyu plans to spend JPY1.3bn (US$12.2m) to implement COVID-19 precautionary measures, e.g. purchasing goggles, masks and gloves for staff. The plan also includes JPY350m (US$3.2m) in bonus payments, for which more than 30,000 store workers are eligible
  • The retailer will pay a bonus of up to JPY15,000 (US$141) to store workers
  • It is seeking 3,000 new employees

Rakuten

  • Logistics automation and advance material handling system: decreasing manual work and increasing operational efficiency to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus in Logistics business
  • Ichiba special website: buy one product, donate JPY100 (US$0.9) to COVID-19 Prevention of Spread of Infectious Diseases Fund
  • Rakuten Travel offering hotel rooms for COVID-19 patients. Over 110,000 rooms as of 12 May, 2020
  • Rakuten Viber: COVID-19 awareness campaign, sharing anti-corona safety guidelines

Some temporary store closures

The Mainichi reports that as of 13 April, approx. 150 7-Eleven stores, 194 FamilyMart stores and 162 Lawson stores have temporarily closed. Isetan department stores are due to reopen having been closed since early April. 

Reuters reports that Aeon Mall in Chiba has reopened. The retailer has introduced a number of precautionary measures: shoppers have their temperatures checked at the entrance, staff wear protective face shields and visitor numbers are monitored to prevent overcrowding.

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