Aging Consumers Reshaping Japanese Market

Convenience Stores Going to Customers’ Doors: New Food Delivery Services Targeting Seniors

Economy Society

Seven-Eleven and other major Japanese convenience store chains are entering the food delivery market. By distributing products directly to customers, Seven-Meal Service is aiming to reach the elderly and other “shopping refugees” who cannot easily get to convenience stores.

Convenience Stores Starting Delivery Services

Japanese convenience stores not only sell a wide range of food, they also offer an array of daily necessities, including everything from postage stamps to paper clips, as well as services such as ATMs and ticket dispensing systems. With so much under one roof, it is no wonder that people get in the habit of using these community-based establishments; even if they are a little more expensive than supermarkets they are usually closer to home. Now convenience stores are bringing their services to customers’ front doors with food delivery. This includes incorporating the goyōkiki service—once commonly used by general stores—of asking customers at the time of delivery what products they want brought next time.

There are already several players in the food delivery business, such as those distributing box meals and side dishes directly to customers, but this has not stopped convenience store giants Seven-Eleven, FamilyMart, and Lawson from entering the market.

Takuhai Cook 123 is a service run through a FamilyMart subsidiary that delivers box meals to elderly customers. The service, which operates all year round except for three days over the New Year period, offers free delivery and it is possible for customers to order just one item. As well as rice and side dishes in standard sets, there are various special menus, such as low-salt, low-protein, or easy-to-chew soft meals, all ranging from around ¥600 to ¥800. Lawson is working with Sagawa Express for delivery service, while Seven-Eleven has partnered with Yamato Transport.

Reaching “Shopping Refugees”

Aoyama Seiichi, president of Seven-Meal Service. Joined Seven-Eleven Japan in 1981, holding various positions before starting his present job in 2010.

With 18,000 franchise stores nationwide (Okinawa is the only prefecture without an outlet), Seven-Eleven is Japan’s largest convenience-store chain. Heading Seven-Meal Service, a subsidiary founded in 2000, is Aoyama Seiichi, who spoke to about the aims of Seven-Eleven’s food delivery business.

“As Japan continues to age, the word kaimono nanmin [shopping refugees] has emerged to describe the many elderly people who are unable to easily travel to their nearest convenience store. In the middle of this change in the social environment, there is a greater need to go out to customers, instead of just waiting for them to come to stores.”

Suzuki Toshifumi, chairman and CEO of Seven-Eleven parent company Seven & I Holdings, has set a policy for its convenience stores to become a part of social infrastructure that supports the surrounding area. This concept was spurred on by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.

Community “Lifelines”

“We recognized the importance of convenience stores as ‘lifelines’ for disaster-affected areas in particular, and as local people used them, we began to reconsider our products and services,” Aoyama says. “We learned that even in urban areas, elderly people living alone and the physically handicapped are not the only people who struggle to get to stores and that there is also demand for delivery services from housewives raising children.”

A recent advertisement in national newspapers for the new delivery service. Customers order items online, by telephone, or fax for delivery the next day (or the same day for some items). Delivery is free for orders of ¥500 or more and the service operates all year round.

Before then, Seven-Meal had mainly focused on low-salt, low-calorie, and similar options for health-conscious customers, but it has since been boosting its role as a community lifeline in supporting seniors and mothers with young children. Membership is required to take advantage of the delivery service and Seven-Meal now has 740,000 members around the country.

Four out of five Japanese Seven-Eleven stores provide deliveries, which is optional, although some franchises are unable to offer the service due to staffing or other issues. In some cases, Yamato Transport handles delivery, but often the store staff will personally take orders to customers. Around 60% of subscribers are 60 or older, with many expressing appreciation for the community-based service. In fiscal 2013, delivery service sales were ¥25 billion, double the amount for the previous fiscal year. Seven-Meal aims to reach ¥50 billion in fiscal 2015.

Playing to the Strengths of Convenience Stores

Popular product lines aimed at seniors, seasonal offerings, and other product strategies have been a factor in increased sales. This includes healthy meals prepared by nutritionists and menus that change daily.

In the food delivery industry, some companies only operate on weekdays, but the strength of the convenience-store industry is that it works virtually all year round. This makes possible a more consistent level of service. As senior consumers place importance on seasonal events, it is also essential to provide premium products for Christmas, New Year, and other important occasions.

Partnerships With Local Authorities

Convenience stores have made remarkable progress in Japan by responding to changes in society. A number of local governments have begun to show interest in the idea of convenience store staff checking on the wellbeing of elderly customers living alone when making deliveries.

In November 2013, Seven-Eleven entered a partnership with the Fukuoka prefectural government and an organization that checks on seniors in the area. It has since been contacted by other local authorities, completing 164 agreements as of September 30, 2015. This number is expected to continue growing.

At the same time, Seven-Eleven is actively hiring senior citizens at its stores. “For elderly people, who often don’t have anyone to talk to, daily conversation with convenience store workers is a vital chance to communicate and the stores themselves are steadily becoming key parts of the local community.”

A range of surveys indicate that the food delivery market will keep expanding. In addition to cooperatives and sellers of organic vegetables, supermarkets are also moving to offer delivery. This is partly in response to the growing number of women in the workplace as well as the general aging of society and depopulation of rural areas. The new players in the market are also profiting by taking over the role once performed by general stores.

Seven & I Holdings has entered into partnerships with several local communities on projects to support seniors.

Home Delivery Just the Beginning?

When Seven-Eleven started business in Japan in the 1970s, stores literally stayed open from seven in the morning until eleven at night. It was only in the 1990s that more than 80% of stores began to keep their doors open 24 hours. Aoyama says that convenience stores have been able to grow thanks to the community patronage. Services targeting seniors are the next development in that process, and home delivery may only be the beginning.

Convenience store chains are keeping a close eye on what further promise the senior market offers and, through strategies that maximize effective cooperation between head office and franchises, they are investigating what additional services they can provide.

(Originally written in Japanese by Harada Kazuyoshi of and published on November 26, 2015. Banner photo: Japan’s first 7-Eleven store, opened in Toyosu, Tokyo in 1974, and a delivery vehicle. © Jiji.)

demographics convenience store retail