Japan Data

Vending Machines in Losing Battle Against Convenience Stores


Now it is easy to buy all kinds of products in convenience stores, Japanese consumers are less likely to turn to the country’s famous vending machines.

Vending machine numbers and sales figures are on the decline in Japan. According to the Japan Vending System Manufacturers Association’s calculations, there were 4,271,400 vending machines nationwide as of the end of 2017. Compared to the previous year, the number of beverage vending machines, which account for 57% of all machines in Japan, fell by 1.2% to 2,443,800.

A change in 2017 in methods of calculation and categorization means a simple comparison is not possible with earlier years, but the downward trend is clear. The number of vending machines, which peaked at 5.6 million in 2000, fell to less than 5 million by 2016. Their greatest threat comes from convenience stores. While vending machines’ trump card used to be that items could be bought 24 hours a day, they cannot compete against convenience stores that provide a wide array of products around the clock.

For alcohol and cigarettes in particular, which require age verification, it is much easier to go to a convenience store and buy them face to face. In May 1995, to prevent underage drinking, the All Japan Liquor Merchants Association decided to eliminate outdoor alcohol vending machines, so it is now rare to encounter these machines outside. In March 2008, the Taspo card system for age verification was introduced for cigarette vending machines, leading to a rapid drop in both machines and sales. Smokers felt it was troublesome getting out a card to buy cigarettes, so they shifted from using vending machines to convenience stores. Even sales of canned coffee, purchased on impulse at the same time as cigarettes, have been usurped by convenience stores. Cigarette vending machines peaked at 630,000; however, by 2017 this number had fallen to 170,000.

From 2011, convenience store chains also introduced drip coffee machines. At ¥100, customers can enjoy freshly made coffee for less than the price of a can, dealing vending machines a heavy blow.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Jiji.)

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