Japanese retail giant Aeon is chopping back opening hours at most of its Tokyo-area general merchandise stores, seeking more efficiency in the face of staff shortages and competition with convenience stores pushing up costs.
The opening time at Aeon Japan stores will move from 7am to 8am for grocery sections at 42 of the company’s 64 general merchandise stores in the Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures under brands including Aeon and Aeon Style. Some stores will remain open 24 hours.
Aeon began opening many of its stores at 7am in summer 2012. Company and local-government policies designed to take advantage of daylight hours following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami resulted in more people being out and about in the early morning, which was a benefit for businesses. Aeon decided to keep the new hours year-round, and while shoppers in regions such as Japan’s north-east, most affected by the disaster, have continued to support the earlier opening times, Tokyo-area stores have found it hard to retain morning traffic.
Competition from rapidly expanding convenience stores and small-scale supermarkets is partly to blame. Japan had about 56,000 convenience stores in the year ended last March, about 20 per cent more than before the earthquake. These stores have been growing their fresh- and prepared-food offerings to rope in demand from the elderly, homemakers and other customers, generating more than 10 trillion yen (US$89.7 billion) in sales during the 2014 fiscal year.
Small grocery stores, such as Aeon’s own My Basket, have also been expanding.
Staff shortages have also hit Aeon, making early-morning and late-night hours a practical challenge as well as driving up personnel costs.
General retailers are also losing out to eCommerce, which is worth more than 12 trillion yen in Japan alone.